Learning is a messy process

In my work with students, one mantra that guides my pedagogical approaches is that “Writing is a social process.” Students often had a difficult time wrapping their heads around this because writing so often is done in isolation and when we think of writers, we think of people in remote cabins in the forest or similar environs. I would also add that in addition to it being a social process, it is also a messy one.

In my former position as writing tutor and instructional assistant at a community college, I understood my role in supporting student success. The students I worked with, often fresh out of high school or returning to college after a long absence, were in the first of the Basic Skills writing courses (formerly known as remedial courses). Students often lamented that they weren’t “good writers” and were often frustrated on the difficulties involved in the writing process.

I did not (and still don’t) believe that the essay is the standard for demonstrating mastery of learning. I wondered why other means were not considered equally valid evidence of mastery. This would have benefited many students I worked with.

In this week’s modules on Infinite Learning – I was drawn to the Library as a Classroom topic. I was pleased to find other significant educational organizations shared my belief. Lippincourt (2015) mentions the Degree Qualifications Profile, an educational organization that “illustrates the kinds of proficiencies that students need to develop as they complete their academic work” declare one proficiency is to “construct sustained, coherent arguments, narratives or explications of issues, problems or technical issues and processes, in writing and at least one other medium, to general and specific audiences.” To me this proves that while writing is one medium that can be used to demonstrate proficiency, it is not the only means.

In an innovative assignment that asked students to participate in creating “site specific dance pieces” in small groups, Joshua Block (2014) mentions that struggling is an integral part of the learning process.

If I don’t allow learning to be messy, I eliminate authentic experiences for students as thinkers and creators. I find it important to regularly remind myself that frustration leads to insights and that learning is not necessarily the equivalent of mastery.

Block, J., (07 Jan 2014). Embracing messy learning. Edutopia. Found at: https://www.edutopia.org/blog/embracing-messy-learning-joshua-block

Part of creating that authentic learning experience involves balancing structure and choice (Block, 2013). It involves knowing when to provide modeling and how much details you should reveal in the process and avoid quick fixes where you provide so much information that you remove the struggle from your students. It is important to remember that “too much structure can remove individual investment and creativity” (Block, 2013), and that is not something we want to take away from our students.


Block, J., (28 Oct 2013), Strategic modeling: Balancing structure with choice. Edutopia. Retrieved from: https://www.edutopia.org/blog/strategic-modeling-balancing-structure-choice-joshua-block

Block, J., (07 Jan 2014). Embracing messy learning. Edutopia. Retrieved from: https://www.edutopia.org/blog/embracing-messy-learning-joshua-block

Lippincourt, J. (26 Feb 2015). The future for teaching and learning: Librarians’ deepening involvement in pedagogy and curriculum. American Libraries. Retrieved from: https://americanlibrariesmagazine.org/2015/02/26/the-future-for-teaching-and-learning/

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