Learn, Unlearn and Relearn

“The illiterate of the 21st Century are not those who cannot read and write but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.”
― Alvin TofflerPowershift: Knowledge, Wealth, and Power at the Edge of the 21st Century

My son and I made blue and green belt today, respectively, during our Tae Kwon Do testing.

I joined Tae Kwon Do with my son last fall. With most martial arts systems, there is a belt structure that each student climbs. To attain the next belt or stripe, one must master a form and three techniques.

In the beginning, it was pretty straightforward. Step with your left foot, punch with your right hand. Turn, step with your right foot, punch with your left hand. North, south, east, west.

And then I achieved yellow belt. At the next practice, the master instructor told me, “You are going to be dazed and confused.” He wasn’t kidding. The patterns I relied on as a white belt were no longer there. The steps I now had to take didn’t physically jive with the arm movements. It didn’t feel natural. This new form was the total opposite of how I was just trained. When I stepped forward with my right foot, my right hand came up.

But slowly, it started to come together. We broke down the form into parts, learned each part, and then put everything back together. What helped get over this challenge was a) constant and constructive feedback, and b) knowing that I could be successful.

Feedback from me, in the form of my performance, offered our master instructor the necessary information to provide his own feedback, in the form of specific comments and modeling. Feedback also came from my increased self-awareness of my own performance. I knew my form well enough that when I made a mistake, I was able to correct the error and get back on track.

As for knowing I could be successful, this was apparent every day, in my fellow learners who had already achieved the next belt and beyond. Our group consists of adults my age, and also kids and seniors. No one is a former professional athlete that I am aware of. What they all share is a constant commitment to get better. As well, we all practice together in one room. Mistakes that are made are not seen as a deficiency, but as a teaching point.

Being so open about all of our strengths and struggles is something I think all educators would want to see in their classrooms. Relationships, trust, goals, and perseverance are the pillars that hold up this type of learning community. This can occur when our learning climate “welcomes error”, as John Hattie states.


I hope you observe this in your classrooms. How do you make this happen? Please share in the comments.

Author: Matt Renwick

Matt Renwick is an 18-year public educator who began as a 5th and 6th-grade teacher in Rudolph, WI. He now serves as an elementary principal for the Mineral Point Unified School District (http://mineralpointschools.org/). Matt also teaches online graduate courses in curriculum design and instructional leadership for the University of Wisconsin-Superior. He tweets @ReadByExample and writes for ASCD (www.ascd.org) and Lead Literacy (www.leadliteracy.com).

2 thoughts on “Learn, Unlearn and Relearn”

  1. Dear Mr. Renwick, I’m a teacher and an app developer. I’ve come up with a classroom instruction app informed by Hattie’s work in Visible Learning. It is called Oncore. Our website is oncoreeducation.com. Let me know if you’d like a complimentary download code. We’re reaching out to tech bloggers to share our project.


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