In the last letter we looked at the fact that FRUSTRATION is a big part of learning, but becoming a good learner isn’t just about overcoming frustration. There is a second thing that explains what makes a good learner.
What is the One Word that Explains Why Some People Are Learners and Some People Are Not?
It’s definitely not the word intellect!
There are bright people who don’t learn and average people who go on from learning to learning. If you’ll just pay attention to yourself you can figure this one out! When have you learned your best? What was the subject? Why were you so interested? Do you think this is any different for children or adults?
My guess is that you are thinking you were ‘interested’ or ‘entertained’, but neither of those explain it. Let me give you a personal example. I used to hate music…and I hated musicals even more! The Sound of Music honestly used to wig me out…but today I love musicals (I’ll tell you why in a moment). Now, I’m not trying to tell you a secret for liking things you hate, but rather to learning things that don’t interest you. More importantly, this can a big difference with helping your children learn.
What is the secret? Well, in the last post we discussed the fact that FRUSTRATION is a key. Of course, it’s true–unless a student learns to tolerate frustration, there isn’t much of a chance to learn. Instead, they’ll just blame the teacher, the system, or ‘the man’ (whoever that is in each context). While learning to tolerate frustration in order to learn is important, it isn’t the reason some of us learn things and others don’t.
Wouldn’t it be cool to be able to change how you feel about a subject so you could immediately and joyfully begin to study it? Well, it isn’t only possible, it is likely, if you’ll make use of this one word:
Learning always involves curiosity (the exception might be when fear is forcing someone to learn something he otherwise isn’t interested in).
Curiosity draws us along as learners. It adds intrigue and mystery and hope to the effort. If you are curious, then you have the energy to satisfy that curiosity. You want to know (learn) because that is where satisfaction is…not knowing (learning) is dissatisfaction and angst (the good kind).
With music (and musicals) and me , one day I asked a new question, “Why do so many people like musicals, The Sound of Music in particular?” So, armed with that question I found the answer… a part of which, is that you must realize the movie’s ‘universe or world’ isn’t the same as our own. The rules are different there so people can break out into song to communicate (yes, I was missing this point). There are other reasons, but I’ll leave that to your own curiosity.
Make it Useful
OK, so Dr. Lybrand, what do we do with this info? Well, if you are a teacher of any kind (and especially if you homeschool), then why not invite more curiosity in your students? I did not say ‘make it more interesting’ here. How could you make curiosity happen? The easiest way is by asking questions. Specifically, something like, “Who…what…when…where…why…how.” Or, “What would you like to know about this?” Who would learning this subject help? How does this work? Why is studying this subject valuable? Where will you use this if your really learn it?” It’s even better to think of your own ways!
Well, you get the idea. Here’s where to start— Start with being curious about helping others get curious about their own learning. If you get curious about learning and teaching…you’ll figure it out.
How do I know? Well, you’re curious aren’t you?
Here’s a post I responded to about learning word meanings:
Need a suggestion… my 9 yr old learns differently. I pulled her from PS after finding out that her work was being done for her…gotta kept the schools test scores looking good! I’m trying to pick about 4/5 words for her to learn the meaning of each week. They come from the McGuffey readers. She reads very well but just can’t understand the meaning of words. Take the word “smut”. She can spell it fine. Trying to teach her to search in the dictionary and write down a brief meaning. I choose the meaning—dirty, soiled spot– and used my finger to trace an imaginary dirty spot on my shirt. Her mind doesn’t seem to retain what I say. Next word was –bind- looked it up and read meaning, to tie up with a rope. Then I talked about actually doing it such as in a cowboy movie or playing cops/robbers. Just doesn’t click with her. Help!!
As I’ve pondered this for the past couple of days (bit of a puzzle), I now have a couple of thoughts I hope will help:
*What do we have to eat tonight?
*What do we have to eat tonight?
What is the meaning of ‘have’ here? If it means ‘available’ then the sentence goes one way…if ‘have to’ means ‘obligation’ then the sentence goes another way.
My thought is to spend more time having her read aloud and work on word meanings in context. Build on successes and easier words so her confidence grows. A word like ‘smut’ is pretty abstract (not really a common 9 year old word). If she can make sense of, “The goat jumped over the fence and ate the daisies,” — I think she’ll be on course! If she can’t tell you what a goat is…what jumping is…and that a daisy is a flow– then go get help. If she can do these, just keep adding from where she is currently.
My guess is she needs to grow her confidence based on little successes. Once she ‘knows’ she can do it, then the sky’s the limit.
I can’t imagine a more essential issue than the very definition we all hold about education. Nothing shapes your schooling, your homework, and your efforts as a teacher, parent, or student.
For example, what if you think a good relationship is when two people always agree. The definition itself would distort everything for you. Any disagreement would mean things are ‘bad’— total silence and distance could be taken as ‘closeness’ as a standard for everyone to follow. Great distortions come from our flawed definitions.
Education is no different. In this day and age, education is thought to be found in mastering trivial facts, a test score for college, and a ranking in a class of peers. The sad truth is that this kind of standard, this kind of ‘education’ as a definition, cannot be counted on to serve anyone well.
Education is learning how to learn. It is knowing enough when you have the ability to pick up a subject—and without fear or hesitation, you are able to dive in and study-think-study-think-discuss-think–study until you have mastered it.
