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Everyone needs to hear this:— Maha Bali, PhD مها بالي 🌵🇵🇸 (@Bali_Maha) February 3, 2024
"Be brave enough to be bad at something new." @JonAcuff https://t.co/M93kYS8hqQ
I try to learn something new every few months or so… I need to blog my journey with #crochet, where I heard this quote, from @sigonimacaroni https://t.co/JCTr81KvfX
This is a post about learning, but I came to these reflection through my process of learning to crochet with my daughter mostly through watching YouTube videos.
In case you missed it, my 12 yo has taken an interest in crochet, and I’ve decided to learn along with her. I used to know a tiny amount of crochet, just like basic stitches, and I was, like, really bad at it, and things never worked as planned, and no one ever taught me to do something useful with it, so I eventually gave up. I’m not sure why my mom never helped me do better – maybe I wasn’t listening, maybe she didn’t have patience (my mom is one of the most wonderful people I’ve ever known, but she is not a teacher in the direct sense).
Side note: When I was first diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), I thought I’d never be able to carry my child again, play piano again (I am not an expert but I can play pretty much anything I can on piano) and I’d never be able to crochet again (not that I was crocheting or anything – just listing things I thought I could not do). Turns out my kid was getting too heavy to carry anyway, but I can play piano just fine, and this year I discovered that I can crochet just fine – I ever learned that it can be good for someone with RA to crochet, helps keep the fingers flexible, as long as I use appropriate hooks and maintain good posture.
The quote about being brave at being bad at something new is one I learned from one of my favorite crochet YouTuber who calls herself Sigoni Macaroni, from whom I learned to make my first simple beanie. And then I made like 10 beanies since then – some of them good, some bad, most of them the wrong size, for some reason. She said this quote from Jon Acuff to tell us that is OK while learning something new in crochet to keep “frogging” (amazingly, though frogging is a way of life for me, I did not realize what it meant, but my daughter did: frogging is when you realize you made a mistake a few stitches ago, and you unravel/undo a lot of your work and start over – not necessarily from scratch). Frogging for me is the epitome of a growth mindset. A willingness to admit we did something wrong, and then a willingness to start over and try again. When I first started crocheting (like 2-3 weeks ago), I would unravel my entire project and start over each time. Now, I’ve got a little more experience under my belt, and I can unravel just a little bit and I can usually know where I made my mistake and I don’t need to unravel the entire thing. Usually, if I’m trying something completely new, or I’m just not fully focusd, I’ll need to do a lot of frogging. I’ve been taking it in stride and trying to convince my daughter it’s totally normal. But she gets more frustrated than I do. I kept telling her that it’s normal not to be good at something new, that that’s what learning is, that it’s a little painful at first, but she seems not to have “gotten it” until she heard that quote.
Another interesting thing that happened with my daughter is that when we started learning on YouTube, she said “Maybe I’m not the kind of person who learns well from videos” and I thought, “but everyone can learn from videos, as long as it’s the kind of thing that can be taught visually”. But then I realized something. If I learned from a video (and I’m someone who was taught by a human being how to do basic stitches, so I didn’t learn THAT from YouTube) and taught myself to do it relatively well, then I did it again with my child in parallel while watching and pausing a video, she had more patience. She could see me do it, I could give her little tips about little things she was doing wrong, and then she could do it. I started with tiny projects like making a small heart or small flower (5-10 minute projects for beginners) and now she’s almost done with a beanie (a 30 min project for an expert, takes me around 45-60 mins because I’m always doing something wrong with the sizes and adjusting rather than just going automatic, and I’m also trying different types of yarn, different combos of stitches, learning to make thin yarn chunky, etc.). Recently, I knitted a beanie while on a panel at an online conference. Not while I was speaking, but while listening to others. I’m a really strong multitasker, so this helped me concentrate, actually, having my hands busy.
