A thought on the value of the hint in learning

the hint is very underrated


Like a lot of people, I like to solve puzzles. I prefer word puzzles or highly visual puzzles like Myst and Alida. I like puzzles that allow you to set your own pace.  The best are puzzles that you love to solve, but also kinda sad to see that’s over, that you’re done.


But ya sometimes reach a point in a word or audiovisual puzzle where there is more frustration than it feels worth and where a small hint can let your mind go, while a large hint would utterly ruin the experience, take all the fun out of it.


Hints give us a way of learning the way forward.  They can tell us whether we’re on the right track or wandering aimlessly.


This a piece of what needs to happen in teaching.  It’s not a new idea, but it’s easily forgotten.  A early twentieth century Russian psychologist, Lev Vygotsky, called it the fancy name  Zone of Proximal Development, but it was probably understood by good teachers when our forebears still walked on four legs:  A good teacher helps us learn the step today that tomorrow we will be able to do on our own.


What a simple idea.  But how easily it is forgotten.  We need hints to move forward.  We neither need to be clobbered over the head or nor to be given more than a reasonable amount of encouragement.  This is the constant challenge for the teacher: to find that point and to move it gently forward.


For more about the adult learning of creativity, check out this essay.


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