December 2010

Do our kids really learn how to learn?

by Steve Wyckoff on December 21, 2010

One of the comments that I’ve heard several times recently is that the one thing we really do well is to teach our kids how to learn. In my opinion one of the very poorest things we do is teach our kids how learn. In fact, when I talk about school change that should be one of the first things on our agenda.

I think we confuse students sitting passively, compliantly taking in information, then giving that information back to us on the test, with learning. I’ve referred many times to my experiences speaking with the college of education students at the University of Kansas. One of the things I always ask them is, “If they took a test as seniors in high school that they got an  “A” on, that they couldn’t pass as freshman in college?” They always roar with laughter and every hand goes up.

My question to them is if you didn’t remember the information long enough to recall it less than a year later did you really learn it?

My good friends Kevin Honeycutt and Ginger Lewman talk a lot about L2L2, Learning To Love To Learn.I agree with him completely but the phrase I  chose, which is less emotional, is that our students become self-directed learners. I do absolutely agree that students who love to learn are our best learners.

This was driven home to me some time ago while I was visiting with a group of students. We were talking about learning when it dawned on me that students see the term learning, in many cases, as a negative. They associate the term learning with boredom, sitting passively, and content that is uninteresting and irrelevant.

The conundrum for educators is this. All of our educators were taught to teach just as they were taught. Yet this traditional teaching mode doesn’t engage students, nor create educational experiences, that give the student the opportunity to be either self-directed nor L2L2L.

In order to give students the opportunity to engage in self directed learning the teacher, in collaboration with the student, must create a learning experience that engages the student and at the same time leads to the learning that the teacher desires. This is a far different requirements than simply creating traditional lesson plans.

It can be done, I spent two days last week observing it. I spent one day in Stafford Kansas at the SEED center, and half a day in the Newton Kansas school district at the Walton Rural Life School. Two very different schools, one for high school students, and one for elementary students. One with the theme of rural life were kids are raising chickens and goats, and one focusing on entrepreneurship were students are actually running their own business.

What they both have in common is learning by doing experiences were the teachers are facilitators who practice excellent Socratic skills, rather than direct instruction skills.

Real school change has to include different learned behaviors on the part of teachers, that lead to learning by doing experiences for students, and real behavioral changes on the part of students. – Steve Wyckoff

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