i was SO happy when a friend told me the new malcolm gladwell book was out ‘what the dog saw’, and i finally had a chance to pick it up earlier this week. they guy is just flat brilliant. he talks about a strength of this, and many writers, is to find anything interesting. we’ve all heard the adage that there is always a story to tell, but gladwell’s gift for telling that story makes what so many people would consider mundane into something fascinating. the book is actually a compilation of his articles from over the years but they are organized into a few different areas. one idea he brings out is the difference between a puzzle and a mystery. a puzzle is when you don’t have enough information – the example he gives is the whereabouts of osama bin laden. just one person with the right information could solve that puzzle but right now there are too many bits of information missing. a mystery, on the other hand, is when you have too much information and the overload doesn’t allow you to reach the conclusion you are looking for. you need to make the proper judgments given the information you choose to focus upon. the classroom finds plenty of mysteries and puzzles and depending on the teacher, they know which is which. isn’t it possible that an inexperienced teacher, or one not used to assessing student work could perceive that a student is a puzzle, when in fact all the information they need is present? is it possible that a teacher can collect too much data and muddy the water, so to speak, when making instructional decisions? to be sure, students are often little riddles to figure out, but once you solve that puzzle or untangle the mystery class becomes a lot more enjoyable for everyone.
puzzles vs. mysteries