The human desire to learn is not substantially different, regardless of age, unless there are physical or genetic discrepancies. We humans learn because we want to or because we need to. Not to oversimplify, but the normal human brain can learn at any age> and learning is all about motivation. We are motivated to learn because of some external reason where we need to learn - for a job or life requirement - or for some internal reason - learn to drive, or become a better person, etc. - that encourages our brain to want to learn.
In schools, it is our lack of connection to these extrinsic and intrinsic factors for learning that are causing us so much trouble. This lack of connection happens either from boredom or avoidance. We are bored with the fact that the information being “taught” has little meaning or connection to us, or, the method is so boring we can’t stay attentive. Teachers that make material meaningful are more successful and teachers that encourage the learner to build connections are even more successful. Because the issue of compliance is based on student attendance and behavior, there is little incentive for students to be successful. As long as we believe in the student compliance based, behavioral approach to “teaching” we will not be successful in schools improving student performance.
Student success in school is based as much on teacher behavior as on student behavior. Successful teacher behavior is based on student-centered learning.
Larry Lezotte, the developer of the Effective Schools movement, has been promoting the theoretical paradigm shift in changing the mission of education from “teaching” to “learning.” He makes a simple point in identifying how we need to view this change. Lezotte says we must move from the “outside in” teaching method - teaching info pushed into student minds as we do it today - to the “inside out” learning process - the child’s brain learning by pulling in. It doesn’t get any simpler than that.
And, by the way, learning has always been about the individual taking in information. Not to exaggerate, but there really is no such thing as teaching without the learner’s permission, interest, and desire.
For the last 150 years we have assumed that students will learn that which we “teach” them. If controlling information input - teaching, as it were - needs the learner’s engagement and participation to learn we then must ask, “How do we get the learner to choose to learn?” With this question we’re now getting closer to the real commitment and focus we need for education. The next iteration of the question probably should be, “How do we motivate the student to want to learn that which we know he or she needs to learn?”
However, do any of us, in these times of such remarkable change, actually think we know what our children will “need to know” twenty years from now?
We are not an old-fashioned industrial culture anymore. The success of our society today is based on creative thinking and creative development. If, in fact, the point of education must be to prepare our children for their future, then our primary focus must be on encouraging the learning process itself. Specifically, students need to be confident that if they do not have the necessary skills, they know how to learn the skills needed.
These new literacy skills of the 21st century are about how to find and use appropriate information to solve problems they encounter.
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Dr. Patrick Faverty is the academic coordinator of the joint doctoral program in Educational Leadership at the Gevirtz School.