Anyway, the REAL point of this post is not to bore you with crochet, but to say that I realized I try to learn something totally new every few months or so, whether something related to education in some way. Some years it is something out of your hands – e.g. last year I had to learn how to use ChatGPT, and some years it is a choice, I chose to learn about convergent facilitation and gamestorming techniques. Sometimes it is totally outside my field of work, like recently I learned how to learn Quran faster and not forget it as much, and most recently, I’ve been learning to crochet. As an educator and educational developer, I love the process of being a learner, at being a beginner at something. It reminds me of how it feels for my students and other educators who I work with.
I often tell people to have grace for themselves when they are learning something new, like AI. To have grace with themselves that they don’t know the thing itself, are not experts on it yet, and also to make mistakes while trying to work on it in class with students. Basically, I want people to be brave while learning something new, but unlike crochet, not every mistake can be “undone”. We can’t always unravel and start over again and end up with a finished project that does not show the process we used in between. I think a lot of times, we tell people how to do something “right” but we don’t show them the process of making msitakes and troublehsooting and correcting our mistakes as well as possible. And this is something I think we need to do as educational developers.
So here is what I am proposing:
- We need to recognize that we will, naturally, not be very good at something new. However, this should not stop us from trying to learn new things, or we will never grow.
- We need to figure out how much risk we’re willing to take while learning something new. Do we have a space where we can learn in a safe space to be vulnerable before we put ourselves “out there”? Or can we tell our audience (e.g. students) thsat we’re new to this and trying to learn, and can they be patient with us? Or even better, try things and take feedback and iterate? We need to be willing to do it “wrong” and then start over and try again to do better. I was teling someone recently that flipped learning often fails the first time around, then you learn from what went wrong and you do better next time. I think that’s true for a lot of innovations in pedagogy. If every new thing you try works great, perhaps you’re not really taking huge risks or doing something totally new – or you’re not observing/noticing how learners are responding. These kinds of issues are higher when tech is involved because there may be glitches related to tech not working properly or as expected, as well as modifications we need to make to how we are using tech. And contexts differ, where it may work with one group of learners in a particular course but not others.
- Some mistakes are bigger than others. When trying to be inclusive and equitable, we may make a wrong move that truly harms someone. If we are continually seeking feedback, we will be told this. We may feel ashamed. We should not let shame paralyze us. We need to be willing to learn from that kind of experience and try again, rather than avoid this kind of situation. We can learn to be more aware so we catch some mistake vbefore it becomes bigger and harder to come back from. But we can also remind ourselves that while some big problems are actually an accumulation of smaller ones, solutions to those problems may be an accumulation of small moves that we build up together like fractals (inspired by Danielle Dubien in a book circle about adrienne maree brown’s Emergeny Strategy) – and crochet is basically all fractals – everything in crochet is a slight variation of one very basic stitch/move of putting yarn through a loop in some way.
- Educational developers should consider focusing on narrating processes and potential failtures, and not just “how to do it right” or “this is how to do it”. Rather, we should consider mentioning ways others have gone wrong, and also ways to recover when things go wrong, as well as ways to notice if things are going wrong and getting feedback on how well we’re doing.
- Educational developers need to offer “different size options” whenever recommending an innovation. My boss always suggests this: try flipping one module, not your entire class, for example. Integrate AI in one tiny ungraded activity, before creating a project with it. Do one class visit to an NGO, before redesigning a course as community-based learning. Same with crochet: I try smaller projects to learn a stitch and do something small and useful with it, then I try bigger projects that take longer. When learning a new stitch, I do a small project with it first.
A thought that just occurred to me now as I wrote this is that Generative AI, by making new things easy, may interrupt the frustration of learning something new that we need to go through in order to grow (as Mario Hubert wrote before). We need to support learners through a process of frustration so that they can enjoy the feeling of growth and satisfaction of achieving something you couldn’t do before – and they don’t feel like they need to resort to shortcuts.
Featured image a collage of my crochet projects.