Monday, November 24, 2008

Natural born learners.

'Scintists in the Crib' by Gopnik, Meltzoff and Kuhl. A great book for parents of young children - and for teachers who need to trust children to do their own learning.

I had written, a while ago, that children, given the right conditions, had the attributes of young scientists.

A comment, from the Netherlands, suggested I ought to read the book The 'Scientist in the Crib' because it provided up to date research about how children learn to back up what I had written.

Great advice.

This book comes with high praise from educationalist. Jerome Bruner who writes, ‘this book is a gem, a really beautiful combination of scholarship and good sense’.

This exciting book discusses important discoveries about how much babies and young children know and learn. It argues that evolution designed both adults and children to naturally teach and learn off each other, and that the drive to learn is our most important instinct. Very young children, as well as some adults, use much of the same methods scientists use to learn so much about the world.

The Washington Post says this book, ‘should be placed in the hands of teachers, social workers, policy makers, expectant parents, and everyone who cares about children’. Another critic writes, ‘This is a terrific book – a page turner- , in fact I couldn’t wait to see what was going to happen next’. ’It is a must’.

Howard Gardner (of Multiple Intelligences fame) writes, ‘few books about human development speak so elegantly to both scholars and parents’.

A few extracts sum up the spirit of the book:

‘Scientists and children belong together in another way. New research shows babies and young children know and learn more about the world than we could ever have imagined. They think, they draw conclusions, make predictions, look for explanations, and even do experiments. Scientists and children belong together because they are the best learners in the universe’. ‘What we see in the crib is the greatest mind that has ever existed’. ‘It is not that children are little scientists but that scientists are big children’.

All the learning dispositions, including how to learn off others, are already in place at birth. One has to ask what happens to this innate ‘learning power’? If we are all born with the ability to discover the secrets of the universe why do so many children lose this love of learning; this infinite capacity to wonder and urge to question and explore?

The book expands on the three elements children have to ensure they learn :

1 Children are born with innate knowledge in place

2 They enter the world with powerful learning abilities.

3 They are 'programmed' to gain unconscious tuition from adults.

By watching young children learn, the book suggests, we can learn how to create the conditions for all students to learn. This is in contrast to the belief that underpins most teaching, that without teachers they couldn't learn. It redefines the role of the teacher to one of creating positive learning conditions, to personalise learning opportunities, providing appropriate feedback as required but always leaving the responsibility in the hand of the learner.

The book holds the solution to close the so called ‘achievement gap’ that seems to concern politicians so much. It asks us to stop teaching and to start observing. To place trust in learners because they are born to learn, it seems, until they become distracted by anxious teachers and the imposed demands of schools.

This is in contrast to those teachers who seem to want to 'deliver', plan and assess all the learning in their class. It asks of teachers to trust and respect to the natural learning abilities that all learners are born with.

It also begs the question of why it is that so many children lose this innate drive to learn? It seems that schools have become places where students learn not to do their own thing.


Anonymous said...

Why is it that educators ( more teachers or 'tellers') ignore this natural drive to learn and replace it with their sterile programmes?

Bruce Hammonds said...

It is not so much sterile but 'their' that is the operative word. This book says children have their own curriculum which, to be positive, depends to a great deal on the environment( or culture) they are exposed to and the natural support they get from adults.

Schools need to develop 'personalised' curriculums so as to develop, what our NZ curriculum calls , studemts as their own ' seekers, users and creators' of knowledge.

This has always been the approach of creative teachers which has been put at risk by the current 'curriculum accountants'