Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Learning through Breaking Things Down

This winter, I have decided to embrace being in Minnesota by taking up cross country skiing.  My timing, as ever, is impecable, since there hasn't been so much snow here this year.  As a result, last night was only my third time doing on-snow rather than dryland training and my first time actually skiing in tracks.

Unsurprisingly, given my inexperience and limited intuitive athletic abilities, I was a mess at the beginning of the evening.  I simply could not understand what the teachers meant when they were trying to get me to stride on flat terrain and was confused by confining my skis in the tracks.  Lucky for me, very few people came out in the suboptimal conditions and so I ended up having a private lesson with Carol, an experienced instructor and racer.  In two hours, she managed to teach me how to comfortably glide through a teaching approach that I told her at the end of the night was brilliant.  Given that many blog readers are teachers who reflect a lot on pedagogy, I thought I'd share what she did and consider its implications for law teaching and for how we think about legal problems more broadly.

After trying to work with me in skis and poles at the beginning to no avail, Carol completely deconstructed what I was doing.  She had me put my poles down and take my skis off and practice getting back into the right stance with no gear.  Then, she had me put one ski on--still no poles--and practice doing the "kick" by having one ski in the wrong track and the other ski out of the track while I visualized scootering (something my kids do).  Once I had a feel for that on both sides, she had me put on both skis (still no poles), and get the motion of kicking and gliding down.  Finally, we added in poles, which it turned out I was also using wrong.  So, then we did an exercise where I didn't move my feet and practiced double poling and single alternate poling.  Finally, I put the whole thing back together and was miraculously improved.  I'm not claiming to have any major skills, of course, but I actually was capable of doing the motion of gliding and could feel whether I was doing it right or not.

This experience got me thinking about all of the times we and our students and our children struggle along trying to get something right when there's something off with the underlying basics.  I think there are a lot of times when we just need to take things apart, break them down, and figure the pieces out before we put them back together.  This obviously won't work in every instance, but I think it may be part of the solution to some of our most vexing environment and energy problems--breaking down our assumptions to work towards a reconstruction that makes the "simple glide" work.  And on a less intellectual note, I highly recommend the Ride and Glide program for any of you near the Twin Cities; I was very lucky to be referred there by my environment/energy colleague Elizabeth Wilson.

Hari Osofsky

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I think you just metaphorically summarized "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance." Well said.

Posted by: Lance N. Long | Feb 9, 2012 11:19:03 AM

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