Don’t Complicate Learning for Kids!
Sometimes we seem to complicate even the simplest things, and learning could be a perfect example. Could learning be as simple as keeping the student engagement switches on, or turning them back on, if they have been turned off? Instead of beginning with the learning part, education experts tend to muddy the waters with the procedure part. And because we complicate learning so much, in that way, we are always in the act of dissecting that procedure part, but never figuring out why it doesn’t work better for teaching students. Kids, though, have X-Ray vision, and they see through anything that isn’t important—kids just jump in—if allowed—to the learning part. Adults seemed to always need to fill a huge learning box with everything to show that learning happens, but kids see right through all the extra stuff—right to the best things in that learning box. Kids don’t need a box of stuff, when they are wired to cut to the chase—and get with the learning parts. Kids are built to learn.
It is an amazing miracle watching a toddler learning. They can find the importance for themselves in most everything, and if it is not important, they’re not interested. Sometimes adults try to break in on that learning miracle, and quickly discover toddlers learn how to express frustration, and how to say, “No!” The switch is on, it’s automatic, unless the switch gets turned off. Kids learn so intuitively early on. They know exactly how to turn that learning switch off whenever they need to, and then back on, again—if there’s a good reason. We mean well, but when education experts build elaborate fortresses based in elaborate beautifully written pedagogy, the learning part—that part that turns on a kid’s learning switch—can be lost. We can easily dilute the importance a student’s learning concepts, replacing them with our own.
Kids jump in
In any learning endeavor in education we must begin on the student side, and ask ourselves, what would a kid need, want, and do. It’s simple to understand how students react to waiting for the good stuff to happen in a lesson, in a unit, or even in a school year. Students like to jump in, try things out, figure things out, help each other out, and are really good at making sense of things they don’t understand. They do that naturally. It is pre-wired. One of the things they can’t figure out is why it takes adults so long to get to the point—get to the good stuff. Kids don’t have time for waiting, but we tend to make them wait a lot. If you asked an educator to name his/her top five classroom experiences, would it be the few days when students actually were more in control of their own learning? I’ll bet that the answer is accompanied by a smile, too.
There are places, where students can jump in, and learn from experience. Many of those places are in games. Some of those games are actually labeled “learning”, and even if they’re not, kids get to explore, invent, try, create, and learn from experiential trials, and of all things—tests. And because in games do-overs are most always a new opportunity to succeed, kids seek to achieve. While there are gaming procedures and rules, those rules and procedures are not the point of the game. Rules can be by-passed, and in many case modified, or re-written. Games are cut to the chase—the game is the thing—the learning is the thing—and that is the important thing—the part worth doing. Curriculum should be designed thinking from the student’s side, with support from the education expert side. Unfortunately, those needs are too far separated, and the languages are too different. Lessons created without the student in mind usually have too much chatter and meandering before the good part is reached. For students, educators must start at the good part. We don’t have to tell students we have; they’ll know it, and they’ll have a pretty good notion of what to do from a place they know.
It’s interesting that we don’t think students know that they can figure out how to use certain needed or necessary tools to do a job or project. Certainly, there is a learning curve to that learning, as with anything, but if you haven’t left kids in a learning space with different, assorted tools from pencils to paint to tablets to paper, and more—it would be a great experiment in experiential learning. If you need to see raw decision-making and collaboration in action—try it. Ask students in that experiment what tools they’d like to add, and I’m certain you’ll get an earful of constructive additions necessary to complete simple to complex tasks. Learning from the student side can be a bit messy, rearranged to fit, or then modified in the moment, but it’s beautiful. If we continue to choose to complicate learning, students will switch off. An educator’s prime objective is for kids to love learning, and it could be made simpler. Simply begin with the learning from the student point of view, and cut to the action, to energize and motivate every learner.
About the Author
Ken Royal is a former educator with 34 years of classroom/school and instructional technology teaching experience. He has written at many of the major education publications, including District Administration, TechLearning, and Scholastic Administrator. Presently, Ken is a blogger on all things education and education technology. Teaching accomplishments include: 4-time district teacher of the year, Connecticut Middle School Teacher of the Year, as well as Bill and Melinda Gates award for Technology School of Excellence. He is a Promethean storyteller. Follow @KenRoyal on Twitter.