Teachers for Teachers | Slice of Life: Learning is Managed Chaos
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Slice of Life: Learning is Managed Chaos

11454297503_e27946e4ff_h“Wait. Can you say that again?”

I pause trying to remember what I just said.

Another teacher chimes in, “You said, ‘Learning is managed chaos.’”

“That’s it!” the group agrees.

“That is so true. I want to write that down so I can remember it,” she explains.

Learning is managed chaos.

I am not sure why I said these words in that moment and I certainly know I did not plan to say them. Ever since that teacher called attention to my words, however, I have been thinking about them. What did I mean?

Chaos is defined as a state of utter confusion or lack of organization.   When we learn I believe we are confused. As we experience discrepancies between what we already know and what we discover, we learn new ideas and concepts. Learning experiences that push us to analyze our own misconceptions or confusions and construct knowledge help us learn and grow.

This sounds great until you try to do this with 26 or so young learners – then confusion can become chaos. Student learning is messy. Each learner analyzing his own misconceptions and constructing his own knowledge simultaneously can be disorderly unless we manage it. When they are engaged they are a part of the learning process and our role is to manage their confusions to help them construct their own knowledge.

Now while engaged learning is messy, we can organize it. The developmental stage of our readers helps us know the probable next steps for their learning. When we take our knowledge of reading and use it to observe our readers in action we can manage their confusions. Marie Clay “concluded that however puzzling and illogical a child’s responses might be, they arise out of some sort of internal logic – a cognitive system which every child develops to make sense of the world and language. That logic may be shaped by confusion, misunderstanding or partial knowledge.”  When sit down beside our readers and observe them reading we can assess each reader’s logic and provide instruction to help them independently construct understanding.

Our readers need to be engaged learners. When we give them the space to apply, revise and practice strategies they truly learn. This space can appear and even, at times, feel chaotic. We need to remember, however, that young learners can only appear independent in an environment that is carefully and thoughtfully managed to support this gradual release of responsibility. When we take the time to manage the confusion so our readers are engaged and in control of their learning we are providing the greatest opportunities for growth.

We may wonder if we need a script or program to tell us what to teach next. We may worry that we will miss something or not know what to teach next. Teaching is hard work, the hardest work we have ever done. The script or program is only a tool. It is our expertise and the time we take to understand our readers that allows us to manage the chaos and bring those magical moments of learning alive in our classrooms.

So what do I think I meant….

I think I meant that teaching should feel overwhelming at times, students should be confused, and teachers should trust their expertise and capacity to continually learn to manage the chaos and create engaging, purposeful learning environments. So if we feel tired, stressed, and invigorated all at the same time–we are doing exactly what we should be doing… managing chaos!


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    Posted at 19:56h, 10 February Reply

    I love every bit of this post – especially the way you tracked and clarified your thinking. Teaching and learning is messy – it is sometimes hard for us to allow the chaos because we most often equate chaos with wasting time, lost time, etc. But, allowing for managed chaos…that’s a liberating thought!

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    Posted at 20:30h, 10 February Reply

    How true. Learning is messy an d chaotic. You oh the end result t.

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    Posted at 20:45h, 10 February Reply

    Expert teachers are excellent chaos managers. Hence the reason there’s always a good hum in their classrooms.

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    Linda Baie
    Posted at 00:40h, 11 February Reply

    I’m not surprised at your words, meaningful but you’ve given room in the chaos for thoughtful decisions made, pulling the chaos into learning and growing, a struggle but good!

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    Posted at 11:35h, 12 February Reply

    Right you are! I sometimes look around my classroom (mostly during math) and have to remind myself that confusion is part of the process and not to jump in to organize it for the students. Well said! (PS: I like the way you used dialogue to open this slice!)

  • Charts and mini charts to anchor writing moves | TWO WRITING TEACHERS
    Posted at 10:00h, 13 February Reply

    […] post about what everyday learning in a classroom really looks like and feels like, aptly entitled: Learning is Managed Chaos. These lines resonated with me: “We need to remember, however, that young learners can only […]

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