Sunday, September 8, 2013

How to Fix Public Education - Self-directed Learning Centers

So, the problem with education is that young people are not invested in what they're being asked - or "forced" - to learn. If kids could just study what they want to study, then schools would be utopian laboratories of intellectual engagement. Just turn the kids loose to pursue their own natural interests and curiosities, and they will respond with enthusiastic learning.



The lack of engagement in their own learning is certainly at the heart of academic stagnation for millions of young people in this country. And, there's no doubt that people learn more easily when they are engaged and interested in the material. The child-centered approach to education, which is the foundation of Waldorf schools and the Montessori model, is nothing new in the education debate. However, the logistics of adapting that model to large systems is problematic at best.

Peter Gray, an educational researcher at Boston College, thinks we can change that. In several online essays and a new book, Gray argues "Schools Don't Have to Fail." The foundation of his argument - and his new book "Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self Reliant, and Better Prepared for Life"  - is that children will learn if they are allowed to choose their own course of study and basically follow their passion and their own creativity. And, there is certainly a lot of evidence and support to the idea that children are "naturally designed to learn."  That is the basis of much of the work of Sir Ken Robinson and his "creativity movement."

As a parent and educator, I firmly believe that Peter Gray and Ken Robinson are correct. However, as the pragmatic policy student, I have doubts about their theories. While we are naturally inclined to learn, we are also seemingly naturally inclined to waste hours, days, and years pursuing leisure instead. And that tendency is what leads so many astray. That is what requires a rigid requirement of some basics of education.


Kareen Waite-Singh said...

Teachers are the Ones to Build Student’s Interest in Learning

I totally agree with both your views on you see education today. It is true that we are indeed born with the natural ability to learn and to waste time as well, however, I also believe that our problem with our education system today lies within our teachers. Gone are the days when teachers spend time reading to their students, teaching them the skills of phonics, and playing educational games which allows our students to become more engaged; better readers and better writers.

Teachers lose track of the fact that no matter what their course of studies may be they are all literacy teachers. Reading is important in all aspect of teaching and the sooner our teachers realize this, the sooner we will start seeing a change in our students. I strongly believe that reading is the heart to learning in all subject areas and this should be capitalized on in the early stages of each child’s learning development. If there are teachers in the classroom who hates reading, his/her students will pick this up and they too will emulate what they see.

Teachers need to be more passionate about what they are doing, allow students to see that learning is fun and that they can have fun while learning. According to Carlton Reeve, Owner & director of Play with Learning - a media company dedicated to engaging and meaningful experiences; play is a valuable means of facilitating learning because the act of playing encourages imagination, creativity and spontaneity. He states that, play is an intrinsic part of learning where learning is the development of thinking (cognitive), emotional (affective) or physical (psychomotor) skills. Teachers need to capitalize on the teachable moments and use this to teach their students something new each day. Use Read Alouds to build their students’ interest and allow time for more before, during and after reading activities. This will enhance our students listening, reading, writing, and comprehension skills and enhances their creativity as well.

Therefore, with all this being said I believe that if our teachers make learning more meaningful and exciting through games and read aloud activities, our students will become interested in learning and it will make the learning experience more fulfilling not only for the students but for the teachers as well.

By Kareen Waite-Singh
(student at NCU)

mmazenko said...

Kareen, thanks so much for your comments and insight. You are absolutely correct with the importance of focusing on literacy as the foundation for all other learning. Student engagement is key as well. In fact, student engagement is the primary indicator of an effective teacher, in my opinion.

Kareen Waite-Singh said...

I also agree with that as well. It is the teacher's duty to get her students engaged. In doing so she must cater to all the different learning styles of her students and ensure the curriculum is built around these learning styles. I also realize that there are students who are more advanced than others and teachers need to bear this in mind when building her lesson. Teachers should also bear in mind that boys have different interests and am not saying that the teacher should plan a separate lesson for the boys but that lesson should be so built that it doesn't leave out the needs of the males. I believe in doing so the teaching and learning process will be much more effective.

Redefining Rigor said...

I'm really glad to see you bring up Robinson and Gray. We are huge fans of personalized learning and allowing students to have a voice and choice in how they pursue learning. Part of the program my colleagues and I run (The Eye) involves giving students time and resources to pursuit individual projects, and making them responsible for documenting their learning along the way.

It certainly is a fine balance between work and play; at its best the kids are engaged and productive in activities they enjoy, but there is always the potential for distractions and mindless "play" time. Finding a way to structure the experience for students to spend most of it in the former is a challenge we face on a daily basis.