Embracing Uncertainty

“If students can be made to feel comfortable with uncertainty — if they’re learning in an environment where ambiguity is welcome and they are encouraged to question facts — then they are more apt to be curious and innovative in their thinking.”

~Linda Flanagan

As a teacher I often think about how I can encourage my students to be curious and wonder about the world around them.  This was true when I worked in K-12 schools and it is true for me now as a university teacher.  In my work with pre-service elementary teachers there is an added dimension of how can I help them learn to be teachers who encourage their students to be curious.

In Linda Flanagan’s post (https://ww2.kqed.org/mindshift/2015/10/21/how-to-spark-curiosity-in-children-by-embracing-uncertainty/) she offers ideas for teachers and parents to spark curiosity in children.  One that stood out to me was the idea that we must construct opportunities for students to fail.

This does not mean the kind of trickster behavior that I remember from some university courses in particular.  I define trickster behavior as those times when a professor hoped to trip students up in some way.  For example, asking questions about information contained in photo captions in the textbook.  While it is true that if you did your reading perfectly you would have read the captions, but how many of us paid close attention to those captions?  At least prior to the first exam when we realized that the professor was testing us on the material contained in the captions.

The kind of opportunities for students to fail that I am talking about are low-risk teachable moments.  These types of failures are the seeds of creativity and by failing early-on in low-risk situations students are able to use them as learning opportunities rather than endpoints.  Furthermore, by creating these uncertainties students are pushed to think outside of their usual comfort zone and ways of thinking.

However, much of schooling is portrayed through a lens of certainty.  Students may have experienced little uncertainty in their schooling and when they encountered it, it may have been a distinctly unpleasant experience.  As teachers who want to encourage creativity by embracing uncertainty part of our job is to reframe the role of uncertainty in schooling.  We have to make it not only safe, but desirable to be uncertain.


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