Learning like a Baby

During graduate study, I took a module titled ‘Designing for learning by creating’ by Karen Brennan. A paragraph in the course syllabus read:

I find grades stressful. Too often, I see grades preventing people from taking intellectual risks, discouraging people from being bold, causing people to worry about the least important part of the process. So let us remove that concern. You have an’A’. If you’re attending class, participating in activities, making a sincere intellectual investment in the course material, etc. ,this will not change.

Perhaps this clause was possible because my classmates cared deeply about their learning and would not use it as an opportunity to slack off (this was at the Harvard Graduate School of Education). Regardless, that was the first and only time I had encountered such an assessment system. I remember how planning my final project was so completely liberating because I was not afraid of doing something that might be too difficult, something that I might get stuck on and”fail”at. I did not agonise over balancing passion with what would also”work best”at fulfilling the assessment rubric requirements. Instead, I could ask, What am I curious about? What do I want to explore? What project will stretch me the most intellectually and contribute the most to my learning, regardless of whether it “succeeds”?I recently became a first-time mother and I spend a fair bit of time observing my five-month-old baby Ezra navigate his world. To me, watching him connects with the spirit of that module, reminding me to be curious and inviting me to contemplate the richness of learning that could unfold when exploration takes centre stage. 

Ezra and I have a naptime routine which ends with me putting him in his cot, drawing the curtains and popping his pacifier in his mouth. Invariably, he would fidget and it would fall out before he falls asleep. He would then reach for his pacifier and try to put it back. However, his hand-eye-mouth coordination still needs work and he frequently swipes his pacifier off his bed by accident,at which I would proclaim,"Uh oh! Cumi ja kai! “This translates to” [your] pacifier has fallen! “-a mash-up of Hungarian (“cumi”) and Kristang("ja kai”) , and a nod to his half-Hungarian and half-Kristang Eurasian heritage.

I watch him bring his cumi towards his mouth and miss, and am tempted to swoop in and do it for him. I often do, because my intervention means he falls asleep sooner, without me having to pick up, wash, sterilise and return his cumi again, and again and again. . .

I keep watching as my wriggly bundle of smiles reaches his chubby baby fingers towards his just-out-of-reach cumi, and, with a grunt (“Eh! “) , wiggles his bum a few centimetres forward, grabs his cumi, shoves it towards his face the wrong way around, and then drops it, where it falls on his cot mattress teat-side up. I expect him to reach out again. He does not. Instead, he face-plants into the mattress, and-somehow-gets his mouth over the teat of his cumi! “Ugyes baba! “I squeal with pride (“skilful baby! “) as he merrily sucks on the cumi that he put in his mouth.

Here, I wonder, what will I see if I suppress the urge to swoop in and help Ezra with whatever new problem his baby brain is tackling? How many new and delightful solutions will he find? What else will he learn along the way? 

I mapped out some of my observations of Ezra’s cumi explorations and came up with this:

In reflecting on these observations, what initially looks to me like problem-solving – how do I put my cumi in my mouth? – might really be just a tiny part of a great big quest to explore, where curiosity and learning takes centre stage.

I am struck by how limited his learning would be if he were only interested in achieving the”successful outcome” of putting his cumi in his mouth (quickly) and going to sleep (quickly) . While my adult brain might tend towards this outcome, I speculate that Ezra’s baby brain favours exploring and learning, and is not particularly concerned with “failing” to achieve the “successful outcome”. Because exploring possibilities reveals new solutions (like face-planting into a cumi). If not, we learn what does not work. As a bonus, we might uncover unexpected outcomes, like the fact that we really enjoy playing with the mosquito net. 

Watching Ezra reminds me of my work in my classroom of JC1 students, where seeing them struggle tempts me to swoop in and suggest a way forward so that the work would be completed sooner. And just as I often swoop in to help Ezra prematurely because I am exhausted and just want him to sleep, I too swoop in to help students more often than I would care to admit, because Socratic questioning is exhausting and I still have another 24 students to attend to. Then I think of how proud I was when Ezra face-planted into his cumi and how the pieces of student feedback I am always most proud of are the ones saying”Ms de Souza teaches us to think. “

Ezra reminds me to watch, wait and honour the learning. 

Soon, my students will choose projects to work on. I hope that they will be guided by curiosity. That they will explore possibilities and push themselves to “be bold” and “take intellectual risks”. And while there is still an assessment rubric to consider, in the balance between doing something that will “work best” at showcasing the rubric requirements and one that will contribute the most to their learning, I hope the balance will tip towards the latter. 

