Week 2: Dragged out of the cave

Socrates describes the student’s experience of education with undergoing a painful journey full of pain, self-doubt, and struggle, analogous to being ‘dragged’ out of a cave toward the light. In our current age, I feel that this transformative form of learning is still a very good representation of acquiring, understanding and applying new knowledge. This is because I believe that true deep learning requires, at least in part, the student to undergo a temporary period of confusion and struggle prior to grasping new concepts. This is especially true in contexts where the goal is to facilitate learning at higher cognitive levels. For example, I think that there is necessary struggle that a student experiences when learning how to understand, apply, or interpret content versus when learning how to simply recall or memorize information. This period of confusion and frustration is important because it encourages students to think in new and different ways, to critically assess novel information, and to integrate novel information within their existing knowledge base. With that said, I believe that educators have an important role here to ensure that students are provided with appropriate instruction, guidance, and support so that the frustration experienced during transformative learning is temporary. The idea is that under appropriate supervision by the instructor, the student should emerge from the transformative period with a strong and confident understanding of the new material. A clear example of this is my undergraduate laboratory course. Here, students are expected to design elements of their experiments, accurately interpret their data, and construct ideas for how to optimize methods. I can just tell students how to design their experiments or what their data means, but how will helpful is this for their learning? Instead, I provide them with learning tools and instruction they need to perform these tasks and they spend a period of time where they need to process and develop their critical thinking skills to meet the learning goals (of course, I’m always there to support them if they have questions!).

Based on question #3 in reference to Plato. Republic, translated by P. Shorey. Plato: Collected Dialogues, edited by Edith Hamilton and Huntington Cairns, Random House, 1963, pp. 747-752.


Nico Francella May 14, 2019, 10:51 PM

Lisa, I too agree with you that it is our job as teachers to provide appropriate instruction, guidance and support for our students to become resilient in their learning. It can be frustrating at times for students to understand newer ideas that they cannot relate to at first glance. Thus, the reason to help relate the topics we study in class to real world events. We see this happening all the time in studying Shakespeare, as students are not familiar with the language. It is best like you said, to provide students with learning tools and instruction to help develop their critical thinking skills! Great post!

Steve Hawkins teacher May 15, 2019, 12:21 AM

Hi Lisa, A couple of thoughts in response to your reflections: 1) The first is your reference to the 'existing knowledge base.' In my presentation for this week, I discuss Plato's counter-intuitive view of learning as 'recollection' or 'reminiscence' from the *Meno*. I wonder what he would have to say about your notion of building from a knowledge base. (The wording you use has 'constructive' or 'architectural' connotations, whereas we often find Plato drawn to navigational metaphors.) 2) The points you make about the importance of "temporary" confusion, and of support through that process, are especially interesting. I wonder if there is a link back here to some of the first posts last week concerning the dramatic or theatrical aspects of teaching. I'm thinking about our natural openness to the tensions or complications of a plot: we don't need everything to make sense immediately, but there is a limit to how complicated things can get - and a limit to how long we can endure the confusion and tension before losing patience with the narrative. But I suspect that our endurance is tied up with the *trust* that exists between teacher and student (or poet/performer and audience), too...

Lisa Michelle D'Ambrosio May 16, 2019, 12:21 AM
Replying to Steve Hawkins

Right! I believe that establishing trust between the student and teacher during the learning process is key. The student is encouraged to trust that the teacher will guide them through this 'temporary struggle' using instructional approaches, activities, and level of difficulty that are appropriate for the student/class. I try to build this trust in my classrooms by reminding students that despite the struggle, I'm "on their side" and that my goal is to ultimately help them reach their academic potential.

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