Posts Tagged ‘experience’

An adult was heard to say “my dad didn’t teach me what to do, he just lived and let me watch”.

That’s rich.  How many parents spend a great deal of time “telling’ their children what to do, how to do it, how to be “polite”, “kind”, etc.  Is this the best way?  The adult above clearly valued a different approach: modelling and let it be.

People learn best through self-discovery and exploration.  “Telling” rarely communicates what is important because it is disconnected from your own experience- it amounts to accepting received wisdom, so to speak.  Parents who live their lives well, don’t tell their children to do as I say not as I do”, teach them what is important and teach them in the best way possible.

The other thing at work here is not micromanaging a child’s development or future. Sure, as parents we all want what’s best for our children, we all want them to succeed in their endeavors.  There is a difference between providing opportunities and support and what some parents do, which amounts to controlling their children’s lives and not allowing for self-expression and self-awareness.  Letting your child discover what moves them, what contributions they can make to the world, is the best way to help them become both whole and happy.



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A business executive recently said in an interview that “You’ve heard this a million times before: The only way to fail is to not fail, because otherwise you’re not taking risks. You’re not getting better.  You’re just doing the things that you know will work. Now, the difference is that you really want people who learn from their mistakes.”.  Get that? ” The only way to fail is to not fail” : which means that failing is the key to success.

So why do our conventional schools not understand that?  In schools it’s all about the “one right answer”.  Red marks on your paper are an embarrassment: a sign of wrong answers – failure.  To be avoided.  Students “learn” to regurgitate and not take risks.  Like I  said in my previous post, how you go about “teaching” conveys a great deal about what you will actually convey – the process is inherent in the message.

We need to embrace failure as the necessary road to success, to achievement. There’s truly no other way there.  Avoid failure and you avoid success – now that’s not what schools teach students, not the conventional ones.

Tied up in this are parenting styles that endeavor to “protect” children from disappointment, helicopter parents and any parenting that amounts to “making sure it all works out”.  How will our children learn to cope, to persevere, to manage disappointment, if they aren’t allowed and encouraged to fail?  I’ve written about that here too.

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The business world, the world where people work once they move  out of schooling, knows the value of “doing”- it’s called “experience”, and there’s no substitute for it.  Employers regularly complain about new hires out of school who can’t do anything. They can’t think, they can’t apply a principle if they “didn’t have a case study about that” — in short, they aren’t good at DOING.

In rethinking about what education needs to be about and how we can then go about achieving this two things always come to the surface.  One is that education needs to be conceived as more than the transmission of data/facts and second is that the means by which you go about doing it conveys as much as what you are conveying.  In other words, how you go about the  business of education says a lot about what you are teaching. In fact, the two are inseparable.

Want to teach engagement and creativity/innovation?  You have to give students the opportunity to ask their own questions, explore and discover.  Stop “telling”.  Figuring out what the good questions are will always be more important than finding  out the answers to any questions.  Yet, schools today still provide the question and send students off to find the answers.  “Innovators” in education today think they are making significant strides when they  provide iPads as a tool to find the answers.  This is what passes for thoughtful and “forward thinking” solutions to the education crisis.  Myopic indeed.  This is what happens when people who have not truly been “educated” are old enough to be in charge.

Of  course, “doing”, if we’re lucky, often leads to failing.  More about  that in the next post.

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“Hey! Teacher! Leave them kids alone!”  (sing it with me.)  Yes, Pink was on to something.  Parents – leave them kids alone!

When did parenting become a vocation?  When did parents become artists whose children are the raw material from which to sculpt their masterpiece?  This is what too many parents do these days: from Baby Mozart (hopefully mostly debunked… right??) to prep-school for a prep-school for a prep-school…. getting into the “right” kindergarten, yes?  Otherwise it’s all downhill.  Helicopter parents who attend job interviews for their 18 and 22-year olds – then call up the employer when they don’t get the job to ask why.  I don’t make this stuff up.

When president emeritus of the American Public Media Group, Bill Kling, was asked what his parents were like, he said “They were wonderful.  They absolutely left me alone.”  What?! Come again.  Not in today’s world.  He talks about all the exploration he did and experiments he invented (and, yes, things he blew up!) – all in the pursuit of his own ideas, his own conceptions, his own thinking, innovation and curiosity.  That’s an education.  That’s a child given the space, the freedom to learn.  Not plugged-in, entertained and “activitied” (I made that up: it’s the parental over-scheduling act of having activities being thrown at you all too frequently).  No, this was a child left on his own to learn.

