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  • Writer's pictureallisonjolester

Uncovering Felt Difficulties: Unleashing Your Inner Educational Detective

Salutations! Welcome back to another thrilling episode of educational detective work. Today, I'm dusting off our magnifying glasses to uncover the elusive 'felt difficulties' lurking in the shadows of our teaching practices.

First off, let's delve into what Sherlock Holmes' less-famous cousin, John Dewey, meant when he talked about 'felt difficulties.' Picture this: You're walking along a perfectly smooth sidewalk, and then—BAM!—you trip over an unseen crack. That surprise stumble, that unexpected obstacle, is what Dewey would call a 'felt difficulty.'

In the world of teaching, these 'felt difficulties' could be anything that disrupts your pedagogical flow.

Don't confuse these with those everyday conundrums like, "Why does my tech keep crashing during my lesson" or "How did my stapler disappear again?" (For examples of what is NOT a dilemma, see this post!)

Oh no, we're talking about the real brain-benders, the double-espresso shots of teaching. The kind of questions that have you staring at the ceiling at 3 a.m., a half-eaten sandwich in one hand, your lesson plan in the other, wondering how you ended up here.

Teaching dilemmas are the tricky pickles, the situations that drop into your lap and make you think: "Wow, I don't remember this chapter from my education degree." They're the conundrums that make you question your values, principles, and possibly even the sanity of choosing a career in education. (Just kidding, we love our jobs…most of the time.)

Take, for example, the classic Curriculum vs. Context Clash. You're waist-deep in a history unit, and suddenly a current event ties in perfectly with your lesson. It's like the universe handed you a free teaching resource on a silver platter! But wait – you've got a curriculum tighter than your budget before payday. Do you stick to the plan or grab this teachable moment with both hands and run with it?

Or how about the Digital Divide Dilemma? You've discovered an exciting ed-tech tool that's shinier than a freshly waxed classroom floor. But alas, half of your students have about as much reliable internet access as a hermit crab. Do you dive headfirst into the digital age or stick with your good old marker and whiteboard?

And let's not forget the Cultural Responsiveness vs. Canonical Curriculum Challenge. You're all about promoting inclusivity and diversity, but your curriculum seems to have been designed by people who think 'diversity' is a brand of multicolored markers. Do you follow the textbook or take the road less traveled, celebrating the multitude of voices, experiences, and perspectives in our world?

These are the teaching dilemmas, the 'should I stay or should I go' moments that keep us on our toes. They're less 'how do I solve this math problem' and more 'how do I solve this existential crisis.' But hey, no one said teaching was easy – if it were, everyone would be doing it!

Example time!

Let's dive into a case study. (For a deeper dive into examples of teaching dilemmas see this post)

Case Study: The Reflective Odyssey of Amelia and the Inquiry-Information Paradox

Amelia stood in front of her classroom, feeling the vibrant energy of her students. They were engaged in a heated debate over a historical event, each student defending their perspective with passion. She had initiated this discussion as part of her endeavor to embed inquiry-based learning in her lessons. The results were remarkable; students were thinking more critically and taking more ownership of their learning.

However, as she watched the clock and noted the time slipping away, she felt a nagging unease. The curriculum outline for the term sat on her desk, a stark reminder of the extensive content yet to be covered. The lively debate in her classroom was a double-edged sword; while it drove deeper understanding, it also consumed valuable time.

Over the next few days, Amelia found herself wrestling with an emerging discomfort. On one hand, the benefits of inquiry-based learning were evident in her classroom. On the other, there was the mounting pressure to cover the vast curriculum. She felt trapped in an inquiry-information balancing act, and this tension became her "felt difficulty."

The first step in her reflective journey was acknowledging this discomfort. She began by journaling, writing down her observations, feelings, and the apparent consequences of both approaches. As she wrote, patterns began to emerge. She noticed that on days when the focus was more on content delivery, there was a decrease in student engagement, but an uptick in the volume of content covered. On inquiry-based days, the depth of understanding was palpable, but the pace was markedly slower.

Amelia then turned to her colleagues. In team meetings and casual coffee chats, she posed her dilemma. Some teachers resonated with her challenge, sharing their own experiences and the strategies they tried. Others posed probing questions, pushing her to reflect deeper on her priorities and values as an educator.

With each conversation, Amelia refined her understanding of the dilemma. It wasn't a binary choice but a spectrum. The challenge was to find her unique point of equilibrium on that spectrum.

After several days of reflection and a deeper dive into her journal entries, Amelia decided to frame her felt difficulty as a research question to guide her inquiry further:

"How can I design a pedagogical approach that integrates inquiry-based learning while ensuring comprehensive content coverage to meet curriculum standards?"

Phew, what a mouthful! But for Amelia this question helped her to have a clearer direction to move forward. She didn't know for certain where it would lead her or where she will end up in her inquiry. She also knew that research questions and inquiries evolve and change over time. However, it was the start of naming two important aspects of her teaching - inquiry-based learning and comprehensive content coverage - that felt in conflict with each other.

(see this post for how research questions change or this post about not needing the perfect question)

So, how can you unleash your inner educational detective and track down these 'felt difficulties'?

Let's explore!

1. Become a Pedagogical Detective: Keep an eye (and ear!) out for hiccups in your daily teaching routines. This isn't about beating yourself up over perceived failures; it's about being open to spotting and acknowledging these difficulties.

2. Reflect with a Sherlock Holmes' Eye: Once you've identified a 'felt difficulty,' take a moment to ponder it. What caused the hiccup? How did it impact your teaching and your students' learning? This reflective practice is akin to Holmes inspecting a crime scene.

3. Experiment Like a Mad Scientist: You've identified the problem, and you've reflected on it. Now, it's time to get experimental! Try out different strategies to address the difficulty.

4. Record Your Findings: Just like any good investigator, keep a record of what you've found. Track the changes you've implemented, the responses, and the outcomes. This will help you monitor progress and adjust strategies as needed.

5. Share Your Adventure: The final step in this journey is sharing your findings with your fellow detectives—oops, I mean educators. By sharing, you're not only contributing to collective learning but also finding support and new perspectives.

So, there you have it! Remember, encountering a 'felt difficulty' isn't a sign of failure—it's a flare signaling an opportunity for exploration, learning, and growth.

And with that, I wish you happy detecting! Keep sniffing out those felt difficulties and turning them into stepping stones for pedagogical prowess.

Until next time!


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