Thursday, January 26, 2006

How Do We Help Create Life-Long Learners?

Two terms that always get me going are "life long learners" and "risk takers". If there is anything that has kept me going as a teacher and a learner it is the hard lessons I learned at Hampshire College. There I had to struggle through the process of describing the "mode of inquiry" I used to complete a project, and the actual topic of the project came second in importance. I had to prove that I understood how to solve problems or do research in an area of study before I presented the actual project. This requirement is why I can learn new things, take on new projects, and conceptualize on a big scale -- I am always looking at what is behind the idea or the concept - - perhaps I should say the big idea rather than focusing simply on the content. This is the gift I believe we are supposed to be sharing with students. This is the gift that leads to life-long learning.

I work with kids who are both potential life-long learners and risk-takers (in a good way) -- kids who are jumping out of their skin to move forward and desperate for the next thing to do and might be willing to struggle with deeper meanings or the messy process of focusing how to learn. So often, however, because of their competitive instincts (or parental pressure) these students become satisfied by succeeding where ever rote response is required and become learners who are fine with learning superficially as long as they maintain their "top of the class" label. We should challenge these kids to reach beyond and try to really comprehend the underbelly of everything they learn, rather than rewarding them for success by letting them think they are "winning" for rote or formulaic responses. In truth, they will never be truly satisfied because deep inside they really know that there is more to it than this.

I think it is the responsibility of schools to educate life-long learners and risk takers, rather than to focus on rewarding those who achieve the highest mark, however easily or cheaply obtained...

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