Inch by Inch, Row by Row
I may be dating myself a bit when I ask the following question, but here goes. Who remembers the invention of the breakfast drink Tang? Back in the mid-1900s, a scientist from General Mills created a new fruity powdery drink that required consumers to just add water. When it was marketed as the drink of choice for astronauts in the NASA space program, sales skyrocketed. A refreshing orange breakfast drink, Tang was served in homes across America, often as a substitute for orange juice. The packet claimed that it had 100% of the recommended daily allowance of Vitamin C in a single eight ounce serving.
For those too young to remember Tang, how about instant oatmeal? This yummy, beige coagulation of artificial ingredients was created in the early 1970s to help busy moms save time. In the ensuing years, the marketplace has been flooded with a plethora of instant products like these. I confess! Like countless numbers of loving parents, I have resorted to slapping a breakfast bar into the hands of my sleepy child just moments after he shuffled out of bed and before the bus was due to arrive. And I, too, have snacked on more than my share of protein bars while racing from one meeting to another. Not to mention Cup-O-Soup! Who among us has not enjoyed slurping a cup of tasty plasticized noodles drenched in mountains of diluted sodium? Nothing calms a weary soul like a hearty cup of hot soup on a cold winter’s day in less than three minutes! These products and millions like them were designed as time-saving alternatives for our busy world.
Saving time is an idea that has caught on. Technology, for instance, allows us instant access. At any moment of any day we have the ability to share our thoughts with the world and to interact with others from around the globe in real time. Social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram permit us to communicate with tens of hundreds of “friends and followers” instantaneously. When it was created Twitter was envisioned as a short-message service communications platform, hence the 140 character limit. Currently, it boasts over 200 million active followers including former President Obama and President Trump. And although it was originally designed for the purpose of social messaging, Twitter has recently become one of the largest sources for breaking news.
The primary payoff for all of this instant access? Immediate gratification. How easy it is to forget about the real world and real life relationships, when we are so easily seduced by the immediacy of technology.
Now, as we anticipate the warmer days of spring, I can't help but reflect upon the important lessons that Mother Nature, in her patience, glory and wisdom gently offers us season after season. In winter for instance, we know that plants experience a period of dormancy while certain animals enter a state of hibernation. In spite of outward appearances, winter is more than just a time of suspended animation. On the contrary, this phase is critical for plant survival as they conserve energy and get ready for warmer weather. During this time many amateur gardeners anticipate the first thaw and begin to map out the planting, inch by inch and row by row. They understand that a plant’s life cycle from germination to reproduction can range several weeks, multiple years, or even decades.
This life cycle, which requires time, patience, and nurturing is not unlike the stages of learning. Many learning theorists including Dewey, Lewin, and Kolb have hypothesized that learning consists of various developmental stages through which the learner travels. These stages of experiencing, thinking, doing, testing, reflecting, and applying assist learners in moving through a learning cycle. Concepts and ideas undergo change, often from the concrete to the abstract. As in our natural world, learning is a transformational process that happens over time, giving birth to original thought and leading to new perspectives.
During the stage of rumination and reflection, it may appear that not much learning is taking place. Similarly, plants may seem inactive as they pull up moisture from their roots, absorb sunlight and release oxygen from their leaves but gardeners recognize that the plants are actually stretching and dancing and changing. They are creating new sprouts and tendrils as they expand their capacity and connection to other living things. Like the gardener, the teacher understands a child’s need for time and space as she cultivates conditions for growth.
Just as different species of plants require a variety of conditions to thrive, so do our students. Growing is not without struggle. And just as plants require water, pruning, patience and care, our students need us to nurture their young hearts and minds in similar fashion. When we are able to step back from the ongoing distraction and immediacy of our world to invest our time sowing seeds that honor each individual’s unique ways of embracing - or wrestling with - the ideas we seek to convey, we enrich our student’s lives and instill a love of learning that will lead them to flourish…inch by inch, row by row.