Posts Tagged ‘adolescents’

The crisis is still with us.  Grads look for jobs and don’t find them.  People call for a rescue to save them and others.  There’s despair and longing and a sense of hopelessness.  But not everywhere.  For some there’s a better way.  Necessity is the mother of invention.  The ones you will see rise up today are the ones who can tap into what made this country what it is: intrinsic motivation, perseverance, inventiveness, confidence, curiosity, boldness, independence and courage.

Watch  this music video and what do  you see?  I see two young people ” just doing what needs to be done”.  They put themselves out there.  They are making something of value because they can, and maybe they have to.  Hand-outs are not ever an answer.  Hand-outs train people to wait for help.  It trains them to “rely on” and become DEpendent.    That’s no future.  Maybe it’s just me but the passion and confidence I see in these two is what will carry them.  Never mind the particular song if you don’t care for it – see the souls of these two, their spirit.  I’m not worried about them.

The world is spinning out and we need young people to understand what will get them ahead.  The ones who are capable of rising themselves up will be the ones to make the future, to carry the world forward.  We need education to play a role in nurturing these young people, to show them that this is possible. We don’t need schools that  train them to sit and wait, to follow the rules, to be lead and to just  do what they are told.  Maybe too many generations of that is taking its toll today.

Education needs a reality check today.  It needs to be able to show all students  (i) that they have something inside themselves that they can contribute, (ii) that they can develop the skills to make that contribution.  But that skill development is not what’s on offer in most schools today.  There’s no path there for the innovators and creators.  Half of them are “tamed” with medication to help them “focus” and be calm and controlled.  That’s a shame because the taming also suppresses that which actually makes them tick, that which would unlock their contribution.

So, “cheers” to those who are striking out on their own, who have discovered their contribution.

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(here’s a bonus post)

This valedictorian has some of the right ideas.  Not all presented smoothly, but surely understands that what she just went through is not what education should be.  Worth a listen, here:

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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….

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Is it really such a nuanced concept?

I fail to see why it remains so difficult for educated people to grasp not only the value of students, indeed people, being self-directed, but also of simply grasping what it even is.  A New York Times story from about a week or so ago (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/11/business/11digi.html?src=busln) reported on middle school students and their ability to waste time on a computer.  The story focused on research revealing that with the great push to put computers into homes of those who cannot afford them, and an internet connection, the academic performance of these students actually declined after the introduction of the computer.  The premise was to “level the paying field” by giving the “advantage” of a computer and the internet to children who otherwise would be missing out.  The experiment failed.

What was also noted, however, was that “when devising ways to beat school policing software, students showed an exemplary capacity for self-directed learning. Too bad that capacity didn’t expand in academic directions, too.”  This comment inadvertently reveals just what self-directed learning is all about: the interest and motivation of the learner.  The students act with self-direction when trying to subvert the school’s internet “protections” because they want to get around them with great interest.  Why don’t these students show the same ability with their academic work?  Really?  You have to ask that question?  The way the academic work is presented (disconnected and abstract) it has no hope of gaining the students’ interest.

Why is this so difficult to understand?

Yes, self-direction is the much sought after remedy for much of what is failing in traditional schools.  But you can’t get there without understanding that it rests on personal interest and motivation.

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Hey, you know – we’ve got a problem on our hands.

Someone clever said to me a while ago, “if you don’t get adolescence right, you end up with a dismal adulthood”.  Look around at the middle aged adults you know and this seems to ring true.  Adolescence is our time to figure certain things out, it’s our time to define ourselves.  Mess that up and the rest is at risk – seriously.

We’ve got to crack the middle school nut.  There are some non-traditional programs out there, pushing the limits, making innovative changes… we need to study these and replicate them because some things have been figures out.

Adolescents today get little respect.  They are ridiculed, misunderstood and made the scapegoat for many social ills.   This is wrong-headed.  Adolescents become – they are not born.  They become what we encourage them to become. Think about that.  The issues in middle schools, and high schools, goes far beyond this.  But we need to change some fundamental things.  Let us begin by asking “who is the adolescent?”.

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