Building the Self-Directed Learner
The student scores 1 or 2 out of 5 for being excited about learning. If we can believe the child psychologists or experts like Zaretta Hammond, they tell us that a child’s brain is built to learn, and that it takes a lot to turn that off. Somehow, school manages to do that a lot of the time. But just because the student is not that interested in learning about Ancient Rome does not mean that they are not learning. They are probably directing their curiosity at learning how to make trouble or how to impress their mates or how to pretend to be working and doing as little as possible.
Like all the other C’s, we need to remind ourselves that this low score speaks only for today. It was boring today, or I was tired out and not engaged. Don’t rush to judgment just on one low score. But we do Myscore more often and we can start to see what students are consistently scoring themselves low. Then we can make a plan to address it. But we need some assumptions about the learner.
When you walk into a classroom or a program session, presume that everyone is learning. They might not be learning what you are trying to teach them but they are learning because the human being in its development is forever adaptive. The way to switch a disengaged learner into an excited learner is not so much to pressure them to work, but rather to take time to find the engine of their natural curiosity. Watch watch they are watching. Listen to what they are listening to.
One student was totally bored and as much of the day as he could get away with, he was on his phone playing what the teachers called ‘stupid games.” The AmeriCorps member was only a few years out of school himself and he knew the games well. So he decided to use the interest that the teacher saw as a distraction as the engine of a natural curiosity that perhaps could be channeled into productive work. They talked about other games and about the possibility of even building his own game. The kid was intrigued. Could what he was doing be actually learning to, when the teacher labeled it as misbehavior?
When the spirit of inquiry is awakened, and encouraged, and when the student is given permission to be his or her own best teacher, there is a chance that the student will come to love learning along the way to loving themselves. But our starting point is not that someone is not excited. Rather they are excited about most things. Just not excited about what goes on in the classroom right there and then.
So its a matter of reconnecting the network of interest and helping the teacher teach in a way that will hook the interest of each and every student. Ancient Rome might seem like a drag but what about building a chariot and staging a race at the colosseum. What about trying to build a Roman fort with a catapult?