(Initial) Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali's blog has now moved to http://blog.mahabali.me

Pedagogy of Misunderstanding

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Dare I admit this? Some of the most interesting things I have done and ideas I have thought stemmed from misunderstandings!

It is often considered good teaching to approach our subject matter wanting to figure out our students’ erroneous pre/misconceptions and to correct them. But my own experiences as a learner have shown me that sometimes a misconception or misunderstanding can lead to innovation and insight.

It is really worth pondering the degree to which “discontinuity and being open to surprise often foster creativity in the search for promising ideas” (Conrad and Dunek , 2012, p. 73).

An example of a misunderstanding that led to innovation is my own misunderstanding of how content analysis can be used to assess online discussions. My Master’s thesis used rubrics with online discussion as a method of evaluation. It had never occurred to me that it could be done any other way. When we came to publish a paper out of it, it turned out that this approach was new, and that’s why the paper was publishable!

It happens quite often in group meetings and classes that someone says an idea, then another person builds on it, only to discover that they had misunderstood the original idea. Some great ideas come out of misunderstandings and serendipity. Trying not to finish everything in a synchronous meeting and allowing ideas to develop independently with each person can produce new ideas as well (the discontinuity factor).

I often read a text and misunderstand something because I am reading it out of context (sometimes in purpose I will just open a book in the middle and start reading it – is that just me? I have done this with relatively complex works like Edward Said’s) and reflecting on my own context. Now, generally, I believe we mostly think it is important to read something in context, and I am not questioning the value of that in bringing us closer to the author’s intentions (I even truly believe in the importance of empathetic reading). But there is something to be said for the potential insight and self-reflection that can come out of reading something out of context and connecting it to the reader’s own context and thinking. I am sure the humanities folks have a lot to say about this already. We do it all the time when we share inspirational quotes by people we don’t know, said in contexts we never question.

I don’t think this concept of pedagogy of misunderstanding is something you can depend upon, I don’t think it is something you can even necessarily plan on, but it is something we can embrace and welcome and encourage when we see it happening, and we can appreciate the process and outcome.

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Author: Maha Bali

Associate professor of practice, American University in Cairo

One thought on “Pedagogy of Misunderstanding

  1. Pingback: Pedagogy of Misunderstanding | Reflecting Allow...

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