It really is that simple.  We are born to learn.  That’s the one huge gift we are given at birth: ready and powerful learners.  Naturally curious and explorative we will figure it out, whatever it is.  It’s what humanity has done all  along and will continue to do if we don’t short-circuit the system.  Leave them children alone, and all will be fine.

We need anxious parents to relax, take a step back and understand that this is how it works best.   There are too many parents motivated by good intentions but who are lacking some basic information.

A good new website provides some guidance: http://www.aidtolife.org

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From the minute a child is born she is learning.  Some will argue before.  This is literally true, and fascinating in its truth.  Think about  it.

Because  learning is happening in every waking moment of a child’s life, we should pay attention to what they’re learning – because they are.  Parents are teaching their child with every little thing that they do.  As an educator/administrator I remind teachers who are dealing with an unruly child that “they weren’t born that way” (Lady Gaga is talking about something else).  The point is that the child learned to be unruly by what she saw or how she was treated.

The parent who always brings to their infant the very thing that  the infant is seeking, so that they won’t have to exert so much energy and can be happy NOW, is teaching the infant that effort and persistence are unnecessary and that things will come easily.  This is what learning in every waking moment means.  The child has no choice about this- it’s how nature set the system up.  For this “now happy” infant: what a shame.

“Maybe their lives will turn out differently” says president emeritus of the American Public Media Group, Bill Kling, when talking about his childhood opportunity to explore things first hand, on his own.  “I think  we often undervalue the importance of giving kids that kind of hands-on experience.  It may not lead to their deciding what to  do with their lives, but  it’s surprising what they will  absorb- and maybe their  lives will turn out differently.”

Indeed.  Let’s step back from being so on top of our children.  Let’s give them space to explore, inquire on their own, make mistakes, mess up, fail, and of course… learn all the while.

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What on earth will it take?

The NY Times ran a story the other day about an Arizona school district that has spent millions of dollars on classroom technology over the past 5 years, with little to show for it when it comes to assessing learning.  How many such stories do we need before we come to realize that the way to improve learning is not to replace the teacher’s chalkboard with an electronic one, it’s to replace the teacher’s style, approach and materials.

Stories about how technology has failed to make any gains have been around as long as technologies have been touted as silver bullets.  It’s true – look it up.  It doesn’t matter whether it was the radio (yes!), television, computers, the internet or smart boards – every one of these was championed as the thing that will solve the educational problem- the holy grail of education.  Not one ever did.  Not one ever will.

The problem, as has been written about extensively in this space, is one of style not technology.  The solution lies not in how we present content to learners but in the very emphasis of presenting content.  Conventional education remains what I call a “content delivery system” with its emphasis on passing along content, as if that’s what learning amounts to or how it occurs.  Until we come to recognize that learning is something the learner does, through a process of self-directed, self-initiated action, we’ll not make any meaningful, long-lasting improvements to education.

Has our culture been so permanently hoodwinked by flash and speed that we can no longer see the issue for what it is?

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The relatively new field of neuroeducation has made it clear that emotion plays a role in learning. Getting more specific, the field has shown that stress plays a role, a destructive role.

It turns out that stress prevents the human brain from developing optimally.  It does this by preventing neurogenesis from taking place.  Neurogenesis is our brain’s ability to create new neurons- brain cells.  If you grow up in a healthy and stable environment your brain is able to generate new neurons, which help you to learn.  Provide an enriched environment and you’re off to the races.  Stress takes you in the opposite direction of an enriched environment.

How does this inform the education paradigm-shift position?

Conventional environments create stress in students.  Whether it’s from the fear of failure and mistake making or the upcoming quiz, there are daily stressors for most students in a conventional environment.

The New Education Paradigm removes these stressors.  By placing the learner in greater control of her activities, by encouraging mistakes (in the spirit of risk-taking that is necessary to look for new questions and answers), by shifting to alternate modes of assessment, amongst other things, the new paradigm creates a rich environment that minimizes stress in the student/learner.  The result is a student who is not only motivated to participate and apply themselves fully, but a brain that is there to support them by creating the new neurons that they can then use to learn.

Now, if only we can get the prime movers in “industrial education” (new term) to catch up to  the science of the day, maybe we can begin to help more students sooner.  In the meantime, check out Montessori schools – they’ve understood this implicitly for decades.

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