My last post was on the connection between confusion in the classroom and conflict in a story. I believe that both of these things are an essential element in their respective contexts. You can’t have a story without conflict and you can’t have productive and effective learning without confusion.
I was really excited that I had seen this parallelism that had been eluding me for so long. And, that excitement may have spilled over a bit too much. Because it seems that I may have left the impression that I’m just super excited about getting my students confused about things.
Well, I guess that is true, to a point.
However, I don’t want my students to be confused, just to be confused. I want them to experience confusion because it is leading somewhere. To the place where every good story ventures: The CLIMAX! [dun-dun-DUUNN]
We work and slog and struggle through confusion and conflict for a specific payoff. In other words, for a learning goal (or target, or standard, or whatever your district calls it these days). If we let our students get stuck and mired down in confusion, then we haven’t finished our jobs. Just like if we make our characters experience conflict, but don’t let them slay the dragon, the saga isn’t yet complete.
We need that final climactic moment in our narrative. The moment the tension has been building towards. The point when the hero must confront his/her demons, or perish in the attempt.
In a short story we call this moment the “epiphany”. You see where I’m going with this now, don’t you?
The climax for our students, the payoff to all of their confusion and hard work, is that light bulb moment. The A-Ha! The epiphany, when the fog recedes and the light shines forth and the big idea crystallizes for them—even if only for an instant.
Without this moment, without this goal, confusion is just frustration. Conflict is unresolved. The ending to our story is unsatisfying. The book gets thrown across the room.
 There has been some talk, somewhere (I can’t remember where/who), about the difference between “confusion” and “perplexity”. For the record, I am not going to make a distinction between those two terms.