I am often taken aback at the way change happens in people. Usually it is triggered by developmental milestones for Elli wherein she suddenly goes from not being able to do a thing to suddenly able to do it with seemingly no steps in between. This past weekend we went swimming at the pool and Elli swam by herself for the first time. I was holding her while she dog paddled and flailed her legs wildly as I usually do for our practices, thinking as I often do that no progress was being made and that nothing had changed over the past two years.
Then she asked me to let go and off she went. As I watched her slowly splash her way across the pool I was stunned at the shift from sinking and freaking out to swimming. I suppose this particular activity lends itself to that sort of transition since the difference between being able to keep yourself just barely above water and not is pretty stark but it still took me by surprise. Similar sorts of things have happened many times, most notably in reading. I distinctly recall the day when I saw Elli looking at a comic book and then she asked what a particularly obscure word meant - I could hardly believe that she had read everything else in the book but only needed clarification on that single point since I had assumed she was only looking at the pictures the entire time.
It is a lot easier when learning is taking place in my own head. I can viscerally feel things coming together, notice tiny improvements, and realize that I am *this close* to doing it. From the outside though that state doesn't look much different than the first spectacular failure. Maybe if I was a lot better at teaching swimming or reading I would be able to follow Elli's progress more closely and be able to tell just how close she was to a breakthrough. I know I can see these sorts of things in games. I can tell when someone is close to getting a revelation, when they are almost there. I have spent an enormous amount of time watching people play games and teaching them to play better and that experience of searching for incremental, nearly invisible changes must have given me some important insights into how that sort of learning occurs.
All of this makes me ponder how much of teaching is just general understanding of learning patterns and how much is deep mastery of a particular topic. I am good at reading people and can teach things reasonably but it is clear that the difference in my ability to teach things I am an expert at and things I am merely competent at is very large. If any teachers out there want to comment on the value of serious expertise in teaching even basic things I would be very interested to hear it.