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Becoming an Expert Learner: Wait, What?

Katie Novak
Katie Novak
July 19, 2016

"Wait. What?” Wait. What? Translation: Stop for a moment. My brain needs some time to take this in, build comprehension, and determine what exactly is possible and what resources I need to get there.  Wait, what? is a moment when our minds feel blown, because they are. Our neural pathways, as they are currently constructed, need to take a detour. Neuroscience calls this brain plasticity. Educators, we call this learning.

Today’s keynote at the BCSC UDL Institute was given by rockstar teacher, Dr. Jon Mundorf, aka, Fundorf (check him out on Twitter). His message – becoming an resourceful, knowledgeable learner is best exemplified by that term, “Wait. What?”

As educators, we need our students to be knowledgeable and resourceful, but to do that, we have to be knowledgable and resourceful ourselves, so we can continuously improve our craft. Jon shared some of his most important, “Wait, what?” moments. The first is one that many of us can relate to – the first teaching job. We have all these ideas about our first classroom. As Jon said, “I was going to stand on a desk and Carpe Diem the heck out of this place.” But then we stand in front of a diverse group of students who have variable needs and suddenly, our educator prep program doesn’t have all the answers. At this point, we need to stop and say, “Wait, what?” This is an opportunity to learn.

After teaching for two years, Jon received an invitation to the Harvard University Summer Institute for UDL. It was kismet. Instead of tossing the invite into the recycling bin, he read about the concept of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) and wanted to know more. While sitting in an ivy covered brick building in Boston, MA, Jon heard Dr. David Rose speak. Rose, the father of UDL shared: There is no average learner. There is no disabled learner. If there are disabilities in the classroom, those are connected to curriculum and instruction. UDL is a framework that provides the foundation to design a curriculum that is not disabled. Wait, what? 

The next year, Jon met a student who was gritty and friendly and sweet, but introduced himself as being “dumb,” because he couldn’t read in fourth grade. Jon promised him he would make his year the best ever and prove him wrong and then had that moment. “Wait, what? How am I going to do that?” Jon knew enough to know that his discomfort was an opportunity, a concrete neural spark that meant there was more he needed to learn (spoiler alert: He proved the student wrong!).

There is no destination to knowledge. We need to learn more, think more, and grow more as educators. This needs to happen throughout our careers. Educator preparation is never-ending. We also need to teach our students about that spark – that’s it’s not uncomfortable or a weakness of any kind. Wait. What? is a gift, an opportunity to reconstruct our brains so we can become more knowledgable and resourceful, one of the hallmarks of an expert learner.

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