All those drawn to the teaching profession and those who have a sense of love and romance in the world are generally drawn to this quote (above). There are those who now find it a cliché, but even they would be forced to admit the first time they read this it stirred something inside, something of a dream for the person we all wish to be.
Why aren’t we that person? Why are we afraid to dance unless forced? Afraid to sing unless alone? Afraid to love unless we are guaranteed the love is going to be returned? Most of us live with a fleeting glance or hope of heaven once in a blue moon (or on school holidays). I think the answer is simple – Mistakes (or I could be wrong ;-/)
Mistakes – we are terrified of making them, we are terrified they hurt. What if that were different? What if our mistakes felt good? Secure in the knowledge that each mistake brings us closer to the resolution of a problem and a step closer to heaven on Earth?
Most of this fear of mistakes and feeling bad about making them begins at home and is then strongly reinforced in the classroom. As teachers we all know we can do little about the home environment but within a classroom we need to celebrate mistakes. Celebrate the thinking and risk taking that led to the mistake that will eventually lead to the answer or the solution to a problem.
I reward my students for genuine thinking and effort and encourage them to have another go.
Language is the key to this. A simple dismissal in order to find the “correct” answer can lead to a student going back into their shell and not attempt to answer another question or take a risk for some time. Some of the language I use is:
“Oh, I love that thinking. Now let’s explore that idea.”
“I can see how you got to that, what a great idea, have you thought of this though……..?”
“I can see you were nervous taking a risk like that, I am so proud of you”
I also allow myself to make mistakes and point them out.
Work with student’s on perspective as well, discussing why they feel nervous and self-conscious of performance or classroom risk taking. This is great in a philosophy circle. Follow up these philosophy circles quickly with an activity that pushes the comfort zones of students with performance or risk taking.
Lets build a generation of:
Students who dance terribly but love it!
Sing woefully but can’t stop!
Love life and the world like they haven’t been hurt !
And help them truly find Heaven on Earth.
Update on practice
This week being the first week of the school year in the Southern Hemisphere (Jan-Dec school year) I practiced my preaching and was heavy on the philosophy. My students completed a simple learning style test. We discussed how everyone is different and it went well.
Later in the week we had a great discussion on the inner workings of the brain when it came to processing information via our learning styles. I love how interested year 5’s are with the working of the human body. Then we talked about learning and how specifically it works in the brain referencing the neuoplasticity video I have posted in a previous article.
After some hearty and interesting discussions with my year 5’s I used one of my lessons I mentioned in an earlier post. Using this form: Learning dots I gave students a pattern to follow, say, green, black, blue, red, orange. Students had to put their finger on the dots in that order as fast as they could. I gave them one turn and asked how they went. Of course it was tough to start, then I gave them a second go, asked for feedback, then a third and then a fourth. After that we had a conversation about what was happening. One student replied “I can feel the wiring in my brain changing and getting faster” Of course with practice they all improved as the pattern became embedded in their heads. We then had a few more goes and finally a brief but rich discussion about how learning was happening in the brain.
Now here is the key! This experience I will use as a marker to draw on throughout the year as students struggle to understand concepts, reminding them that at first new tasks and ideas are difficult but with good practice you can lay the pathways in the brain.
Why we learn
In this section I am not going to cover ideas about rewards etc that are a part of every classroom. Rather than this external motivation I want to cover internal motivation, appealing to a student’s inner desire to learn and work. Please feel free to add in the comments section any other ideas you have used.
Approach one “growing up”
There is a strong desire in most younger students to mature and be recognised for this. This approach is not about telling a student to “grow up” but using older role models to provide motivation. In turn using your students as a role model for younger students reinforces the idea effectively.
Class conversations about how “year 5” should work and act are tools you can use. Take notes on these conversations and post the ideas around the room for later reference if a student is not learning or acting appropriately. Photographs of these same ideas in action are powerful tools for the more visual students in your class.
Approach two “work time”
Comparing what students do at school as similar to their parents going to work appeals as well to the idea of growing up. Establishing the idea that their role at school is like their parents, having to go to work. They might not like it but you need to do your best.
Approach three “becoming an expert”
Finding a student’s interest and passions should be something every teacher does in the first week or two. This allows you to frame ideas in the interest of the student and allow them to become an expert in a certain field. Without learning every detail of say motorbikes, including the maths on how to run one, the literacy of finding the best bike magazines, the science of how a bike works and the history of bikes how can you be an expert?
Approach four “the science”
For the more scientifically minded students discuss the idea of learning as a process you must go through to “evolve”. The ability to learn is the single greatest skill that has raised humans to the heights of reaching the moon and Mars (in the future). Maybe leave out the bit about wars and what humans have done to each other! Hopefully we are learning that is not the way to go.
External motivation v internal motivation
Without doubt the most immediately successful tool for having students learn in your class will be external motivation of rewards, behaviour charts and critically, engaging lessons. However to truly make a difference in a student’s life an internal drive must be found to learn independently. These ideas like all philosophy are reinforced parallel to your regular lesson throughout the year.