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


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



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!)”





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。





Translated by: Lin Ziyin (20-A1)