Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Wanting to Learn

In Waiting to be Taught versus Willing to Learn from Langwitches, she asks, “Is being a life long learner a characteristic of a “good teacher”? Can you still be a good teacher if you are not a learner yourself? “

I couldn’t resist answering this so here it is:

I think we all learn throughout our lives, whether we are a teacher or not. A good teacher recognizes that this learning is important and tries to use it to better his/her instruction. I also think by modeling that we learn throughout our lives, we are showing students how we can use this learning to better our lives.

Then this had me thinking about my students. I have heard so many teachers say that their students just don’t want to learn. I really have a hard time believing that. I think the students really do want to learn but have hit some road blocks that keep them from learning. By saying that they don’t want to learn, they are using this as a defense mechanism. When teachers say this about the students, we are giving them an excuse not to learn when the learning is difficult. In fact, I felt this was just a bad habit that my students had gotten into and I had to change this habit.

The first thing I did was to come up with a class motto that I used for over 20 years. I had every student write, “I am a born winner.” on any paper they turned in for a grade. This was very simple but the kids resisted it. When I stuck to my guns and refused to accept any paper without this, they relented and by the end of the year, it became a habit. Yet, this simple saying stuck in their minds and helped change their attitudes towards themselves.

Next, we had a frank discussion. I asked the students to brainstorm things that hindered their learning. What made learning new things difficult? I explained to them that even I had trouble learning certain things and had to find the key that made this learning easier. (This is why I tried to learn something new each year and demonstrate my learning in front of my students.) Sometimes we would do this as a group or I would have this discussion one on one with the student. Depending on the student, certain ways would be easier for them to be honest. Then I would post all the items and we would discuss how to overcome these barriers. Sometimes we would think of things the students could do or sometimes it would be things that I could change about my instruction. I didn’t take these suggestions personally and actually felt enlightened by them. The students of course felt empowered and thrilled that I would listen to them and actually try some of the changes.

Then we also talked about how the students could approach other teachers and advocate for themselves in an appropriate manner. Once students tasted this success in my class, they really wanted this change in other classes. Even parents said they noticed the change in their child. I also mentioned this to other teachers that I knew the students were having difficulties with as a way to pave the way for the student. Once the other teachers knew the students were trying to be successful, they were willing to give it a try because they really wanted the student to do well too.

Do you have any other suggestions that can help teachers and students overcome this learning barrier? If so, feel free to let me know!

Original image: 'Leadership' http://www.flickr.com/photos/46944516@N00/1301014184 by: Pedro Simões

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