Leo Lionni’s story Fish is Fish speaks to the idea that everyone must start out where they are. Wherever they are on the continuum of life experience, genetic make-up, and aptitude, our knowledge starts there. Oftentimes, we start out with misconceptions of what learning really is because that is all that we have been exposed to. In other words, we only know what we know. As we mature and grow older, we refine our learning about life and how we approach things. I am a very different teacher now, then I was back in 1988, when I started teaching. I often relate this to the journey of the Velveteen Rabbit. The rabbit, after being loved by the boy so much that his whiskers were worn off, found that he was “different from the new rabbits with springs and gadgetry. In the course of his quest to become “real”, the rabbit realized that he had become real because of the process he went through his lifetime and being loved by a real boy. The Velveteen Rabbit is a great analogy for a teacher or a learner over the course of a lifetime. Learning is a craft that is refined over years and years of experiences.
The other piece of Leo Lionni’s story that strikes me is the idea of the fish taking risks to reach a new level. He had no idea that the risk would be so great. He just dove right in or out of the water (as it was) with little thought to what might lie beyond. This speaks of trial and error. The novice is willing to try and fail but must be reinforced to continue trying. That perseverance to continue on in spite of unsuccessful attempts makes a student reach the next plateau of learning. This process of trial and error and constant adapting and adjusting is what learning is all about. When you become an expert, you have already had many of those experiences and you know the “short cuts” in which to employ to “work around” similar circumstances. I think this is what is meant when we talk of the “wisdom of the journey” for any veteran in their field.
So, what causes the change from novice to expert? I think that many students need a mentor with whom they feel comfortable to go. The relationship that is forged between mentor and student is so significant because it helps the novice to see the goal as attainable and reasonable. They are willing to invest themselves in the learning because they know that they have a “go to person”. The idea that the learning is relevant and interesting also helps the novice to work towards the change of past resistance. Isn’t this the idea of apprenticeship/mastership of long ago? It seems to me that the master craftsmen were never “failed” but continually encouraged to perfect their craft. They worked until they got it. This is the same idea as in the military, “No man left behind.” We work on it until we get it.
This connects to my life because on my fourth grade team, I have a wonderful mentor. She has been in the business for about 32 years and with each year, she is always refining her learning. She constantly looks for better ways to improve the learning in her classroom. She is a scientific observer of the practice that she employs i.e. a master teacher. We continually bounce ideas off of one another and, as such, we keep refining our craft.
Learning: The combination of experience and new ideas along with synthesizing others’ perspectives transforms your understanding into a newer more refined understanding.
Understanding: Wisdom+specific content knowledge+ fluency and automaticity within a certain discipline.