Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Is Learning Natural?

Many will say that learning is natural. As we desire to know, we investigate and learn.

Yet, as we talk about expected school learning, that may not be as natural. For example students are expected to learn about many skills, concepts, and knowledge areas that they might not naturally gravitate to at the time they are expected to learn it, so in cases like this, I would say that learning is not natural.

Then one could debate whether it's best to follow a child's natural learning path or whether it's best to impose a learning path on a child. I suppose if I had lots of money and time, I would have let my children learn naturally responding to their curiosity with all kinds of wonderful travel, reading, math work and more. What fun that would be.

Yet could we replicate that kind of responsive, open learning in schools with lots of children, less staff, and limited materials and time. Perhaps, but at this point, I think the best we can hope for is the happy medium--a program with some expectation and some free learning too.

So as I think of the expected learning, the goals imposed upon children whether they are ready or not, I wonder how we can make that learning more accessible to children. As I think of this today, I recognize that in this age of wonderful tools and information at our fingertips, one way to do this is to teach children how to use the tools and materials that lead to that expected learning.

For example our team spends a lot of time creating a terrific website that includes almost everything you need to know about the grade-level program. Yet many children and their families still don't access that resource often to support learning expectations. In thinking about this, I realize that I don't spend enough time upfront in the school year teaching students how they might access that website in beneficial ways. Next year I'll make it a point to do that with enough repetition so that children become facile with using the website.

Similarly many children don't access tools like Symphony Math, Khan Academy, and TenMarks to support their learning in ways that matter. Again, it takes explicit teaching to show students how to access these tools and use them well to support learning needs.

The same is true for using rulers, colored pencils, sharpie markers, and any other hand held tool we use to explore math concepts. With explicit teaching, children learn to use even the simplest tools in ways that matter to benefit learning.

In all, I do believe it's natural for us to learn what we need and want to know. I also believe that "natural learning" isn't always possible given the constructs that are in place to support children, schools, and educators. I also believe that we have countless expectations and just as many or more paths to reach those expectations, and by teaching the tools and pathways explicitly we give students a greater opportunity to access and succeed at the learning.

Learning benefits from the guidance of educators and others, and that guidance depends on some explicit instruction as well as time for exploration, investigation, share, questions, talk, and practice.