Based on the post describing the conditions for optimal learning, lets explore what a school should look like. We’ll take the position that schools don’t exist and we’re trying to create one based on what we know about learning (I know, crazy idea, right?)
Interest. Let’s start there. Interest is, quite simply, HUGE in learning. If you’re not interested there’s nothing anyone can do to force you to learn. That’s because there’s a physiological piece involved. Your whole body, lovely integrated system that it is, participates in learning: hormones, enzymes and other chemicals are activated/release based on your emotional state. Interest is an emotional state. Think of when you suddenly hear a new piece of music, your ears tune in and your whole being is suddenly “awake” with interest in what this is, who’s playing, etc.
You can’t fake interest.
When your interest level spikes you are primed for learning. It’s like “brain glue” or something. Seriously. Learning is highly facilitated when you are sincerely interested in the thing you’re working at/on. If you really want to learn how to tune your car engine or learn how to play tennis, then you’re fully “present” when someone is showing you what you need to know. Imagine the reverse. Imagine having to learn something that you really couldn’t care less about…. yeah, nothing going on.
Back to school (tis the season…). If our new model is to accommodate interest-oriented learning, what will it look like?
For starters, the learner has to be able to decide what s/he is going to tackle at any given time – the younger the student the more essential this is. Older students, for example, can choose a selection of courses (like in college) and then follow a “set for them” schedule because they selected the courses based on interest and so can tune-in to that specific interest when it’s time for Psych 101 or calculus 2. The younger child, say a 7 year old, can’t do this. The younger child really needs to be able to self-direct throughout the day because he hasn’t developed the ability to control his intellect sufficiently. Between the ages of 6-12 or so the student really isn’t going to be able to manage their interest the way a college student is able to. High school – you’re getting there.
So, for elementary school we need a model that allows the child to be able to select what to work on throughout the day. The problem here is that this means doing away with what we know as the traditional classroom structure of “teacher at the front of the class”. It means that you’ll have many different things going on at the same time because, you guessed it, not everyone is going to have the same interest at the same time.
OMG – disaster! chaos! Well, not so fast. Let’s slow down and see how this could possibly happen. Tune in for that….