Monday, September 1, 2008

Cooking is a lot like Learning

The other day on Plurk I was telling people that I was cooking something for dinner and I realized that I actually enjoyed cooking. I never did before but now I did and I didn’t even know it until I started to think about it. When I was growing up I was told by family members how incompetent I was in the kitchen and I believed them so I never made an effort to cook. I made some mistakes and everyone laughed about it and told me I was a disaster. Then when I got married, I was had been teaching for only one year and so my life was consumed by my career. When I fed my family, it became out of necessity and not out of fun. I was usually so exhausted when I got home that anything for dinner was usually fast and easy (and I was not too proud to open a can of Chef Boyardee for the kids). Then when they became teens, it was easier for my husband and me to go out for dinner so I never made the effort. All of sudden I’m retired and now I have the time. I told my husband that I wanted to experiment with recipes and he encouraged me to do so. Now I try 2-3 recipes a week and he is enjoying this.

Is this the way students feel when they are learning? When they make mistakes do adults and peers laugh at them so they just give up trying? Have they been told by people who are charge that they can’t do something so they don’t even try? I have seen this with my students and have fought on a daily basis to change their mindset. They believe this so much that even their parents have fallen into this false belief.

Then are our students so exhausted from daily tasks that it takes too much effort to even try to learn something new? Sometimes I look at all the stuff my students had to do and was overwhelmed by the busy work they were sometimes given. My students had trouble reading and writing so many times I helped them with their homework for other classes. A lot of the homework entailed just spitting back something on paper that was in the textbook but they had no idea what any of it meant. There wasn’t any application of knowledge so I’m not sure they learned anything other than writing better.

This makes me wonder if there is a way to help students step back and learn how to enjoy learning. They need time and space to do so. With all the pressure teachers are under to meet standards and then pass standardized testing that I think we have taken the joy of learning away from our students. I remember a third grade teacher telling me that if I wanted to learn anything, all I had to do was find the right book and I would succeed. We may not be able to teach our students everything but we can teach them that anything is possible if they want to learn it and then show them the tools to find out how to meet their objective.

As the school year begins in South Carolina, I have talked to a friend who is stressing out about all that is required of her right now even though only one week of classes has passed. She doesn’t have time to worry about what the students need because she has all the regular paperwork to turn in plus benchmarks to develop for future testing plus new paperwork that is required. She is having to spend personal time to prepare for class and get her room in shape. She doesn’t have time to enjoy the art of teaching or help students enjoy the art of learning. I hope we don’t get consumed by the fears and regulations of the rule makers to forget about the needs of our students. Helping them succeed in school and life should be a priority for everyone.


Lauren OGrady said...

In my previous role I coached/mentored a lot of graduate teachers who used to get so overwhelmed with the demands of teaching and school they forgot to have fun. One week I decided to call a staff meeting and gave them all "permission" to throw the curriculum out of the window and just enjoy being with their students.

For this week I had never seen our open learning space work so well, students were learning and teachers were enjoying themselves. However the perception had changed the focus was on the students not the curriculum.

Of course school being school other pressures came back into play such as standardised testing but as a leader I still feel it is important to empower teachers to throw in the book and work with the kids as often as possible.
Thanks for the great post

loonyhiker said...

lauren: What a great idea to have. Sometimes we need to step back and let people be creative. Plus it is fun to see what they come up with!

Dr. Sanford Aranoff said...

If you want to be a good teacher, you may want to think about what students think. See "Teaching and Helping Students Think and Do Better" on amazon.

loonyhiker said...

Dr. Aranoff: Thank you for the suggestion. I found it for $19.95 at Amazon