The Point of Learning

I don't mean the "point" of learning in why we need to learn. I mean the actual cognitive place we must find in order to learn.

This year has been the hardest year of school I've ever had. I fight battles every single day with students over the simple act of thinking. I have had some begin to see the value, but 90% are still pushing back on nearly everything we do. If you were to come to my room, I think the most common phrases you would hear are "Bro..." and "I don't know."

Will Chamberlain had some thoughts a few weeks ago about the "I don't know" response. It is resignation. It is a student openly stating that they are not going to put in the effort to think about a question or problem. And it is totally acceptable in our schools. Rather than abolishing "I don't know," teachers and schools traditionally respond by giving the answer.

I think the point of learning is when students feel challenged and supported at the same time. This balance comes from every teacher, administrator, and student in the building working toward the same goal. The point of learning is the hardest part of school because it is in an educational "sweet spot" where everything is working together the way it is meant to.

When you're trying to reach that point, these are a few things to consider:

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  • Does your space communicate the physical aspect of learning? Is your space open, flexible, and inviting? Or is it static, "cookie cutter," and bland? If we can adapt our space (I know we all have limitations) to accentuate learning rather than compliance, you'll begin moving in the right direction.
  • Do you meet the needs of your students? As teachers, we have an eye for what our students are proficient and deficient in...we use formative assessments to judge progress and make changes if necessary. What we can't do, though, is read our student's minds. Ask them questions. Have them reflect on their learning. Make learning a discussion rather than an announcement.
  • Do you work alone, or are you connected? The most important piece of working in a school is being connected with your peers. Find someone to work with as much as possible. Eat lunch together, plan together, form goals together. The accountability and the support will help you do your job better. At the same time, consider forming a digital PLN through Twitter, Ning networks, or even your professional organization (NSTA, NMCT, etc).
  • No two points look the same. What is yours like? Feel free to share how you overcome some of the hurdles in the comments.

    photo credit: ogimogi via photopin cc

    5 thoughts on “The Point of Learning

    1. I feel like “this has been the hardest school year ever” is what I continue to say every year. It was only supposed to get easier but there is no doubt the group of kids we work with every year is changing.

      If you haven’t read Carol Dweck’s Self-Theories, you should. It’s about fixed and malleable mindsets and the desire to be challenged. Surprisingly, it is often the most gifted kids who quit soonest. It has come forward in “the perils of praise” where all kids get trophies for showing up.

      I believe we must continue to fight the good fight. Although, I’m going to have to start working out more to keep up!

      • I do see the high-achievers giving up at times, but that’s mostly because I don’t push them as hard as I should be. I’ve gotten better at asking good questions and pushing for deeper connections, and that’s what I love about Flipped Learning…I have time to do that with every student, every day.

        How do you push your students when they need to be pushed? Do you think we’ll ever reach a point where the kind of thinking we’re looking for is normal in every class offered during high school?

        • I think we’re getting closer as we start younger in school to demand thought and not regurgitation. Its us science folks who I think really get slammed. Chemistry just will never be EASY – that’s why its so cool. They’ll spend hours on AP Euro essays but not lab results. Systems are hard to change and it will take a full K12 team. Gotta love the challenge!

    2. L.J. (Laura) Allen says:

      I agree that the effortless response of “I don’t know” is not getting students anywhere. There are too many kids that do the absolute minimum to get by, and some don’t even do that. Some students honestly don’t care if they pass or fail. This is something that has been going on for decades. It’s not until later in their life that they realize that they should’ve tried a little harder in school, if they realize at all. I think that “I don’t know” is a trigger or a result of this apathetic attitude toward education. I am three years into my college career, and I’m so anxious to begin my life as a teacher. I’m working on my PLN now for EDM310, and I know I’ll have this useful resource after the class is over. I will strive to get my students to put their best foot forward as you do, but what can we do about these kids that have no desire to learn? It’s discouraging. I appreciated your post, and it got me thinking.
      -L.J. (Laura) Allen, a student at the University of South Alabama

      • Everything you brought up is a question every teacher faces every day. At times, the “I don’t know’s” come at an alarming rate. That’s usually an indication for me to step back and look at the assignment or my directions. More often than not, it is because I wasn’t as clear as I should have been. So, we cannot place all the blame (nor should we ever) on students.

        Carolyn Durley (@okmbio) wrote a fantastic post on just “being there” for students when they’re ready. I suggest you read that as well as you continue to prepare for your own classroom.

        http://flipperteach.com/2012/09/30/the-trouble-with-teenagers/

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