I’m Becoming a Butterfly

I get it.  This week was my “ah-ha” moment.  We were told during the very first week by our professor and by some of the students from the cohort ahead of us to expect change.  That we would be changed.  I’ve watched some of my cohort peers come to theirs through a reading or a comment and I kept moving forward but without making any of the personal connections to the readings or dialogues that some of the others were.  That is until I began reading Managing Uncertainty During Collaborative Problem Solving in Elementary School Teams: The Role of Peer Influence in Robotics Engineering Activity (Jordan, M. E. & McDaniel, R., in press).

Now you may think it’s because the article is about a fifth grade classroom and I teach fifth graders but that’s not it.  The article talks about uncertainty.  Yes, I have PLENTY of that.  But that’s not it, either.  Well, not exactly.  My great big light shining through came with the sentence that reads: Uncertainty is likely a particularly common experience in learning, as individuals grapple to construct new disciplinary understandings and struggle to participate in new social practices (Jordan, 2010).  That’s MY sentence.  Well, not exactly but sort of.  That’s what I tell my students’ parents at parent orientation.  That’s what I tell parents when I push their child to do more, work harder, and reach further than they thought their child was capable of.

Only my sentence is a story that goes something like this:  Your child will enter this year like a caterpillar who is going to become a butterfly and spread their wings so they can fly into middle school.  Caterpillars need to struggle in order to push the fluid into their wings.  If you keep them from struggling then the fluid won’t go into their wings, they won’t become butterflies, and they won’t survive.  If you don’t let your child make some mistakes and struggle through the consequences then they won’t be ready to fly off to middle school.  I tell them this story because I know that their student needs to struggle in order to reach the excellence that they are capable of reaching.  I know that if their parents try and minimize that struggle for them, they will be keeping their student from accessing the strengths within them that are there but won’t shine through without somewhat of a push.  I reassure them that I will guide, help, and teach all year long.  I guarantee them that I will set the bar high but not so high that it can’t be reached.  But I also tell them that I will keep moving that bar up just far enough to make it a struggle.  A struggle towards excellence.  A struggle towards becoming a beautiful butterfly who can fly off and succeed independently.

What I hadn’t connected until reading this is that now I, too, am the caterpillar.  I am the one struggling to access areas of myself, my abilities, my capabilities that I didn’t know I had in me.  I am stretching to new heights so that I can make an impact of excellence within the educational community of practice that I work in and future students I hope to reach.  As I read through the article the first time, I took it in from my personal perspective of conflict, struggle and change.  As I read about the student dynamics, I thought about various adult dynamics I’ve experienced.  After digesting that for a while, I proceeded to reread the article only this time, from a doctoral candidate student’s view.

The article discusses researching how fifth graders managed uncertainty while putting together a predetermined project.  It took place in a heterogeneous fifth grade public school classroom.  The teacher led the class and the researchers were there as observers.  As I began rereading the article, I realized that I was thinking like a leader—the classroom teacher, that is.  It was hard not to do this as this was a fifth grade experiment and that’s what I do during the year.  I had many wonderings. How would experiment look in my classroom? How would I organize the flow of the process?  How might I manage some of the dynamics?  Then I stopped, regrouped, and put myself, for the first time, in the role of a different leader—the researcher.  How would I collect the data?  What would that look like?  How would I organize it?  How would I respond to a student who did not want to talk during an interview as much as I had hoped for?  My frame of reference was starting to change.

The article went on to define two types of uncertainty: content uncertainty which is uncertainty focused around solving a particular problem and relationship uncertainty which is uncertainty relating to interactions with others.  The results of this study found that in every group studied, every day, some type of uncertainty occurred.  It was not true of all students all the time and content uncertainty was more widespread that relationship uncertainty.  However, the study examined varied groups of students whose dynamics fluctuated throughout the course of the projects and the findings remained that uncertainty was a constant.  The researchers did caution that their findings were based on interpretations of student conversations and observations and that others might analyze some of the collected data differently and reach different conclusions.


