Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Basic learning habits

Young children do ask questions but all too often they lose this vital habit.

It does worry me that teachers of young children are obsessed with ensuring their students learn to read and do maths. Nothing wrong with literacy and numeracy but gaining these valuable skills ought not be at the expense of 'learnacy' or resilience - the desire to learn and to bounce back when things go wrong.

Evidence of intelligent habits can be observed whenever a learner is faced with a situation or challenge that, at first, they do not know what to do. It is the acquisition of positive learning dispositions that enable students to cope with such ambiguous situations that are the basis of 'learnacy'.

The trouble is that teachers work in an environment which has a 'press' towards conservatism and all too often school 'targets' are biased towards the acquisition of basic literacy and numeracy skills which reinforces this conservatism.

Teachers, to develop, 'learnacy', need to encourage their students to be open minded, not to worry if at first the answer is not obvious, and to persevere in the face of ambiguity and complexity. Research shows that when students are given a maths or science problem , if they can't get the answer in 10 seconds, they simply give up; as a result they become, 'I can't do it kids'. When this attitude becomes fixed it is hard to change.

Teachers need to teach students, 'what to do when they don't know what to do! Students need to be encouraged to wait a minute and not to jump to premature conclusions. They need to be encouraged to try our possible strategies without fear of being right or wrong. This creative attitude needs to be encouraged by teachers. This is the essence of the inquiry approach and it needs to become second nature to students. To achieve basic habit this requires encouragement , reinforcement and practice.

Unfortunately both teachers and parents all too often do not value this habit. Often teachers have a one 'right way' in their minds and expect their students to replicate their approach. Naturally most students will learn what is expected of them but, for creative students, failure is all too often the result. Preset rubrics and criteria might result in 'quality' results but, all too often, may equally inhibit creativity. A look a students research charts, or art work, will often illustrate this conformity.

Students need to be valued for saying, 'I don't understand', and for asking questions. These need to be recognised as intelligent responses. In fact a creative classroom can be recognised by the number of questions students ask and for the diversity of ideas they exhibit in whatever they are studying.

On writer on the subject suggests that the stance of a sports coach is a good example. When a good move doesn't work out the coach calls out, 'unlucky'. This response underscores the need to the player that you have to keep taking chances so as to develop both confidence and skill. A player might have to try the move several times until it works out. The coach need to keep the players confidence up until practice makes perfect.

In the classroom students need to be given encouragement for trying out new ideas and to learn from them, even if it doesn't work out. Such encouragement underscores the intelligent habit of 'having a go' and then looking for evidence that things are working out.

If students are afraid of making mistakes, or are too concerned with approved answers, or are simply afraid to 'give it a go', than no matter how well they may read or do maths, they will not succeed in the future.

Developing creative and critical thinking in students is the basis of 'learnacy' and are the real 'basics' of learning.

Creative teachers need to create the conditions that require such intelligent habits.


Anonymous said...

Teachers as 'learning coaches' - a great metaphor.

Unknown said...

I really would like to achieve those ideals in my class. What are the practical steps to do so? How would I implement a thinking classroom Bruce? I'd like a class of 21st learners / personalised learning / empowered children in charge of their own learning / cognisant of the tools for learning / asking 'rich' questions. Do you have any models/sites I can look to?

Unknown said...

lol have just started looking through the rest of your blog posts. i guess this is a good place to start.
but i'm the type that almost needs a step by step account of how this would look ...?

Bruce Hammonds said...

Thanks for your comment Treiv.

Actually I have been thinkng about the same issue myself - how would I go about developing a classroon based on personalised and creative learning.

I would begin by entering into a dialague with the students about the purpose ( vision) of 'our' class. That it is is to help every body develop whatever skills they need based on what they feel important. I would do this on the understnding that, as Jerome Bruner says, 'Teaching is the canny art of intellectual temptation'. The teacher's job is to capitalize and spark kids curiosity.

We also have to accept there are things 'people' expect 'us' to do - so do them to their satisfaction so as to get some sort of immunity. I would even tell the students we have to do these things but then we can get on with the real learning!

An important consideration would be the degeee of independent learning skills and attitudes the students already have towards the various aspects of learning. Accept them for what they can do but focus on building continual improvement for each of them.

I believe srongly in focused personal writing ( one piece per week) that celebrates something of importance to each learner. This is a great way to value their identity and to get to know them.

As for the 'energy' of the class this should centre around the current study that you all have agreed to research. Any topic usually has some area of interest for students along with things you all agree to do. Associated with real research( often sadly missing in many rooms) I would make use of expressive art and language activities as well. The idea is to do fewer things well, in depth, so students can see (and feel) a growing sense of pride.

Slowly the room should celebrate students thinking about 'negotiated' topics( from maths, language and mostly content areas) that reflect their questions, thoughts, research and creative work.

The end result is a 'learning community' exploring in depth what appeals to them using the talents of all the students to the full. The atmosphere you create becomes the curriculum.

In such a classroom literacy and numeracy are a means to achieve 'learnacy'.