Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Lifelong Learning

As I sat here this evening beginning to browse a folder full of books about the strategies for teaching mental computation, I mused that I am just being a lifelong learner. I am learning now some new ways of teaching others. Lifelong learners are what we need to be creating in our children now, and it's healthy to be living that reality in order to encourage it in my students. 

It's helpful to be reminded that there are probably a thousand other things I could be doing, and quite a number that I'd rather be doing, but most times it is worth the effort made in learning something new. It's helpful to be reminded that it is hard work to learn something new and that resistance is a natural response in many cases. It's helpful, as a teacher, to be reminded that learning does not consist of being a receptacle into which information is poured, but that it requires real mental struggle to make links to knowledge I already have in order to make sense of the new. It reminds me that it is incredibly hard to remain focused for a long period of time when I'm learning something new. It reminds me that I need to take breaks and have some down time (and sometimes even some sleep) to allow new understandings to be developed. Sometimes it takes time for me to realise that I have questions to be answered.

 It's good to be reminded that learning means re-reading, note-taking, diagram drawing, mind mapping, doodling and musing. It's good to be reminded that sometimes learning means talking to someone else who might know more or have a different slant on things to help me expand my own viewpoint. It is good to be reminded that all these things happen when I am learning about something I am interested in and stand to gain from knowing. 

We sit children in classrooms from four years of age and expect them to learn what we want them to learn. From four years of age until sixteen or older, the state or the nation decrees what they must learn. If teachers are not reminded often that it is hard to learn, and harder still if we are not interested in a particular topic or subject, then they can forget what it's like to be a student in school. I have sat through professional development days that have felt like torture. Yep, I think that is how kids must think about school sometimes too.

I am fortunate to be a recent graduate and am so grateful for the learning I did as an undergraduate of the Bachelor of Learning Management at university in Queensland. I learned that we need new skills in the emerging generations; that they face problems on a global scale that we did not have. We need to create a generation with the qualities of supreme problem solvers. They must be willing to keep trying when they don't get answers straight away. They need to be willing to try crazy ideas in order to make new discoveries that will take humanity forward in a more sustainable way. They must be able to work effectively as collaborators in a very diverse global society. 

Because kids need skills that allow them to work with others, to be resilient in their learning and their work, to be able to go on learning as technology changes everything at high speed with no sign of slowing down, we must create learning environments that allow them to be creative, self-motivated, co-operative problem solvers. Hands-on learning experiences, purposeful conversations with peers and adult support workers including teachers, teacher aides, parents and community members, and open-ended creative opportunities all help children to be more adventurous in their learning, to follow personal and group interests and to value the contributions of others.

Teachers can be pressured into providing schooling that 'looks like' schooling of the past. I think about all the people I know that 'hated' school. They hated sitting all day in desks looking at chalkboards and listening to teachers droning on and on about stuff they weren't the least bit interested in. They hated not being able to talk to their friends in class and being expected to do things in the same regimented way as everyone else. They hated feeling 'dumb' because they didn't 'get' maths or English or French or science or whatever it was. They felt overlooked because their own ideas or understandings or methods were deemed 'wrong' or inappropriate in some way. It's funny how some of the same people question the value of noisy, busy, active vibrant classrooms where children are able to make choices about what they do, who they work with and how far to follow a line of inquiry. Children are incredibly able and intelligent in choosing their learning paths if we give them the opportunity to explore options. The basic knowledge, skills and attributes we want students to attain can be gained in many different ways. Creative teachers with the help of others can make school a rich and rewarding place for children to spend their formative years. We must engage children in learning so that they learn to love learning!

Being a lifelong learner is a wonderful thing. It's hard work and sometimes challenging but it's also a way to ensure a rich and interesting life. It builds an understanding that change is inevitable and that we can never 'rest on our laurels' and be satisfied that we know it all. I learn every day from my students, from my colleagues and from life itself. I love knowing that I'm a lifelong learner. I hope I can instill a joy of learning in my students and encourage them to make a positive impact on their world. 

Time to get back to the books. Did you like school? What changes would you make to schools or to education if you had a magic wand (if money was not an issue)? Are you a lifelong learner? What would you like to learn about? Love to hear from you. 

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