Saturday, 1 April 2017

Inspiring a love of learning

Some of the learners I teach at Haeata Community Campus have arrived without a passion to learn. I'm sure you have learners like that as well.  It seems their interest in learning has been switched off.

 Or has it?

I've been captivated by this short video clip from Tom Shea this week. In  The Importance of Play
Tom shares a very simple message.  85% of the brain has been developed by the age of 7.   Play supports children to develop an innate interest in learning.  Enjoyment is crucial in the recipe of learning.  Play is about being able to choose.  The player might choose to be sedentary. They might choose to be active.  It is the choice that means they have a chance to develop a love of learning.

Have we as a society set in concrete expectations of what should be learnt in order to be successful? As a child if you don't do what is being asked then you get the message pretty quickly that you don't fit. I think you might work out that you are not liked or loved.  You might even believe that you are worthless.  Do learners enjoy being dis-regulated?  Do they enjoy not fitting in?  Do they enjoy being violent? Do they enjoy saying no? Do they enjoy sitting not doing anything?  I don't think so.  At the centre of it all we are hard wired to fit in, to please and to play.

I am fortunate to teach learners who don't fit inside the 'normal' box.  My learners make their presence known.  Some of their life experiences so far, have de-sensitised them to having a passion for doing much.  It is so tempting to want to control them.  To force them to behave.  To force them to learn.  To blame.

Teachers who aim to control students' behaviour—rather than helping them control it themselves—undermine the very elements that are essential for motivation: autonomy, a sense of competence, and a capacity to relate to others.

This article has also impacted me this week.  It gives me hope.

Motivation, a love of learning, is gained by choice and by being given autonomy.  Play, free play is all about choice and autonomy.  It is all about being able to have control over your own body and self. Some learners need help to work out what is getting in the way of being able to do this.

"The goal is to get to the root of the problem, not to discipline a kid for the way his brain is wired." 

What hope!  

Providing free choice to some of my learners really didn't go down too well.  I think they found it shocking. I think they felt almost lost.  Maybe I wonder, were they used to being prescribed what to do and by this action told what constitutes learning? Did this have the effect of making them less curious? Many of them told me they hated reading, writing and maths. Some have learning differences which haven't allowed them to be what school needs them to be in order to fit in.  They would start a task they choose but struggle to finish it.  Sometimes they would just do a task quickly, looking disinterested.  Some didn't know how to begin.  Many just left the learning space.

My experience shows me that often students when given choice don't know what to do with it.  This doesn't mean they don't want it.  Instead, it is up to me to facilitate and enable them to come up with strategies to help them to gain autonomy.  In order to help them to have a sense of competence, I am able to reframe small steps as being successful.  To help them relate to others, I coach them in how to manage anger, how to recognise when someone else has had enough and how to ask for what they need. Providing a free play environment is helping to facilitate this. 

When they are hooked in, when they are interested in learning, then I can build on that.  As an educator of young children, I believe my main job is to inspire a love of learning.   When I see that spark I celebrate and jump right in with the learner.  I pack resources around that spark.  

Sometimes, when there is just nothing, I recognise they need the chance to just be.  To relax and unwind.  To maybe play in water, to feel slime or draw randomly.  Sometimes, they seem to sabotage their own progress. But learning to play again, or maybe even for the first time is not easy. It takes time.  I still believe that it takes opportunity to make mistakes, to fail but to look up and see those who love and appreciate you, affirm you.  

I remember one of my learners.  They wandered around for a few weeks, not doing much of anything but annoying others and destroying stuff.  Then one day, they asked me a question.  The next day they began to talk.  Then I saw them sitting down playing with some cars.  They had self-directed themselves.  What progress.

This is such a fundamental shift for us educators isn't it. It appears risky. Trusting the child, giving opportunity to fail and not looking like a typical teacher.  And I think that maybe that is why starting on a play based learning journey is so difficult for many educators. If we liken education to building a house, finding the floor of some of our learners is like digging out past junk, it is hard work and rarely appealing. However, when the child begins to build the walls, you look up and you celebrate when you see no ceiling, because that reminds you of their unlimited future. 

Here is an article I have just read which fits in really well with this blog.
Toy free kindergarten (up to age of 6)

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