Spinach, credentialing, and learning

Marcy Bauman (marcyb@UMD.UMICH.EDU)
Wed, 14 Aug 1996 21:41:37 -0400

First of all, I _like_ spinach. The vegetable, not the metaphor. Maybe
because I like spinach, I get a little uneasy when Eric suggests that
he's ranting for anarchy: He isn't, and I know he isn't, and he even
SAYS he isn't, but he's subject to misinterpretation with a subject line
like that (just as "spinach" stands in for "bad stuff" so often that we
forget it's really tasty when it's cooked right, or not at all).

But OTOH, I think we've got a tendency to see individual learning as
anarchistic. We're too often accustomed to looking at classrooms where
not everyone is doing the same thing and the teacher isn't behind
the proscenium and thinking that no learning is going on. Or that if
three drafts of a paper aren't mandated, people aren't thinking
about revision and audience awareness. Or that if the teacher doesn't
have a stack of portfolios to grade and hand back at the end of the
semester, not much writing was going on all semester. One of the worst
things about our credentialing system is that it has so thoroughly
conditioned all of us to look at PRODUCTS as the sole evidence of
learning, rather than looking at learning itself -- seeing what the
process of learning looks like for individual people at specific moments
here & there (whenever we're alert enough to catch it) -- and seeing
those products as BY-products. In our haste to evaluate, we forget to
watch the learners.

So, again I ask: What does learning look like? And I'd like to be more
concrete with this request. I'd like you to tell me, either on-list or
off, about a specific student, situation, and task where you observed
somebody learning, irrespective of the eventual product of that
learning. (That student could be yourself, too.) I think there's a lot
written about what children look like when they're learning, but there
isn't too much about college students.

I'll read the anecdotes you send, see if I can make any usefule
generalizations about them, and post the results to the list. Or maybe
archive the whole mess to a web site along with my
interpretations/generalizations . . . and link it all to some online
journal, if I could find one that'd take it (she says, tongue in cheek).

To start off, here's mine. It's not dramatic, but I've remembered it for
several years. As part of a class-wide project on Henry Ford, the auto
industry, and the importance of all that to the southeast Michigan region
where I teach, group of students enrolled in my research writing course
were charged with finding out how much the first auto workers were paid.
They'd sat down at the library online catalog terminal, and before long
they came to me for help, because they were drawing a blank. I directed
them to the research librarian, who asked what search terms they'd used.
Because they were part of a group who were researching the economic
impact of cars, they'd entered "economics." After a few go-rounds, they
and the librarian settled on some useful terms -- but I noticed that the
four of them were _very_ attentive when they were listening to her (and
my students are, um, not always attentive when listening to librarians).
I've always presumed that they learning something about online
searching that day -- they _did_ find out the first auto workers' wages,
and a whole lot more. But it's not what they found that made me think
so; it's the quality of attention they gave the librarian, and the
earnestness and unselfconsciousness with which they described their
efforts so far that has made me think that learning was going on then.


Marcy Bauman
Writing Program
University of Michigan-Dearborn
4901 Evergreen Rd.
Dearborn, MI 48128

Web page: http://www.umd.umich.edu/~marcyb
email: marcyb@umd.umich.edu