Teach & Serve No. 8 – “Have I Properly Confused You?”

Teach & Serve 

No. 8 * September 22, 2015

Related Content from And There Came A Day:

Have I Properly Confused You?

Teachers should not forget the power of confusion. Confusion can be a powerful tool.

We are teachers. As such, we put a very high premium on clarity. We want our message to be understood whether we are the ones delivering it through direct lecture, whether the students are discovering it as they work a problem or whether the learning is seeping through in flipped classrooms or laboratory activities. The bottom line is understanding. Did our students “get” it? Can they convey it? Can they do it? Did they learn it?

Sure. Right. This makes perfect sense. In the education game, clarity is Queen. We can’t assess our students if they don’t know things or know how to do things. We can’t test their acquisition if they’ve not acquired anything.

But, can I take a few paragraphs to remind us all of the power of confusion? If the answer is “no,” skip to the next installment of Teach & Serve.

If the answer is “yes,” thanks for sticking around.

Let’s stipulate to the three cheers for clarity, but allow me to praise confusion.

Why? Simple. When properly confused, students become open to new understandings.  When confused, they have an inherent desire to know, to learn, to figure-it-out. When confused, students are ready to have their wires uncrossed and their connections re-written.

We should plan, early and often, to properly confuse our students.

Early in my career, I worked with a guy named Chris Pramuk. He taught theology and, as I recall, he taught it, primarily, to freshman boys. Chris was a very talented teacher and I was jealous of his abilities for all kinds of reasons. For purposes of this piece, I’ll hone in on one: he knew how to confuse the hell out of his students.

He would start his year with a demonstration that set the tone for his entire course. On the desk in front of the room, he would produce a glass pitcher full of water and set it down next to three or four glass tumblers. Then, without saying much to his students by way of introduction, he would pour the water from the pitcher into each glass, one-by-one.

“Okay,” he would say, “I just showed you something… if I tell you it’s about class, what would you say is going on?”

Inevitably, some boy would raise his hand (we were teaching all boy classes at the time) and say “you’re the pitcher, Mr. Pramuk. You’re, like, pouring all your knowledge into us.”

Chris would smile and smile and say “no, I’m sorry, that’s wrong.”

Then he would pour the water from the glasses back into the pitcher and say “try again – you were half right.”

And the kids would watch and give it a shot and not really know.

Lost and Confused Signpost

See, they were confused. They were in disequilibrium.

Disequilibrium is okay.

Chris had them right where he wanted them.

“I’m pitcher sometimes and you’re the glasses. You’re the pitcher sometimes and the rest of us are the glasses. And the water moves among us.”

Nice lesson, borne out of confusion, followed by explanation, followed by illumination.

(Oh, and if you think Chris’ kids were confused that day, some time I’ll write about Chris’ lesson on the male-ness of God… when he asked the boys – who generally all viewed God in the masculine – to describe God’s penis. Talk about disequilibrium.)

Having students a bit off kilter, having them questioning up and down, is a fertile place for them to be. Bringing down the shades a bit, leaving them in some darkness, can be a good thing.

But we can’t forget leading them out of the darkness. The journey out doesn’t have to happen the same class or the same day, but it must be charted for them. They must know there is a way out, a way to the light. It could be that they will find their way out in some homework assignment, reading, cooperative learning or other activity. That’s good stuff. It could be that they will struggle in their confusion until the teacher brings them back into class to flip the switch on herself.

Either way, in the hands of a skilled teacher, confusion can lead to illumination.

Be skilled. Confuse ‘em. Then lead ‘em in the light.




Filed under Education, Education Blog, Ignatian Education, Jesuit Education, Teacher, Teacher Blog, Teaching

4 responses to “Teach & Serve No. 8 – “Have I Properly Confused You?”

  1. Pingback: Teach & Serve No. 9 – Gratitude – Saying “Thank You” | And There Came a Day...

  2. Pingback: Teach & Serve No. 10 – Being Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable | And There Came a Day...

  3. Pingback: Teach & Serve No. 11 – Everyone Knows This Is a Bad Idea | And There Came a Day...

  4. Pingback: Teach & Serve No. 12 – Co-munication | And There Came a Day...

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