Ezra reminds me of the kind of learning I hope to see my students and myself embrace. And as Ezra gets older, I hope he will always approach learning the way his five-month-old self does.

by Ms Adrienne de Souza

作品出处:The Birthday Book

赤子之心

在研究生学习期间,我选修了凯伦·布伦南教授(Karen Brennan)的一门名为“通过创造来学习”的课程。课程大纲中有这么一段话:我觉得成绩让人很有压力。我常常看见人们因为成绩不敢积极地去挑战知识上的难题、失去犯错的勇气,只会担心学习过程中最琐碎的的问题。让我们放下这些顾虑吧。这门课你已经获得“A”了。只要你出席这门课、积极参加活动并认真学习课程材料,这“A”便不会改变

教授敢说这段话,大概是因为我的同学们都是认真求学、不会借机偷懒的学生(这可是哈佛教育研究生院)。无论如何,那是我人生第一次,也是唯一一次遇到这样的评估系统。我还记得在规划期末作业时,我是多么自由,因为即使我知道我可能会深陷困境并面临失败,我也不再害怕挑战自己,做出一些超出自己能力范围的事情。在保持激情与完美达成评估标准之间,我也不再纠结。相反的,我还可以问问自己:我究竟对什么感兴趣呢?我想探索什么呢?什么样的作业最能激发我的思维能力?让我学到最多?作业能“成功”与否反而不是最重要的了。

身为新手妈妈,我花了不少时间观察我那五个月大的宝宝以斯拉,看他如何摸索他的世界。对我来说,观察他使我想起那门课程所推广的精神,提醒我要时刻保持好奇心,并让我思考:如果以探索作为学习的核心,那学习将是多么丰富多彩。

我每天哄以斯拉睡午觉都有个固定流程。流程的最后一步就是由我把他抱到婴儿床上、拉上窗帘并把奶嘴塞进他的嘴里。他总是不停乱动,还没睡着,奶嘴便掉了。于是他便会伸手去捡他的奶嘴,想把奶嘴放回嘴里。然而,他的手、眼与嘴巴的协调能力仍然还有很大的进步空间,经常一不小心就将奶嘴从床上扫到地上。每当我看到这一幕时,我便大喊道:“哎呀!Cumi ja kai!”这翻译过来就是“奶嘴掉了!”——一句话混搭了匈牙利语(“cumi”)和克里斯坦语(“ja kai”),也算是对他一半匈牙利、一半克里斯坦的欧亚血统的认可。

我看着他将奶嘴慢慢地放到自己嘴前,然后偏了,忍不住想扑过去帮他。我一般都会帮他,因为那会让他尽快睡着,而我也无需一而再、再而三地去将奶嘴捡起来、清洗、消毒再还给他。

我继续注视着我的小开心果扭动着,看他用尽全力将自己那胖乎乎的小手伸向奶嘴,可惜还差那么一点才能够着。他不禁哼了一声。“嗯!”紧接着,他的屁股向前扭动了几厘米,抓住自己的奶嘴,再将它扫向自己的脸上。万万没想到,奶嘴掉在了他的婴儿床上——奶嘴头朝上。我原以为他会再伸手去够奶嘴。但他没有。相反的,他将脸趴在床垫上,然后不知怎么的用嘴巴盖住了奶嘴头! 看着他将奶嘴塞进嘴里然后开开心心地吮吸着,我骄傲地尖叫道:“Ugyes baba!( 真是个灵巧的宝宝!)”

这时,我在想,如果我能抑制住想要帮助以斯拉解决问题的冲动,我会看到什么呢?他又会找到多少新鲜可喜的解决方案?在这个过程中,他还会学到什么呢?

我将我对以斯拉的“奶嘴探索”的一些观察结果列出来,并得出了以下结论:

回想起这些观察,便会发现“如何把奶嘴放进嘴里?”这个我最初以为亟待解决的问题,其实只是宝宝对外大探索中的冰山一角。而好奇心和求知欲,才是这场探索的的核心。

我顿时恍然大悟,突然明白了如果以斯拉只对“成果”感兴趣——(快速地)把奶嘴放进嘴里并(快速地)入睡,那么他的学习将是多么的有限!虽然我的大脑可能会更在意“快速入睡”这个结果,但我推测以斯拉的小脑瓜会更喜欢探索和学习,不会特别在意最终的结果会不会“失败”。探索不同的可能可以为我们带来新的解决方案(比如把脸栽向奶嘴)。即使我们无法解决问题,我们也至少能知道什么是行不通的。我们甚至有会发现一些意想不到的结果作为收获,比如发现我们其实对蚊帐情有独钟。

看着以斯拉的成长让我想起了我的高一学生们。正如我疲倦的时候经常过早地帮助以斯拉,以让他尽快入睡,每当看到这学生为作业挣扎时,我也总是很想冲上前为他们提出建议,以便他们更快地完成工作。尽管我不愿承认,我也经常过早地帮助学生们,因为苏格拉底式的提问很累人,而且我还有其他24个学生需要照看。这时,我便会想到:当以斯拉把脸栽进他的奶嘴时,身为妈妈的我是多么的自豪!而身为老师,我觉得最引以为傲的,则莫过于写着“de Souza老师教我们思考”的学生反馈。

以斯拉提醒我要学会旁观,学会等待,学会尊重学习过程。

我的学生们很快就要选择自己要做的专题作业了。我希望他们会保持好奇心,探索各种可能性,勇于犯错并愿意挑战知识上的难题。这专题作业当然还是有一个评估标准需要顾及,但在尽力达标与学有所获这两者之间,我希望学生能更在意后者。

以斯拉的学习方式,是我希望我学生和我自己都能够具有的学习方式。以斯拉会逐渐长大,只希望他能一直保持着那颗赤子之心,永远像五个月大的自己那样学习。

译者:林姿吟

Translated by: Lin Ziyin (20-A1)