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  • Writer's pictureLeeyanne Moore

5 Lessons Learned About Learner Led Education

Updated: Feb 12

UGH!!!!! I'm so frustrated. It's hard to let my mind rest if my learner isn't happy working with me or is having issues. Right now I'm kicking myself, because when we had our last parent conference, I was concerned and yet excited about one of my learners. Yet (for now) I seem to have lost this same learner. (This is me, making a scrunched up face and a loser L on my forehead.)


I was excited because this learner was so close to a) finishing b) for the first time c) an original long story that was d) over ten thousand words that e) also was a very good story, with a solid plot structure. It was the kind of story that I could actually see in my head in movie-like detail, and a story I could easily imagine other kids wanting to read and enjoying reading.

On the other hand, this learner was also rapidly losing steam. My question for the parent during our conference was this: should I try to keep this student going, and cheer hard for the student to finish this writing project before the holiday break? (We're so close!) Or not? Because clearly, the learner's own motivation and interest were sinking rapidly - thus my worry.


important

LESSON #1 - LISTEN TO RED FLAGS!

I didn't know what to do. I was conflicted. The strong action elements and f) cool characters of the story had charmed me--I didn't want to see the story abandoned. Week after week I'd try to pose challenges to maintain interest: timed writing, increasing word count challenges. We laughed over funny moments. It worked - sort of. Progress was made on the story, but now we were hitting an iron wall of the learner's will. I probably could have done a better job here - more pedagogical self-recrimination will follow.


The parent was highly sympathetic. It would be nice to finish the story. Ultimately, though, I should have jumped ship and offered up new, enticing projects with which to start afresh.


LESSON #2 - IT'S NOT GOING TO WORK IF I'M MORE EXCITED THAN THE LEARNER IS. THE MOTIVATION HAS TO COME FROM THE STUDENT.

In the end, I lost the student to other activities. Finger's crossed it's just for now, and the student will return later this spring. Next time I'll check in with the student and switch up the writing content as soon as it becomes clear that the learner is not invested in finishing this writing project - no matter how excellent the project is. I won't make the same mistake again! (Shaking my fist.) :) Ah well - lesson learned....

LESSON #3 - FINISHING IS HARD I know after years and years of work that it's natural not to finish writing projects. Finishing a story is hard for adults, not to mention for teens and pre-teens. One clear sign of giftedness in preteens and teens is the ability to finish a long story draft.


But it's not the only sign. For everyone there's something about that actual ending - not just suddenly cutting the story off, or stopping on a cliff hanger - that's challenging. You've opened up narrative arcs, and now you need to resolve them in a surprising but satisfying way.


This is where most people hit what I call The Void - their mind goes blank. They have no idea what comes next. They are totally stuck. I reassure most parents that eventually, your average writing workshop kid will mature and if they keep it up learn how to finish a story. But it's never something I worry about in workshops. While many do learn how to finish a story, let's face it - many more don't.


That's okay. Even doing part of a long story is worthwhile and allows the practice of multiple excellent skills. It's better to have written and not finished then not to have written at all.


LESSON #4 - IT'S A MISTAKE TO KNOW TOO MUCH ABOUT YOUR STORY - FOR SOME WRITERS

For so many of the kids that I work with, we do some story scaffolding ahead of where we're at in the story in order to avoid The Void. Yet for some writers (I include myself in this bunch) when you know too well how the story will lay out at the end, it deflates the energy and motivation to write the story. There's a necessary sweet spot: one that allows you not to face a void about what comes next, but not to know too much either so that finishing the story becomes a boring grind.


I think knowing too much about the end of the story was part of the problem with this learner. I was almost starting to have that problem with another learner who is writing a full novel. In her instance we agreed that anytime the story felt too predictable she needed to put something she loved about the story at risk and destroy it, or almost destroy it. That perked her up and the story has taken a very exciting turn as a result. UPDATE: Nope. She has dropped that story as well.


LESSON #5 - LEARNER LED TYPES NEEDS LEARNER LED UNDERSTANDING

This is not the only time I've gained experience the hard way that learner-led strategy is not just the best strategy - its the only strategy for some students. With some people once the iron will is up, that's it. You will alienate them by trying to force things one fraction of an inch further. If these writers are not in charge of their creative destiny then the really sad part starts: that creative urge begins to die. (😱😭😭😭)


That's not going to happen in this instance, but I just hate it that I was not able to self-correct the direction I was headed in. We all get bored at some point writing a long narrative project. Many an author I know lies about moaning at the hard parts of finishing a novel. But I've learned not to push. In the past, too much excitement about the story has led me to surge right past the warning signs. From now on I'm even more resolved than ever not to let my excitement get the better of me. I'll also do a better job of communicating to the learner. I will mention more than once that they can speak up if all is not well. I promise to do a better job of checking in and listening.


Thank you for reading - please contact me here and let me know what your coaching needs are for you or your student. :)

- Leeyanne

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