Piece by piece

I'm continuing the challenge that was featured in my last post Off the Rails. The #blimage challenge is where people send me an image/photograph and I have to write a (reasonably intelligent) learning related blog post about it. This image was sent to me by Simon Ensor, (his blog Touches of Sense is well worth reading by the way) and here is my response:

The is a photo of jigsaw puzzle pieces, which brings three things to mind about education that are key to our understanding of good pedagogy. Firstly, all learning has the characteristics of an incomplete jigsaw. You don't really know exactly how you're going to get to the end (if there ever is an 'end'), or how long it will take, but you do have a an image on the front of the box that contains the pieces, as a reference point to what it should look like when completed. The box top image is a little like a curriculum map in education, where the subjects or the schemes of work are described, and teachers are expected to use it as guidelines to deliver content and facilitate experiences that help the students to achieve their learning outcomes. Testing is then applied to measure whether the students have indeed reached the ideal standard. This ultimately represents a product based approach to education.

Secondly, the means by which an individual successfully completes a jigsaw can be almost infinite. There are methods that people adhere to. Many people start a jigsaw off by finding and assembling all the edges. Others are more prescriptive in their approach to a jigsaw puzzle, preferring to gather together all the colours or shapes that match, and then assembling the jigsaw on the basis of similarity and pattern. Still others adopt a more random approach. Who is to say which method is a) more effective and b) more enjoyable? Whatever methods are employed, it is likely that each of us would complete a jigsaw in a different sequence, which of course is also true for most learning processes. Individuality is a key component of all learning.  Wouldn't it be sad (and very boring) if each of us had to complete a jigsaw in the same sequence, piece by piece? This is a very idiosyncractic approach to education, where the student is central to the process, and where the teacher acts as one resource amongst many.

Thirdly and finally, we could accept that the image above is quite an eye catching image in its own right. Abstractly, it has a beauty and a form that derives entirely from its incompleteness. The discussion then can turn to the question of whether all jigsaw puzzles should be completed. Ostensibly this is the intention of the jigsaw manufacturer. But should it always be the intention of the person who builds the jigsaw? What if the jigsaw is more aesthetically pleasing when only partially complete, or not complete at all? What about the value of missing pieces? Do they not also add some appeal? What about the beauty that is inherent in the chaos and uncertainty of the jigsaw? Isn't the process by which you put together the pieces more enjoyable than the ultimate satisfaction of completing the puzzle? And... what would happen if we threw away the box cover image and there were no guidelines as to what the jigsaw should look like? These questions are reminiscent of a postmodern perspective on education - where learning is random and chaotic, has multiple layers and diverse possibilities, and where the rules might just as easily be thrown out of the window. Ultimately, we know that not everything that is taught is learnt, and not everything that is learnt is taught.

I'm sure there are many other messages that could emerge from the image above, but I'm going to stop at this point to give someone else (perhaps even Simon himself?) a chance to interpret it in a pedagogical context. So what are your ideas? (And what image will you send me that will present a challenge for me to interpret?)

Photo by Simon Ensor

Creative Commons License
Piece by piece by Steve Wheeler was written in Plymouth, England and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.


Simon Ensor said…
Thank you Steve for your well-pieced together blog post. I like how you have laid out the edges systematically. I liked the idea of your challenge so I reckon I shall try to extend it by asking others to blog about it to see what they make of it. Would be great if you did the same :-)

I have the strong impression that I have already used this image in a blog post. Or that the situation if not the lmage appeared. I can almost remember the line it took, I can't quite place when or in what post though.
It is an interesting study in memory loss...

PS thanks for the plug for touches of sense :-)
Steve Wheeler said…
Simon, thanks - it's an absolute pleasure to reconnect with you in this manner. Thanks also for taking up the challenge to write about the image I sent you in return. I look forward to seeing what you make of it. I do hope others also take up the challenge, and also send their own images. This could turn out to be a very creative and fruitful networked activity! Viva la #blimage!
Maha said…
How utterly strange that i wrote my own blogpost before reading either yours, Steve, or Simon's, and yet we touch on some similar points...not repeating them, but mentioning things like postmodernism and so on. Things not normally discussed when discussing puzzles.

I have to say, though, that I disagree that all learning has the characteristic of an incomplete jigsaw, but maybe a product view of education (as you end that paragraph) does take an approach that view education as such. Not learning, though? I suspect that if we each believe we have our own jigsaw puzzle to solve, that particular jigsaw morphs as we learn more and so it isn't one fixed goal we are aiming at but something much more chaotic and dynamic. I guess my postmodern sensibilities get in the way :)
Steve Wheeler said…
Thanks Maha. I was making the point that in a product based curriculum, which is often delivered by instruction, an incomplete puzzle can be a metaphor for learning. However, in post modern perspectives, there are multiple routes and interpretations, each of which is idiosyncratic. See rhizomatic learning theory, for example. All of the scenarios I represent in the blog post *do* involve learning, if you interpret it as changes in cognitive structure. I would concede though, that the transmissive approach to education, still present in many state funded schools, does have less of an impact that progressive, student centred approaches.

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