Tuesday, July 07, 2009

What do we all need to be life long learners?

We are all born with an innate need to learn so as to make sense of, and learn from, our experiences. The question is why do so many students lose this natural disposition?

While the government is determined to introduce national standards in literacy and numeracy the bigger question is to ask is, 'why so many students are currently failing in our schools'? To load it all on to a perceived lack of standards in literacy and numeracy is just to simplistic.

The danger is while schools place their focus on the implications of national testing they may lose focus on what education is all about. The government is placing far too much on our schools to solve problems more often caused beyond the gates of the school. Worse still national standards simply haven't worked in countries they have been introduced - instead they have distorted the educational process and narrowed the curriculum in the process.

If we want all our students to succeed and to become the 'confident life long learners' desired by our 'new' New Zealand Curriculum then we have to look deeper than literacy and numeracy, as important as they obviously are.

We need to ask what kind of world our students will be entering. One thing is certain it will no be a predictable one and their 'passport' to the future will need to contain fully developed gifts and talents along with the dispositions to learn from whatever experience they will have to face ( in the language of the 'new' curriculum be equipped with 'key competencies'). Our current education system marginalizes student's creativity and talents and this will be worsened with national standards.

For students to remain positive towards learning our classrooms learning communities need to provide students with the following vital elements.

Students need to be given choice about what it is they are to learn. Classrooms should feature their sense of curiosity, their confidence to ask questions and celebrate their ideas. From their choices and decision making they will learn the importance of taking responsibility and to appreciate consequences of their actions.

The second element to value is students sense of identity and 'voice'. All students need to feel they matter. Students bring to the class great diversity of experiences talents and cultures to share with other students. All students need to feel a sense of belonging ; of being accepted for who they are and that they have ideas of value to contribute.

Thirdly students in classroom need to feel a growing sense of competence or 'learning power'. Competence is gained when students are given the time and help to do things as well as they can. When students 'surprise' themselves and achieve beyond what they have previously done, positive learning attitudes develop. To achieve this requires students 'digging deeply' into their learning, persevering, making use of whatever skills are required and in the process appreciating the need to do do 'fewer things well'.

Finally students need to have fun- to experience the joy of learning. True learning experiences are transformational - they change who we are in the process.

If teachers can provide the above in their classrooms students will want to learn. They will need to use literacy and numeracy to solve their problems and also to enjoy them for their own sake. Students will become ,as our 'new' curriculum asks of teachers, seekers, users and creators of their own knowledge'.

'Engaging' students would not be a problem in such classrooms - there would be no such thing as failure.


Anonymous said...

The areas you mention are where schools ought to be focussing. Literacy and numeracy is just narrowing the goalposts too much!

Bruce Hammonds said...

I realize that 'my' areas to focus on are in line with the needs outlined by William Glasser in his various Quality Schools books and aslo those of Michelle Borba. They are also, in part, Maslow's hierachy of needs. Nothing is original. If implemented they would transform schools.

steve said...

Hi Bruce,
wondered if you've heard of this initiative in Austalia?

And a video of our chess program.


Bruce Hammonds said...

No I hadn't Steve but will look into it.Thanks.

Mathew said...

thanks for sharing such an information with us.

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Tēnā koe e Bruce!

You say, "we are all born with an innate need to learn so as to make sense of, and learn from, our experiences." I wonder about this supposition but also thank you for the opportunity to think about it.

I'm not so sure that there is an innate need to make sense of experiences in the way you imply. And as for learning from experience, I feel that this innate tendency is less of a drive to find out, more a mechanism originally formed for survival.

If you subscribe to evolution, and you may not, one way of rationalising the learning mechanism is that it evolved for survival. Learning what's good to eat and what's not so good would certainly assist in this. Learning to recognise dangerous situations as well as what environments are safe for settling for the night, or for raising offspring, would likewise tend towards a continued existence. I believe that these needs are innate, and it is understandable how they may have arisen through evolution.

So where does curiosity sit with all this?

That ‘curiosity killed the cat’ is well known. Out of the context of survival, one needs the drive of the explorer in order to seek experience, a curiosity you might associate with a bohemian tendency to stray away from the safety of the pack.

Curiosity is not always good for survival. It could be why this trait is not as prevalent in some than in others. Indeed, some of the curiosity that humans display at an early age gets regimented out of them under the guise that it’s not good for survival. Ken Robinson alludes to the idea that creativity (a curiosity to explore innovative thoughts) is stamped out in many at an early age.

And this is where I find the whole thing absorbingly interesting. Curiosity and a keen tendency to learn is what all teachers look for in their students. Yet at first sight, the characteristics of curiosity and learning appear to oppose one another when it comes to survival.

Could it be that curiosity arose complementary to the development of the learning mechanism? Curiosity certainly seems to stimulate learning in the young child. Several education principles encourage curiosity rather than suppress it at an early age, permitting the unimpeded development of the mind.

I guess the answer lies in getting the right proportion of curiosity together with all other required aptitudes in order to survive and make the best of learning opportunities.

Catchya later
from Middle-earth

Marja said...

My children go to Unlimeted where they focus is on self directed learning My kids love going to school.
A huge problem for me is in NZ that the government doesn't really recognise learning disabilities I still need to pay a lot of money outside school for a little help
There is no proper understanding among staff because at teacher college they spent hardly any time on it.

Bruce Hammonds said...

Hi Maria. 'Unlimited' sounds like the school to be at. You are lucky.

Kia ora 'Blogger in The Middle'.

Welcome back!

I agree that this 'innate drive to learn' is an evolutionary survival one.

Curiosity is an integral
part of learning I would think?

From what I understand about evolution, is that it includes both a drive to explore ( individuality -'standing ou't) and a desire to work with others ( 'fitting in') - possibly in some sort of creative tension?

Curiosity and traditional teaching are at odds with each other but implicit in inquiry learning approaches.

Your conclusion seem right to me.

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Kia ora e Bruce!

It's not that I've been away. I'm just catching up with blogging now that term 2 is complete.

Thanks for you inspiration on learning. You got me writing a post on our discussion.

Catchya later