Saturday, October 02, 2004

The joy of learning.

What motivates me to write is that we seem to have lost touch with the idea of learning for its own sake - the sheer joy of learning. This is easiest seen when watching a young baby busy exploring it's environment. These days all the press and TV can talk about are failing teachers or schools but they never look deeply to see why it is so many students fail or why so few people these days are attracted to teaching as a career. As Edward Deming , the 'quality guru' once said, 'good people wrong system'! Mind you he was ignored in his own country while the Japanese quickly saw the point of his message.

Today we have become just too caught up in standards, measurements and assessments to see clearly the simple truth that it is the joy of learning that is the crucial foundation for everything else. The Ministry of Education's mission ( vision?) is, 'To raise achievement and reduce disparity'. Now there is nothing wrong with the mission but it lacks what you might call the 'wow' factor! Inspirational it is not!

What about, 'To retain the love of learning by building on the talents, dreams and passions of all learners.' If we really want to be seen as a creative and innovative country, that really appreciates that the greatest resource we have are the talents of our citizens, this would be a start. This however would require a change of mindset by all involved. As Howard Gardner says, 'We are natural mind changers until we are 10 years old or so. After that it is very hard to change our minds.' When does the joy of learning disappear from so many of our students, or more to the point, why?

The joy of learning is no soft thing. People who love learning easily acquire new knowledge and skills and they feel good when they overcome the learning challenges that are part of all learning. All people love learning something - the key is to tap into this intrinsic motivation.

A love of learning is universal but the way this strength is appreciated and encouraged depends on the environment the learner is in. Teachers and parents are quick to recognize when a 'spark of learning is ignited'. Love of learning requires learning be meaningful and challenging ( even risky) but most of all it requires supportive company.

Research shows that individuals with a love of learning are likely to have greater positive feelings about learning new things, are able to self regulate their own learning, to persevere despite frustrations and to have a greater sense of possibility.

The benefits seems obvious and what is more they are lifelong.

But I guess it is all too hard to measure and anyway it means we would all have to change our minds about how to create joyful schools - particularly for students past the age of ten.

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