The Sea of Confusion

One of the greatest joys of being a teacher is witnessing the young people in your class experience that ‘a-ha moment’. That moment where whatever concept you have been teaching finally sinks in and a boy gets it; he has a sudden moment of realisation where things just click into place, and he has emerged from the sea of confusion.

At Ipswich Grammar School, we take this responsibility of helping boys wade through the sea of confusion seriously.

There are different ways we know a boy has emerged from their confused state. Sometimes, it’s a look that passes over a boy’s face; other times, it’s a nod or even a series of nods that indicates that he has emerged from the sea. Some boys just grunt in acknowledgement.

Whatever the signal for understanding might be, it is these moments that we look for as teachers so that we know that a boy has comprehended what we are teaching.

But before that a-ha moment occurs, there is often a point where confusion takes hold, and a student is lost in the difficulty of learning, floundering in the sea of confusion.

Confusion is often signalled as a negative state of mind for someone to be in. Too much confusion can lead to giving up and a loss of motivation, even disengagement.

However, research has been shown that the state of confusion can actually be vital to the learning process. Confusion needs to be seen as a pivotal step towards important learning. It occurs just before a breakthrough of knowledge – just before that ‘a-ha moment’.

As Teachers, it is important that we normalise confusion and destigmatise the negative connotations that are associated with this state. And one of the most critical ways we can do this is to create a learning environment where there is a mixture of both comfort and confusion.

Brene` Brown writes in her latest book, Atlas of the Heart, that “Comfortable learning environments rarely lead to deep learning”[1]. And that is the teaching and learning environment we aim to create at Ipswich Grammar School. A learning environment that is the appropriate mix of comfortable and confusing.

During learning, wading through the sea of confusion is considered healthy; it’s an effort, but it’s worth it. Not all learning should be unpleasant, but a level of difficulty is desirable, because then we know our brain is stretching itself to learn. When we destigmatise confusion, we understand that the state of confusion is actually critical to knowledge acquisition and learning.

Catherine Cuddihy
Dean of Academics

[1] Brown, B 2021, Atlas of the Heart: mapping meaningful connection and the language of human experience, Vermillion, London, p. 62.