Imagine the number of careers we face in a lifetime. Can any of us have confidence that we will train-and-stay-put? We cannot!
Much better to learn the tools of learning. To master writing and reading and logic (math). If you sing and can make a living at it, then great. If you can throw a 107 mph pitch without fail, then cool.
The great majority of us, however, are stuck in our own talents and dreams. Better to learn the skill that keeps blessing it’s owner. Better to learn how to learn.
If you are homeschooling or your children still seek your help with schoolwork, then please begin to emphasize the skill of learning and not the trivia of the moment.
Reshape the game of education and invite them to teach themselves. Quite spelling the word or working the problem…give them a chance and tell them why you are serving them by not answering.
Someday they will LOVE you for it.
P.S. If you found this of interest, youll probably like
5 College Majors that are Useless . . .
I am beginning to suspect all elaborate and special systems of education. They seem to me to be built up on the supposition that every child is a kind of idiot who must be taught to think.
It’s a great mistake, I think, to put children off with falsehoods and nonsense, when their growing powers of observation and discrimination excite in them a desire to know about things.
I am no authority on Anne Sullivan, but she certainly hits the nail with her head on these two points. The whole notion that children must be taught to think is at the core of socialization theories, Rousseau, Dewey, and the Tabula Rasa (blank slate—see Ibn Sīnā the Islamic Scholar) silliness that has soaked deep into the concrete floor of modern educational thought and practice.
Did you know that about 20% of children can learn to read even if you don’t teach them? Have you noticed how kids usually know more about operating the computer than their parents? Did you know that ‘sign language’ was entirely invented by the kids who used it (not the parents who first learned to use the manual alphabet with there children)?
Children need to be challenged and fed…but that doesn’t mean coddled and spoon-served pablum for their entire lifetime. Children are first and foremost learners. If you will grasp this as a ‘given’ then the entire nature of how you might teach and interact with them is transformed.
Of course, Anne Sullivan’s second point is quite telling as well. How often do we season our children with falsehoods and nonsense. Seriously, just think of some of the things we all do? Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Stork, and the Tooth Fairy are all such falsehoods. Now, before you get upset (or overly happy), please know that I see nothing wrong with pretending and playing games with our kids. Pretending, however, means everyone gets what we are playing (like a tea party without tea). We play along, but we are also in on the gag.
The Lybrand “Tooth Fairy” was kind of crazy! We never wanted to make our kids feel bizarre compared to their friends, but we also didn’t want to treat them as though they were mindless simpletons who could not think for themselves. So, our Tooth Fairy would always give a little money along with a variety of other items (jacks, small toys, a plastic lizard, etc.). They were always more interested in the stuff than the money! Also, they ‘knew’ the game, and had loads of fun getting rid of their baby teeth.
There just isn’t much of a reason to ever lie to our children…even about death, sex, and taxes. HOWEVER, you don’t have to tell them everything you know about the subject. Especially in your home, you are going to have many opportunities to clarify and expound on things (especially sex).
But why does promoting Santa and the Stork make our children dumber? Why could telling falsehoods hurt? The answer is found in Sullivan’s phrase, “when their growing powers of observation and discrimination excite in them a desire to know about things.” Teaching is in part about cultivating this desire to know though observation and discrimination. Imagine a child having a worldview built on falsehoods that don’t match reality (Santa funding all the toys and getting to every house in one evening…quite and economic & time-space-continuum issue) knocked down again and again. You may not think it is much, but we know how lives get distorted (denial) through the pain of growing up in a dysfunctional, especially alcoholic, home. Why would we ever surmise teaching our children anything other than understanding the truth of things is a good idea?
If I had time here I’d speculate on the current economic crisis and how we keep looking for Santa to save the day. Sometimes, fairly, the political world needs to be called out on there own fairytale rhetoric. A few encouraged kids could grow up to observe, discern, and offer some leadership with the jacket of Truth smartly tailored and worn well— ready for work.
In the meantime with your own children and students, please consider aiming for the truth. They are smart and know it anyway (or will find out soon) that you have been fibbing. When need a brave generation that is hard to trick. I’m guessing this training could begin at home.
P.S. By the way, we did direct our children NOT to tell their friends ‘the truth’ about various things other families practiced. It isn’t our business to straighten out other families ;-)…and it shouldn’t be yours either!
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There is almost nothing more insidious and decaying to a good mind than to replace saying what you believe with what you think you should say.
The first joke is the point here (watch):
The trick to learning is to say what you think…and then, decide if you’d rather let that thought go and pick up another one. Studying the Bible works this way…people decide what it should say, say that, and then spend their time looking up verses to support it. It is the same with many historians and reporters… all busy proving a point rather than learning one.
The better system is to stay a humble learner…keep giving up on your own faulty ideas! Eventually, you’ll get smart (maybe even wise!).
There is definitely something even more important than the basics…that is, there is one thing that will have as marked an impact on how educated (and articulate) a person will be.
I’m a big fan of the basics, so I’m not saying scratch them…but your student will get so much less without this strategy included in his world.
I can look at my own life, and with all the ways my dad may have failed me (in theory), he succeeded gloriously here. Also, I think all the kids would admit we did OK on this one too!
I hope this spurs you on to add this as an intentional part of your parenting and education.