Desire lines and learning

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I've been reading and rereading this post on Patti Digh's 37 Days about desire lines—those pathways that form when people walk the way they desire, not the way the path-maker decided would be the best way to go (I also borrowed the picture from her to illustrate what she's talking about). Patti quotes New Zealand blogger Marica Sevelj, who relates desire lines to learning in this way:


    I immediately started thinking about how this might apply to learning and teaching. One thing that sprang into my mind immediately was the disparity between the curriculum which we are required to teach and the actual needs of the learners we teach. Is the curriculum itself an example of a desire line created by a group of experts who wholeheartedly believe this is what the learner needs to know, or is the curriculum an example of a concrete path which learners are expected to use but don't necessarily want to?


    It makes me wonder how we accommodate desire lines in our learning environments. How do we meet the needs of our learners while still engaging them in learning things they may need to know although at the time they don't know it? How does the saying go - you don't know what you don't know! Should we always allow our learners to be in control of their learning desire line or do we gently help them onto the path? Who decides which is the best option?



Some of my best learning experiences is when we've gone off the established path and, through wandering a bit, found new ways to connect different lines of knowledge. Most desire lines in parks tend to mark shortcuts between two points. But when it comes to learning, our desire lines may more closely resemble spirals, or zig-zags, or arcs that touch different paths in new ways. This reminds me a little of what someone was telling me about how they teach math (always my least favorite subject) at her kid's school. Instead of memorizing formulas (taking the path that's been laid out for us without questioning—and stay off the grass!), the kids have projects that entail using whatever they're learning. But they have to figure out how to use it, where their desire line goes, to achieve their goals.


Anyway, please read Patti's post. It's one of the most thought-provoking things I've read in a long time.

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