Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Back to basics - amplifying the desire to learn.

'Equipped with his five senses, man explores the universe around him and calls the adventure science.' E.P Hubble Scientist .

'Youth is wholly experimental.' R.L.Stevenson Writer.

'It is our sacred responsibility to unfold and develop each individuals creative ability, as dim as the spark may be, and kindle it to whatever flame it may conceivably develop.' Victor Lowenfield Art Educator.

Humans are born with a desire to explore and make meaning of their experiences. They have an inbuilt desire to discover who they are and who they might become. With this in mind it is hard to understand why we have made education so difficult and in the process fail so many. Even those who 'succeed' often leave without ever finding their medium. Only if they are lucky will students ever realize the talents and gifts with which they were born.

At an early age they learn language, possibly the most complex learning achievement of all. This linguistic skill unfolds through a mix of innate ability, the need to communicate with others and the need to make sense of their experiences.

To encourage and amplify this desire to learn ought to be the focus of all teaching. It is all about about, what Guy Claxton calls, developing 'learning power' or 'learnacy'. This natural desire to learn can all too easily be frustrated, or subverted, by well meaning adults and, ironically, this subversion starts with vengeance when children enter school! At this point their 'voice', their questions, their concerns, their interests, their desires, become secondary to the planned curriculum experiences teachers 'deliver' to 'encourage' them to learn.

Over time teachers begin to believe that students cannot learn without the aid of a teacher or a school. To make things worse the whole school education experience is taken too seriously along with the associated need to plan, assess and record student progress. If teacher once believed in students natural desire to learn it is soon lost by the heavy hand the the imposed paternalistic education system. At an early age literacy and numeracy become all important. One writer says, 'the evil twins of literacy and numeracy have gobbled up the rest of the curriculum'. What is lost in this cannibalistic process is 'learnacy', or agency, as students begin their long and often boring journey towards inevitable disengagement or at best acceptable achievement.

Just imagine a school that trusted students to learn. That saw teaching as capitalizing on the questions, concerns and interests that students bring with them to their classrooms. Imagine teachers who believed that all students were creative in their own particular ways and that their innate need to learn, and to make sense of things, was matched by an equal desire to express what captures their attention and imagination in a range of creative ways.

If this were the case then assisting students continue to 'educate' their senses, to see more , to hear more, to feel more, to imagine more, and to question more would be vitally important. In this process students would naturally to extend their verbal vocabulary and, where appropriate, write down their ideas. They would begin to read their own ideas and to involve mathematical expression as part of such a natural process. Learning was always integrated and inter-connected!

The teacher's role would be more vital (and creative) than ever to ensure students learn as much as they can from any experience. Teachers would need to encourage their students to focus on experiences, to think hard and to find words ( or drawings, dance, or maths) to express what they notice.

Teachers as Jerome Bruner writes, 'Would need to practice the canny art of intellectual temptation', and would, above all, need to respect the 'voices', ideas, talents and expressions of their students.

This would be return to the 'real basics' before schools, with their genesis in a now outworn industrial age, replaced this natural desire to learn with conformity, obedience and, today, measurable achievement.


Anonymous said...

To me your 'blog' has captured exactly what is missing in our education system. The point about 'no one learning without a teacher' seems to be held as an article of faith by many schoolteachers. How many talents are squashed by such dedicated teachers is almost a crime!

Anonymous said...

Such ideas, you express so well, would sort out the 'disengaged' learner problem - schools need to change!

Bruce Hammonds said...

It is amazing (or sad) that so many students, who enter school with a desire to continue their learning, soon becme 'turned off'. When we now know so much about how students learn this is really a crime against the young!

Unknown said...

I am a former public and private classroom teacher who now homeschools her child. We started out with my vision of schooling, but quickly found it didn't work at all. We moved through various phases of schooling and finally ended up with what I call eclectic semi-unschoolers. It took a while to get me to relax and let learning happen naturally. Now I love it as much as my child does.

Your article is excellent. I will put a link to your article in one of my upcoming blog posts because it relates to my topic and you have valuable information other folks can benefit from reading.

Thanks so much for sharing.

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