Why it’s okay to make your students confused

This term, I am teaching a class that class pushes students, through trying out new tools and materials, to develop their natural drawing or painting styles in new directions. We began with abstract mark making and embracing the unknown. This experimentation was thrilling, but also nerve wrecking. It was rewarding but also frustrating. These are the extremes my students experienced, and that I tried to push and to temper. I was thrilled when I came across an article that helped me process the role of experimentation, open-ended projects, and assignments that may lead students to frustration, disappointment, or confusion.

Helicopter Teaching and the Challenge of Mythrules“ by Jennifer Trainor, succinctly defends the notion of intellectual growth stemming from students using trial and error, working through confusion, wrestling with complexity, and developing resilience. She defines “mythrules” as templates, formulas, recipes, or guidelines that provide neat solutions to messy intellectual problems and forestall questions.

Instead of creating mythrules (like essays must be 5-7 pages), Trainor proposes that we teach around what she calls “essential questions”. I love this example: “In math: rather than a grading scale, ask students how many questions they believe they need to get right in order to feel they’ve mastered a particular skill.”

Want to know more progressive learning? This article speaks to many of the same principles and themes as Marwen’s own Education Vision, and the recently published “What if?” by Cynthia Weiss.




Angee Lennard About Angee Lennard
Angee Lennard is best known as the founder and director of Spudnik Press Cooperative, a community printshop inclusive of art making, writing, and book classes, youth programming, exhibitions, residencies, private studios, publishing, and so much more. Her teaching at Marwen focuses on printmaking, design, and community-based art practices. Her own artistic practices include printmaking, illustration, and drawing, with past clients including Green Lantern Press, WBEZ, and many local musicians.

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