Holes in my scarf


I am almost done with my first knitting project.   A scarf is a typical beginner piece since you can simply do one stitch across every row until you reach the desired length. I was proud watching it grow. Then I discovered a mistake several rows below my current line. I dropped a stitch, leaving a gaping hole in my beautiful scarf. What to do?!

Learning to knit continues to teach me about learning. If only I had monitored my progress more carefully I would have caught the mistake right away! Fixing it then would have cost very little time and energy. My scarf would be perfect. If caught within a few rows, a crochet needle can be used to pick up the dropped stitch. It’s like when students don’t regularly monitor their progress, small problems grow. The range of solutions decreases and cost to fix increases.

I wonder how many of my students are dealing with “if only” remorse? Catching problems early, in knitting or academics, saves a lot of heartache. Some students may be trying to salvage a semester dotted with “holes” like poor attendance, weak study skills, procrastination, insufficient time or effort.  When I look at the hole in my scarf I feel embarrassed, frustrated, annoyed and maybe even a bit stupid.  I suspect some students share these feelings.

Identifying a problem is important, but being able to fix it, or knowing when to get additional help is critical. I found the mistake but I didn’t have the skill to fix it. This is similar to a student knowing they are deficient in writing, quantitative, or academic skills. Knowing there is a problem isn’t the same as knowing the remedy. I was embarrassed to let anyone know about my mistake.  Students probably want to hide theirs too. Sometimes the embarrassment prevents help seeking.

What about students who don’t seem to learn from their mistakes? Knitting has reminded me that one mistake isn’t as powerful a teacher as TWO dropped stitches. I was completely flabbergasted to discover a second hole. Like the first, I found it many rows later. Wasn’t I paying attention? Wasn’t I motivated to learn?

Just because I repeated my mistake doesn’t mean it’s hopeless nor does it reflect a lack of motivation. I am still a beginner. My students want to learn and be successful too.  I’ll keep this in mind the next time a student explains why their semester isn’t going as well as they hoped or planned. I’ll have a bit more empathy.

You may be wondering how I handled the dropped stitches? I chose to press on, assuming I would find a way to camouflage or minimize the errors. This strategy reminds me of students’ requests for extra credit, especially at the end of the term. It’s a quick fix strategy they hope will cover the gaps in their grades.  I considered  adding crochet flowers to hide the gaps. I tried adding “decorative thread” to close them.  Neither strategy was effective. Like extra credit, some solutions mask but do not repair the problems.

I am tempted to leave the holes as a visible reminder of my struggle to learn something new.  I may even bring it to class at the start of next semester. Students might appreciate a tangible sign that the teacher knows that learning is hard and mistakes are a common and necessary part of the process.

As the academic and calendar year draws to a close, I’d like to thank you for sharing your ideas and feedback here, on Twitter, Facebook and email. I’ll be blogging again in January.

Best wishes for the happiest of holidays and a joyous New Year!




About Lolita Paff

Educator. Wife. Mother. Amateur chef. Wine lover.

Posted on December 15, 2015, in Learning, Students, Teaching. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. We have been leading parallel knitting/teaching lives, I believe. I plan on taking your article and my 1/2-finished multiple dropped-stitch scarf to my graduate student instructors to provide a visual for your post, which will be assigned reading. I, too, kept plugging through row after row on my scarf, even after I noticed lots of dropped stitches on my k2togs. I have decided to knit until the first ball of yarn is used up, and then I’ll pull it all out and start over. Why? Because that’s the only way I’ll learn what I need to learn. And my graduate instructors need to learn that *sometimes* a student (especially one who has let multiple errors slide by) needs to start at the beginning again.

    Thank you for this wonderful metaphor!

  1. Pingback: Resources, Strategies & Advice | Guide on the Side

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