Reading the first six pages brought back a flood of memories, or rather a flood of confused and lost memories. I remember having to look up “indexicality” (top of 33) which means: of or in relation to an index. I remember having to look up a lot of words but as I read the same words I read more than two years ago I’m suddenly understanding more than I thought I would. Lave and Wenger’s theory of situated learning comes down the assertion that, “…there is no activity that is not situated.” (33) meaning we are learning in all situations for which we are active. They expect some resistance and try to head it off at the pass so to speak. And now I’m seeing explained why I and many other students come up against a barrier to learning when we enter a space that is designated “general learning/knowledge”. As they put it, “Generality is often associated with abstract representations…But abstract representations are meaningless unless they can be made specific to the situation at hand.” (33) This seems clear enough to me that our natural instinct to learn what applies to us and what doesn’t is a major player in our bid to give students and people at large a well rounded understanding of our world. However they don’t discount general knowledge because it isn’t always applicable, “The generality of any form of knowledge always lies in the power to renegotiate the meaning of the past and the future in constructing the meaning of the present circumstances.” (34). What I discovered in these first few pages make a lot of sense in that every activity involves learning of some kind and that brings with it some interesting ideas on what we teach.
I had the occasion to enter a community of high schoolers for what constitutes a full year. I entered as a murky definition. I wasn’t a TA, I wasn’t Student Teacher, I was a volunteer. What quickly happened was I taken in and treated like a Student Teacher. As an undergraduate I graded papers, helped students with questions, I even helped with the publication of a literary magazine created almost solely by the students (there was a lot of work put in by the teacher too). I share all that because I’m only now starting to realize just how much learning was going on not only for those students but for me. I had to call on a largish portion of general information, science, math (oh, I’m bad at math), history and you name it. Being immersed in a classroom with those kids I was a go-to for them and they picked my brain liberally. And yet, I learned so much at the same time.
The activity, the learning, that was going on was natural because they knew and I knew (and they knew I knew) I was not the “teacher”. I was simply a source of knowledge they could access and I believe I got the biggest smiles when they found they’d taught me something. There are a multitude of factors that went into that wonderful experience but I think I caught a glimpse of how learning works. Like Lave and Wenger are trying to get across, it isn’t that situated learning means we are constantly teaching, the wild idea is that we might learn something from our students. There are factors that would hinder that relationship running as smoothly as it did for me (I didn’t have to deal with disgruntle parents or students acting out) as my lack of authority allowed for most of the kids to open up and actually listen to me when they might have tuned out their teacher. I’m not sure how to put into words the steps I took or the things I said that led to the students accepting me, I’m not sure if you asked them they would know, it just seems like Lave and Wenger’s explanation that learning happens in every activity makes so much more sense when you realize the burden isn’t on you to impart knowledge every time. That there are times when it’s okay to learn something new from a source that very well could be much younger than you. Which leads me to the question of what’s the best way to convince students that learning is not their only role in a classroom? How to give them agency with the knowledge they already possess?