Monday, February 20, 2012

ways we learn best...

I just got back to Arkansas from 3 days of box making with the Des Moines Woodworkers Association. I want to thank the club for inviting me, welcoming me in Des Moines, paying attention (which in itself is a great gift), and allowing me to share some of what I know about box making. I have been busy, have neglected the blog (though you or I can duck out for a few days without diminishing the value of the content) and neglected to take pictures. As some photos are shared with me by club members in the coming week, I may pass them along to you.

I want to particularly thank Chuck, who planned the class, attended carefully to so many details, and Bob, who loaned the use of his shop and tools for the class. Both spent time before the class preparing materials for our use, and both served as assistants, making sure all our needs were met. The Saturday class was held in the Woodsmith Store which (though less well equipped that Bob's shop) has a classroom large enough to handle a much larger group. I had a bit of difficulty setting up a new-fangled router table, which made me even more grateful for my own simple set-up at home.

My stay in Des Moines,was divided into two classes. On Friday and Sunday we had a small hands-on class in which 9 students learned by observing, keeping notes and by making a box. The third day of classes (Saturday), all lecture and demonstration, was for those 42 students who had less time to invest in deeper learning. We all know that the actual process of making a box is the most powerful of lessons. I have witnessed time and time again, that we learn best, and take learning most to heart, when we are put in situations in which we make real mistakes, or at least know that when we make those inevitable mistakes, they will have real consequences. In teaching hands-on box making, I always allow students to determine the size of the box, the placement of features, and to make choices that put each student in the situation where he or she is not just mindlessly going through motions, taking steps that do not require head scratching and thought.

Many wood working teachers, unwilling to risk student failure and to speed things along make all students do exactly the same thing. I prefer to take a different approach. For we do know that we learn most effectively when we take learning seriously, when there are real consequences for lack of attention, and we are expected (by ourselves) to invest ourselves fully in learning.

On the limitations of class teaching is an earlier post on this subject that may interest readers. It frustrates me that although we do know how we all earn best, we choose to offer education so much less than our best to our students in American education. The conclusion reached by many of my readers is to take matters into their own hands, at least with their own children and grandchildren.

Make, fix and create...


  1. Yes, that is what I have done, as you know. I cannot influence the entire education community, but I can give my own grandchildren the experiences they need to have. Imagine if all of us did that!!! While I have spent my career in education, I don't think formal education has all the answers. It is the passing on of skills and values from fathers/mothers to sons/daughters and grandsons/granddaughters that will solve this problem. I believe we have created a society that abrogates all of the responsibility of education of our children to the schools. It is not working. We need to take that responsibility back.

  2. JD, well said. I have been thinking of a book by John G. Neihardt, "When the Tree Flowered" about the Lakota Sioux. It is a novel, an easy read, but describes what life was like based on Neihardt's interviews, research and his other important book Black Elk Speaks. In tribal cultures, the role of the grandparent is important in sustaining the culture. Parents would be busy keeping the family fed and clothed (which in themselves were cultural experiences) and the grandparents would take on the responsibility of personalized or individualized instruction. Not much different from what you do in your wood shop.

    The other important reason I've been thinking about Neihardt is that of connecting with the unconscious. In the Lakota Sioux tradition, acting out what one dreamed through ceremony, was the important tool for gathering power to have lasting effect.

    Somewhere in the blog I have a photo of a Vietnamese grandmother teaching her young granddaughters how to embroider. We are watching that kind of relationship die right before our eyes.

  3. Ok everybody -
    Great piece about detail, design and functionality:

    For the bolder: One of the early articles setting the theory of informal ed. Jean Lave's ideas put some of the ideas discussed here into some strong language.