Monday, July 6, 2009

What do we all need to be life long learners?

We are all born with an innate need to learn so as to make sense of, and learn from, our experiences. The question is why do so many students lose this natural disposition?

While the government is determined to introduce national standards in literacy and numeracy the bigger question is to ask is, 'why so many students are currently failing in our schools'? To load it all on to a perceived lack of standards in literacy and numeracy is just to simplistic.

The danger is while schools place their focus on the implications of national testing they may lose focus on what education is all about. The government is placing far too much on our schools to solve problems more often caused beyond the gates of the school. Worse still national standards simply haven't worked in countries they have been introduced - instead they have distorted the educational process and narrowed the curriculum in the process.

If we want all our students to succeed and to become the 'confident life long learners' desired by our 'new' New Zealand Curriculum then we have to look deeper than literacy and numeracy, as important as they obviously are.

We need to ask what kind of world our students will be entering. One thing is certain it will no be a predictable one and their 'passport' to the future will need to contain fully developed gifts and talents along with the dispositions to learn from whatever experience they will have to face ( in the language of the 'new' curriculum be equipped with 'key competencies'). Our current education system marginalizes student's creativity and talents and this will be worsened with national standards.

For students to remain positive towards learning our classrooms learning communities need to provide students with the following vital elements.

Students need to be given choice about what it is they are to learn. Classrooms should feature their sense of curiosity, their confidence to ask questions and celebrate their ideas. From their choices and decision making they will learn the importance of taking responsibility and to appreciate consequences of their actions.

The second element to value is students sense of identity and 'voice'. All students need to feel they matter. Students bring to the class great diversity of experiences talents and cultures to share with other students. All students need to feel a sense of belonging ; of being accepted for who they are and that they have ideas of value to contribute.

Thirdly students in classroom need to feel a growing sense of competence or 'learning power'. Competence is gained when students are given the time and help to do things as well as they can. When students 'surprise' themselves and achieve beyond what they have previously done, positive learning attitudes develop. To achieve this requires students 'digging deeply' into their learning, persevering, making use of whatever skills are required and in the process appreciating the need to do do 'fewer things well'.

Finally students need to have fun- to experience the joy of learning. True learning experiences are transformational - they change who we are in the process.

If teachers can provide the above in their classrooms students will want to learn. They will need to use literacy and numeracy to solve their problems and also to enjoy them for their own sake. Students will become ,as our 'new' curriculum asks of teachers, seekers, users and creators of their own knowledge'.

'Engaging' students would not be a problem in such classrooms - there would be no such thing as failure.

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