Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Readiness to Learn: A Reflection on the Silage Pile

Last night I had a new experience: I helped cover a silage pile.

You should know that I'm a city kid through-and-through, and even though I've lived in the midwest for quite a few years now, I know next to nothing about farming. But when I had the opportunity to help out with a church fundraiser that involved heading out into the country, I was up for it.

My view from the bottom of the pile, where I was holding down the tarp.

Silage, as I learned, is chopped up plant material used for feeding animals. This was a huge pile of corn silage that would feed cattle through the winter. Our job was to cover it with huge sheets of plastic, and then cover the tarp with tires to keep everything secure. (It's windy out here on the plains, after all.)

There was definitely some technique to it, but it was also the sort of project where there were jobs for people of all skill levels, even a city slicker like me. Yes, I got dirty. (I think it was mud I got on me...) Yes, I slipped and fell one time on the tarp while slinging tires. Yes, I tripped once while helping pull out the tarp. But I also learned quite a bit. I was willing to learn.

I was there to help out and serve and do my part, and I came into the experience fully recognizing my lack of knowledge and skill. But I had some great people around me ready to teach me what I needed to know, and I was willing to listen, to try it out, and to do my part.

I was willing, but was I also ready to learn? I'm thinking about the difference between willingness to learn, and readiness to learn.

I didn't really need a pre-assessment for my ability to learn to help cover the silage pile; I knew that I had never done this before, but I was willing to learn, and the demand was relatively low. Honestly, a lot it was learning by observation, and learning by doing. But if I was going to be plowing, or planting seed, or spraying, or harvesting, or feeding livestock...I would probably need more instruction, and I know that my knowledge gap would be much, much greater. I mean, as a former science teacher, my background knowledge about a lot of the science is probably adequate, but I don't actually have any practical experience with farming. Anyone who would be teaching me more about agriculture would probably want to check my readiness to learn--gaps in my background knowledge, my existing skill level, etc.

Maybe a silly example? Maybe. But I'm thinking about the work we ask students to do in school. Are they ready for the work? How do we know? Are we pre-assessing them in some way? Are we assuming things about their background knowledge? About their skills?

I think that readiness to learn is more than just willingness to learn.

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