“Confusion is the welcome mat at the door of creativity.”
Unfortunately, it’s quite common for students to perceive confusion as a bad thing; something they must avoid at all costs. For many, admitting confusion is a sign of weakness or lack of intelligence. In my opinion, this couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, I believe that confusion is often a necessary component of learning. Instead of avoiding confusion, we must learn to embrace it.
Imagine that each new learning experience is akin to hiking a mountain. Below is a progression of the various stages of learning while on this academic hike.
Stage 1 – Students are introduced to a new concept. This serves as the beginning of their hike. Unfortunately, some choose to check out at this point, without even taking a single step up the mountain. They might say things like “I don’t get it” or “Why do we have to learn this?” Not surprisingly, the majority of these excuses are used as a means of avoiding confusion.
Stage 2 – Students reach varying levels of confusion. Usually this occurs about halfway up the mountain. This is the most critical stage of learning as they are forced to choose whether or not to work through the confusion and continue up the mountain, or to allow it to stop them in their tracks. Those who perceive confusion as a bad thing will often descend to the base of the mountain and use the confusion to justify their actions. They might say things like “This is just too hard” or “How can they expect me to learn this?” However, those who have learned to embrace confusion simply reach into their toolkit and pull out the three most powerful tools in their arsenal; patience, curiosity, and creativity. Armed with these skills, they seek to find solutions, rather than highlighting the difficulty of the problem(s).
Stage 3 – Students eventually reach the peak of the mountain and often experience that aha moment when they fully grasp the concept. This serves as a huge confidence builder and helps immensely with future learning opportunities. The intrinsic reward that comes from perseverance and grit is far greater than any letter grade. Making it to the peak is a feat in and of itself.
Stage 4 – When presented with similar learning challenges in the future, confusion is seen as a part of the journey, not the destination. Due to an increased level of confidence, they realize that the peak is always closer than they think.
Note to parents: The next time your child comes to you with that I don’t get it look, use it as an opportunity to teach them the importance of embracing confusion. Tell them that it’s okay to be confused and start to model the life skills of patience, curiosity, and creativity. By simply giving them an answer or doing the work for them in an effort to mask their confusion, we enable them to walk down a dangerous path of dependent thinking. However, when we learn to help them manage the confusion, they will walk down a very different path; a path of independent thinking.