The personal learning network for educators
Somewhere around fourth grade, students stop learning like sponges and become more like mollusks. But why do students lose that zest for learning they once showed in the primary grades? As children develop their own identity, they are less likely to want to learn what we know they need to learn and will be more likely to choose to learn only what interests them. The problem is what interests them is usually in direct contrast to what they need to learn to become contributing members of society capable of critical thinking, and of course this lack of discernment is part of what makes them children. So how do we, as teachers and parents, teach our children about the learning process, about failure, about motivation and about what it means to be a life long learner? These are topics for conversations we need to have with our children because children need to know the truth, and need to be taught these life skills as much as they need to learn their reading, writing and arithmetic. How often do we speak to our kids and discuss the fact that learning will not always be fun, and what to do if we experience failure? How often do we discuss strategies with young or even older children about what to do when they face a difficult assignment, or what to do if they fail? As jobs in our society become more intellectually demanding, it is critical that our students complete their education with an understanding of these life skills. As early as the primary grades and throughout a student's academic career, we need to equip students with strategies so they know what to do when learning becomes challenging because school, as well as life, will progressively become more challenging.
Instead of becoming edu-tainers and drill sergeants forcing our students to want to learn, we need to help students discover how they learn as individuals, and what they like to learn along with what to do when learning becomes more challenging. So how do we do that?
Beginning in the primary grades, teachers and parents need to be models for children. Children need to learn how and when to ask questions, and how and when to ask for help. Children also need to be taught not to give up when faced with a difficult task. Children observe teachers and parents' attitudes about school, pressure, and failure; it is our responsibility to teach children how to deal with failure and how to capitalize on success. Kids need to be taught that a challenging assignment is an opportunity for discovering one’s talents and interests for personal growth, and not a time to give up. Teaching these lessons will be as daunting as trying to understand them. However, if we wish to see our children grow as individuals, we must encourage our students to take risks, and afford them with a variety of contexts offering opportunities to make mistakes, and correct mistakes, free from any negative criticism. We should coach, not hover, and still be able to offer constructive criticism. As difficult as this may sound, sometimes, we will need to step back and allow our children to experience failure so they can learn to pick themselves up, dust themselves off and begin again. Teaching our children how to deal with failure, setbacks, and obstacles will be among the most important and toughest life lessons children will need to learn.
As frank as we need to be when speaking to our children about failure, conversations about motivation need to be just as straightforward. We need to tell kids the truth that our motivation may fluctuate depending on our ability or our interests, but regardless of these factors, there will be instances where we will need to motivate ourselves to get the job done. As teachers and parents, we need to be careful not to constantly provide children with extrinsic motivation because it will backfire in the end. Most importantly we need to have the tough conversations among ourselves about what to do when a child's motivation for academia is not there, considering the factors which may be affecting motivation. We then need to search for creative ways to tap into that student's natural desire to learn. We need to be patient, and provide alternatives so the child can experience success. It will not be easy to teach and learn these life skills, but we need to begin to have these conversations to find solutions so we can improve our students' attitude toward learning, motivation, failure and the concept that learning is a life long process.