Doing School

A couple of weeks ago, I commented in class that we needed to “get kids interested in learning.”  I was quickly corrected by another candidate who told me that her child and many that she had met over the years are intensely interested in learning and are very curious about many things.

Indeed, I misspoke.

Instead, I should have said that we need to see what we can do to interest kids in “doing school,” which is not necessarily the same thing as learning.  It should be, but it’s not.  Instead, “doing school” is not necessarily learning content and the processes and strategies required to learn content.  In many schools, it is not about exploring, discovering, contemplating, analyzing and reveling in something new.  It is not about what kids do outside of school when they engage in their own interests and develop expertise in those areas.  In many schools, it is about learning to play by the rules, answer questions correctly and get through the day.

Why would I want kids to learn that?

Actually, I don’t.  I would rather that “doing school” become more like learning.  So when I say that we need to help kids become interested in “doing school,” I mean that we need to meet them halfway or more.  Yes, they need to follow the rules and learn content accurately.  But instead of making school into something that is boring and irrelevant, we need to change our expectations of what kids should get out of the experience. “Doing school” should be redefined.

Challenge Students. Students are challenged only when they are engaged.  Challenge them to establish rules with the teacher, for instance, and then abide by those rules.  In other words, teach them about establishing and assuming responsibility for their environment.  Challenge them to think of ways to meet curricular objectives by helping them make connections between content and standards.  Involve them in the process.

Differentiate Instruction. Students are engaged only when they are ready and can access the content.  When lessons are appropriately scaffolded and all students are supported in the process, they can access the content.  When they are presented with a variety of assignments from which they can choose based on their interests, talents and abilities, they will access the content.  Students will feel more efficacious and capable when they experience success.  They will start to express interest and will start to use the strategies that they use outside school to learn inside the building.

Respect. I have heard over and over that kids feel that they are not respected by their teachers.  The teachers demand respect from them, but do not necessarily give them respect in return.  When we acknowledge our students as fellow human beings, capable of independent thoughts, actions, and desires, they will express them and use them to develop a learning community.  They might stop thinking their teachers are out of touch and develop positive relationships with them.

I think those three things – challenging students, differentiating instruction, and giving respect – can help students become interested in “doing school” and will make that process more closely resemble learning.  What do you think?

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