Some students don’t want autonomy. They don’t want the space to be creative, they don’t want to direct their own learning and they certainly don’t want make their own decisions. Some students simply want to be given the required information.
Does that mean we should go back to sage on the stage instruction?
Should we ditch project based learning?
No, of course not. But we do need to understand ‘who’ students are, ‘where’ they are and then provide the tools for learning.
True, the internet is littered with stories about teenagers discovering learning, finding new ways to use technology and developing their own start ups, but few will take this kind of initiative.
We could bemoan the lack of motivation and point to the problems which promote passive learning. We could blame helicopter parents, over crowded curriculums and high stakes testing.
Or, we could just teach.
In other words, we can make the process of learning visible. We can help our students rise above environmental, political and social factors to discover intrinsic motivation and creative inspiration. We can give students confidence in their ability to learn.
Imagine how you’d feel opening a door that led to a dark, unfamiliar room. Perhaps you’d stand at the threshold waiting for someone else to go first. Maybe you’d enter the room slowly; anxiously feeling your way, expecting to bump into obstacles. You may even refuse to enter.
Now imagine being given a torch. How would your process through the room change?
Perhaps this small radiant beam would entice you to step into the unknown, its brightness offering a sense of security. Maybe the light would reassure you; it could help you see where you were going and assess the risk.
This is what we need to give our students. A guiding light that illuminates the path through unfamiliar learning situations. If a student believes they have the tools necessary to complete a task, they are more likely to approach a challenge with a sense of anticipation, rather than one of dread … or boredom. At this point I should remind you, my analogy called for a torch not a flood light – perhaps you can imagine why? (After all this post is as much about modelling as it is about encouraging the development of intrinsic learning).
I believe it is important to recognise the impact student’s self perception. Sometimes we need to teach engagement because students haven’t seen they have the skills to perform a task – or they lack confidence in their ability to learn. We need to provide base tools before we can expect intrinsic motivation or creative inspiration. We need to model and offer opportunities for students to practice the skills of inquiry, problem solving and critical thinking. Why? Because when we teach how to learn, we give students the tools for flexible thinking. This feeds confident learning, which boosts courageous learning and encourages students to make their own choices. I guess what I’m trying to say is self motivation, as with any skill, has a more progressive step by step learning path than we may perceive.
So, we need to offer opportunities for creative inspiration. Yes … we need to offer. In other words we, as teachers, need to provide the space for students to feel confident enough to explore, experiment and build on their own.
Anyone who has met me, knows I believe very strongly in wellbeing, choice and freedom. I am passionate about self-direct learning. However, I am also realistic enough to know many students do not like being given a problem and told, “solve it”. Most students – actually, if we’re being honest, most of us, like some structure, a few parameters, a little direction. We like to know what is expected of us and that we can access what we need to complete the task. We don’t like feeling as though we are wasting our time, or our energy. We are motivated by accomplishment.
So, next time a students says to you “just tell me what I have to do” instead of decrying the coddled state of today’s teens, perhaps you could hand them a torch and say “lets find out together.”