May has been such a busy month. I just realized I haven’t posted any blogposts this month, even though I have had several great discussions about education: how to make it better, for everyone, everywhere. Those of you who have been reading my previous posts already know that I am a strong advocate for meaningful learning and that I view learning as a process, instead of a product. This distinction results from my personal (and professional) view that learning and teaching are two separate phenomena, even though in everyday language and education policies they appear to be two sides of the same coin.
Now I am vacationing and sitting on our lanai’i, sipping coffee while watching the Ocean and loving the freshness of early morning. I am also processing all the new things I have seen and encountered – which led me think about the specific mindset of a life-long learner. You see, ever since my masters and enjoying the extensive studies in developmental psychology, I have been wondering how some people seem to learn and grow throughout their lives, while others just to stop learning. My current conjecture is that these people cease to wonder, and stop asking the important question “why?” and just accept things as they are. From my point of view this seriously limits their creativity and critical thinking skills.
The idea of growth mindset makes very much sense, and we should foster that in our students. Instead of packing everything into a ready format (and label it discovery learning, problem- or inquiry-based learning, etc.), I would want to equip every teacher with the ability to foster curiosity in students. So, no matter what the curriculum or instructional setting is, the teachers would be able to provide choices that spark the meaningfulness in their students’ learning.
We already know that too many ready (and definite!) answers kill students’ curiosity. There cannot be creativity without curiosity, because they both require interacting with the unknown, either in the level of actions or thoughts. And, quite frankly, the known becomes boring at some point – that is how small children learn: venturing further away from parents, deeper into the unknown, the world – and without people pushing their boundaries, we would not have the inventions of the modern life.
I don’t believe people are supposed to stop learning at any point of their lives. Ever!
This takes me back to think how we could support the intellectual curiosity and growth of every student, anywhere on the globe. We know every child is born as a master learner, and there are many sad-but-funny pictures of educators forcing students into certain molds, like square pegs into round holes. Yet, we can do better, just by choosing to support the individual growth and learning of each student.
Fostering learning is very simple. In addition to open-endedness there are some other qualities in my mind I decided to name as
Communicate. Have a dialogue with your students, the most effective communication is reciprocal and includes negotiations of meaning.
Acknowledge their competence, and help to add into it. Validate their knowledge and understanding.
Feedback early and often. Provide feedback about the process (think of mapping the ground that lies ahead them, it is easier to steer clear when you know where the pitfalls are).
Encourage and empower. Support their choices. Point out other possible directions (make sure not to choose for students).
And just like coffee, or life in general, also education is best when you enjoy it – not shoved down your throat.