Jill Davidson's Learning Story


At Rosh Hashanah services yesterday, I sat next to my nine year old son, a bundle of squirmy, unsettled reluctance. By the end of the service, hours later, while not precisely alight with religious fervor, he was mentally and physically present, participating, and perhaps even enjoying himself. I believe this happened because as a learner and participant in the experience, my son was in the driver’s seat–or, more accurately, in the reader’s seat. At the start of the service, I gave my prayerbook to someone else and let my son know that he and I needed to share, and that he was in charge of the book. Over the course of the service, he began to demonstrate ownership of “his” book, turning the pages at the correct moments and following along during the Hebrew songs and prayers, demonstrating his ability with that book to himself, to me, and to the congregation. A powerful way to teach is to let go–to physically relinquish the book, the paper in the midst of edits, the computer keyboard, the whisk in the kitchen–and participate as a companion as someone else learns. Serving as a witness and coach to a learner’s experience makes sense, and becomes second nature when we remember that the learner needs to have control of the experience. When I learned to teach writing while in college, much of the learning surprised me in its focus on setting and behavior. The first moment of revelation to me was not grasping when to use who and whom (though that did prove to be quite enlightening) but was learning to keep the paper under discussion in the physical, actual hands of the writer. As a teacher and editor, it is second nature to take control of that paper to circle a word, make a point, demonstrate with a gesture. I learned that possession is a crucial element of feeling in control, and feeling in control allows a learner to stay open to the experience. I learned to ask, “Do you mind if I point something out?” rather than assuming that my role as writing coach gave me the automatic right to do so. This simple attention to possession of experience led to amazing results, and has been a fabulous tool through many teaching and parenting situations since. Letting go may be harder when my children are actually in the driver’s seat, come their 16th birthdays. Until then, we’ll work on what it feels like to be responsible for their own learning and own experiences, and every day, I will find new moments to let go and enjoy the relationships that develop as a result.