Learning collisions

Can you remember an event when you learned something unexpectedly? A ‘learning collision’. Let me explain.

I had been at a conference in London and was traveling back to Norfolk by train. When the train approached Cambridge we were informed that passengers had to go by coach to Ely and than onwards to Norfolk by train. This came as no surprise to travellers that day and we all shuffled through the train station towards the front of the building where the coach was expecting us. Unfortunately, there were more than just a few people waiting for the coach, in fact, hundreds of passengers were waiting patiently to be taken to Ely to catch the next link on their journeys. Eventually, a bunch of us got together to share a taxi: a lady from Northern Ireland, a pensioner from South Creak, a bishop and a Swede (this could have turned into a rather good joke I think!) and eventually managed to catch the next available train without being delayed for too long. A seemingly dull and potentially cumbersome trip turned into a very interesting and rewarding experience because of this slight miss-hap.

I had the pleasure of sharing the last leg of my trip with the bishop. He told me that education was very close to his heart as well and that his current role involved working with a lot with young adults. ‘Learning, I mean real learning’ he said, ‘takes place when you least expect it’. He went on to explain that the biggest impact his teachings ever have on his students is when they go on pilgrimages because each student experience something different to the other ones. The impact of their learning journeys continue after the pilgrimage, in later lessons and beyond. Talking to this friendly man got me thinking about how our students learn, why they learn and when they learn best. Isn’t it true that learning stays with you longer when you experience it and when you take an active part in it?

My wife and I spent a week in Dorset a couple of years ago and we also spent a few hours in Tolpuddle. As a History teacher this area is particularly interesting. Tolpuddle in the 1830s was a quaint little village where a small group of farm labourers joined together to protect their wages which were decreasing in this part of the country . The government, worried about workers rebellion, and worse case scenario revolution, encouraged local landlords and employers to come down hard on this small group of men. Eventually the six men were transported to Australia. They became known as the Martyrs of Tolpuddle – or The Tolpuddle Martyrs.

The Martyr Tree
The Martyr Tree

I always found this story especially interesting as the six men were treated so harshly for something rather peaceful, namely discussing what they could do to ensure they could feed their families at the end of the week. According to historical documents the ‘Topuddle Six’ gathered by a large oak tree to talk. When we arrived at the village my wife took a series of photos of me posing in front of ‘the tree’ which I could use to show my students. Suddenly an older gentleman stopped his car and asked why we were taking snaps of the tree. I explained the reasons for our peculiar behaviour but he interrupted me and asked if I really believed that the Martyrs would have sat by that particular tree. He then went on to explain that his great grandfather, his own father and himself were all brought up in Tolpuddle and he had been told that  the six men never, and he repeated ‘never’, sat by that tree. ‘Guess why they didn’t?’. I was unsure so he said: ‘If that’s the Manor Farm and they sat there (pointing towards both locations), do you really think they were that stupid to sit 20 yards away from the boss?’.  I had never questioned the legends or even local documents. Examine the photograph, find the tree, the manor farm and then think about it, would they really have sat there? Of course not. i just had a ‘learning collision’ which I will not forget.

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Johannes Ahrenfelt

Johannes Ahrenfelt has previously worked as County Advisor for Learning & Teaching with ICT, Head of Department and University Lecturer. He has taught for 10+ years in schools around Norfolk, UK, and is currently leading an inspirational team in Norwich as Head of Faculty. Johannes shares his passion for pedagogy on his blog, social media and when delivering training in the UK and abroad. He has also published several books worldwide, one of which has been translated into Mandarin and Malayan.

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