The article said that “managing uncertainty” refers to behaviors an individual engages in to enable action in the face of uncertainty (Jordan, M. E. & McDaniel, R. R., in press).  I know that managing uncertainty will become part of my natural order if I plan on becoming a butterfly and spreading my wings to fly three years from now.  Look for me.  I’ll be there with my Cohort #9 peers.  We will be the kaleidoscope of butterflies beginning our new journeys towards excellence in education.




Jordan, M. E. & McDaniel, R. (in press). Managing uncertainty during collaborative problem solving in elementary school teams: The role of peer influence in robotics engineering activity.  Journal of the Learning Sciences. doi: 10.1080/10508406.2014.896254



Jordan, M. E. (2010). Collaborative robotics engineering projects: Managing uncertainty in multimodal literacy practice in a fifth-grade class. Yearbook of the National Reading Conference, 59.

Uncertainty is a good thing

Just so everyone has a clear sense of what is meant by uncertainty, Jordan and McDaniel (in press), define it as “an individual’s subjective experience of doubting, being unsure, or wondering about how the future will unfold, what the present means, or how to interpret the past” (p. 3). As a reading teacher, this is a topic that I am particularly interested in, as my students undoubtedly have felt uncertain while learning how to read. I’m sure they have thought about which phonetic sound represents the letter of the alphabet that is front of them. If they are an older student, they are likely confused as they attempt reading a complex novel or article. In transitioning to my role as a literacy coach next year, I think about how I will soon have to give advice and tips to teachers about how to manage their students’ uncertainty within the context of a literacy classroom. So, as you can see, I was hopeful that this article would give me some insights as to how to do that.

The authors mentioned that the research out there points out that individuals deal with uncertainty through communication and the responses given by peers heavily impact one’s ability to deal with uncertainty in the future (Jordan & McDaniel, in press). In reflecting upon my own students, as many of them are struggling readers, I think about how they often rely on peers to help them when they do not know a concept. However, often times, the students that they are asking for help from also are uncertain. This caused me to ask the following questions: Does this mean that students will be content in remaining uncertain? Will they try to inquire further? Or, do they just accept to live with the uncertainty and move on?

In thinking about these questions, it seems that how a student deals with uncertainty really has to do with how well the teacher helps students manage it. This article makes it clear that this is a key responsibility of the teacher. When students are encouraged to tackle problems, uncertainty can be productive; however, when problems are to be avoided, that is when students struggle in managing uncertainty (Jordan & McDaniel, in press). As a teacher, there will of course be those students who struggle with a particular concept more so than other students. This might lead to frustration from both the person who is struggling and those who are directly working with them. According to the study by Jordan and McDaniel (in press), if individuals shared the same uncertainty over time, groups eventually become annoyed with them and lost their patience. Therefore, it is crucial that teachers consistently model supportive peer responses for their students. Additionally, it is important that when assigning group work, that they strategically group students so no one becomes discouraged from their uncertainty.

The article suggests that individuals learn how to mange their uncertainty through their interactions with others (Jordan & McDaniel, in press). Therefore, it must be communicated in every interaction with students that uncertainty is natural and healthy. Though it can be difficult within the context of standardized testing where kids are encouraged to get to the ‘right’ answer all the time, it must be emphasized that struggling can be a good thing. Teachers should not always try to reduce student uncertainty immediately to supposedly allow learning to happen (Jordan & McDaniel, in press). From being a classroom teacher, however, I know this is very hard to change, especially when teachers are constantly being evaluating for what their students know at that moment. I do think that changing the way we manage student uncertainty could increase educational excellence, but it is something that teachers and administrators will need to agree upon in order for this to be a reality.


Jordan, M. E., & McDaniel, R. R. (in press). Managing uncertainty during collaborative problem solving in elementary school teams: The role of peer influence in robotics engineering activity. The Journal of the Learning Sciences.  doi: 10.1080/10508406.2014.896254