At Fireside, you can share what's on your mind about education.
To some of you this may sound a very strange question. Kids who don't want to learn? Is there such a thing. It is against nature, defies instincts humans are born with.
Yet, no matter how good a teacher you are, there are kids who, for various reasons, do not want to learn, have lost interest in acquiring knowledge, are simply not interested or do not believe they are capable of learning.
The reasons may vary: some kids are afraid to seem "nerds" or "geeks". Some kids have experienced failure in tests in such a way that have caused them to lose hope and interest.
There are kids with learning disabilities, sometimes undetected, and they mask it by presenting an "anti school" facade.
There are environments where schooling isn't considered valuable or worthy. Kids growing in such environments are deterred from developing their curiosity or pursue their inner passion for learning.
I have encountered stories of this sort in the past, even movies who have dealt with it. But I'm looking for first hand impressions from teachers who have experienced such "tough cookies", and what you have done, or attempting to do, in order to transform these students' attitudes to favor learning and arouse curiosity.
I posted this question on Quora and got at least one real reply. You are invited to follow it here: http://www.quora.com/Education/Are-there-kids-in-elementary-school-...
I think what this makes me really question is what I consider "learning" to be....
My answer is very simple: There is no such thing as a person that does not want to learn.
It defies all logic and qualities of being human. People naturally learn on a daily basis through observation/investigation/examination/etc.....we do it as babies and onwards. I think what I struggle with are students that usually fall into one of these categories:
1. The student does not see state mandated material as relevant or beneficial to their lives.
2. The student struggles with self-esteem and wants to learn, but is afraid to disappoint by making mistakes or showing what they believe will be interpreted as "stupid".
3. The student is facing life struggles that do not allow them to focus on material that does not interest them.
4. The student does not want to display their learning because of fear of how that learning will be interpreted.
5. The student in the school setting has been taught that behavior is more pertinent than their learning and these often interfere (i.e. "I had a good day today because I sat down the entire time and I was quiet and I did my work.") It doesn't matter if they weren't engaged or if they didn't understand the material - but they've been taught that the most important thing is to do these three things.
Another one outside of these 5 doesn't immediately come to mind. One of my most recent struggles is a student who I believe is facing both 3 and 5. She is dedicated towards the goal of becoming a future nail salon owner and so I had to look up how to do a certain type of nail design (her request) and I decided to bring in some nail polish (I need a lot of faculty help in figuring this stuff out! Haha!) and I brought it in and we worked on learning that skill and learning social skills that will benefit her with what she considers right now to be a tangible goal.
Is she motivated to do long division or read stories involving space? No. It is too abstract right now for her and some other students to understand how these skills (which seem so useless at the time they learn them and they cannot imagine a future of needing these skills) will benefit their lives and what education is. I think it's important for students to get more in tune with who they are as a person and how they benefit from learning and how that impacts the conversations they can have. I think we have a lot of students that don't see the value in current education - because, in my humble opinion, there isn't any. The direction that we are going in education has no inherent value because it requires the collecting of odd facts and isolated skills that seem disconnected to any individual's life. Once we begin focusing on the student and understanding them and how they learn about things....that's when I've had the breakthroughs.
*However*, I do struggle with how to get most students that point and I also struggle a ton with getting students into material and learning that they do not consider pertinent.
Thank you for this detailed answer. It certainly helps me understand.
Yes, I agree that learning is a survival instinct we are born with and so we all have it.
Yet at school - where sometimes "education" replaces "learning", you lose kids' interest in learning. I've seen it happen to my own kids (I am not a teacher, and all 3 kids are gifted, so they shouldn't be the types to lose interest in learning. They lost interest in schooling).
I also heard lots of teachers complain about the sleepy, bored, or otherwise detached students in the classroom. I mean, just google "engagement" and "classroom" to see how obsessed everybody is about keeping mind and spirits of kids in classrooms, not just their physical presence...
I don't know which grades you teach, but I think that the most important skill we (teachers, parents, educators) can offer the younger generations is the skill to learn. To become self learners.
If you help your students understand that what they are studying in class isn't "math" but it is "learning how to solve mathematical problems" - then it's a whole different story.
Thinking about the specific student you mentioned: if she wants to open a nail salon she will have to know not only how to create the art on the nails (expose her to art, styles, techniques), but also to better understand chemistry - so she could figure out from reading the ingredients on the varnish they sell her which would better hold, and could be useful to know a little math so she can calculate how to make profits, and great to understand marketing, advertising, social marketing, viral distribution - for all of those one needs to master language mainly. And all of those skills are really a mix - if I am thinking of myself, of many things we are exposed to through life - novels, movies and TV shows. News too. Lots of reading online. Conversations. She needs to see how everything around her - everything - can help her reach her final destination better prepared. No knowledge will ever prevent her from getting there.
As an entrepreneur, I think a lot about teaching kids through entrepreneurship: adapting the curriculum to entrepreneurship needs and skills. So math would translate into accounting and economics, for example. And language can go with marketing and advertising. You can use the bible to learn about deals and contracts, and law and trials. And sciences to better understand production, industry and so on.
Thanks for your comments, Connie.
I am an educator. I am not a hired teacher, but I am an educator in my own way. There are just a few communities I feel I belong to - and educators is one of them.
I would love the opportunity to work more deeply with teachers and students, but I don't think I'd make a good teacher. I lack one extremely important trait: patience ;)
I think this discussion is especially interesting since kids' interest in learning is not the same as their interest in schooling. I realize now I should have put the question differently.
I think your students must be very lucky if they always want to learn what you are teaching. This is the ultimate schooling experience. But I've got to smile when I try to imagine your meeting my youngest son.
He is now in 5th grade. In may 2011 we finally managed to take him out of the unpleasant school he attended before, and move him, at the end of 3rd grade, to the Waldorf (Steiner) school not far from our home.
By the time we finally made the move my sweet boy, the kid who knew the entire alphabet by the age of 18 months (I know it's hard to believe, but he learned it himself, from a DVD we had) and started phonetic reading and writing at the age of 2, this curious and ambitious kid who just wanted to learn and know, hated school and didn't want to hear anything of any sort of studies. School became synonymous with boring, annoying, pointless and so on.
It took over a year for him to admit that he is actually enjoying things at school. It's still difficult for him. But he is starting. And as he started to teach himself Greek several months ago, because they learned about the Greek Mythology I could tell I did the right thing, and he is in the right environment - for him. In a place that encourages his curiosity and supports his self teaching.
But he is still "skeptic"...
And he is the lucky one.
What about all these kids who's curiosity is dried in that "regular" school he was in before? They hate homework, they hate tests. They think, like Tom said, that nothing is really relevant. Their personal passions are suppressed, and people expect them to keep wanting to learn.
I know so many of them don't.
And I did hear teachers complain.
*Unfortunately, online, I am connected to a different specie of teachers who search online when they can't innovate by themselves and would do anything to arrive at that ultimate experience in the classroom.