The 9 Hows of Learning
After thinking about the foundations of learning, which I consider the what -- what children should be learning to be happy, thriving citizens in an interconnected, global society -- the next thing I think about is the how. How do our children learn these foundations?
In my mind, there are 9 Hows of Learning, nine ways children can fully embody being learners and develop their mindfulness, metacognition, mental modeling, academics, and 21st century learning. These hows include: experiencing, empathizing, imagining, creating, building, interacting, failing, developing, and iterating. In each of these hows, I've identified some corresponding sub-actions.
When I think about the definitions and boundaries between these actions, they are fluid, overlapping and intersecting with each other, depending on the circumstance. You might have different groupings or corresponding sub-actions from what I have said here. But my primary aim in grouping them this way is to show just how active learning can and should be. How much do we limit our children by thinking there are only a few right ways to learn that are often passive and rigid?
How much do we limit our children by thinking there are only a few right ways to learn that are often passive and rigid?
In the past most of these hows were definitely not pushed in traditional education structures. As a young student, I didn't embody many of these hows and was often exemplary at very different -ing words: memorizing, mimicking, following, obeying, reviewing, cramming, regurgitating, and my personal favorite: flattering -- especially flattering any authority figure such as a teacher. ;-) I was a pro at memorizing and mimicking, which also led to high test scores and high "achievement."
When I first entered the work place as a teenager, I quickly realized the greatest hoax that ever was. The vast majority of how you learn in school doesn't apply to the real world. My first job was to sell Ty Beanie Babies in a gift shop. Sure, I was able to follow orders and do what I was told, but I can assure you that flattery only went so far when you're trying to justify a $300 gift basket price tag when a customer only wanted the Princess Diana bear inside.
The vast majority of how you learn in school doesn't apply to the real world.
My most profound learning experiences existed in my early childhood. Growing up in rural Washington State, my sister and I spent hours outside playing. Learning how to avoid leeches in the creek, examining dead owls, watching our garden fruits and vegetables grow (and knowing how many raspberries you could eat before getting sick), riding ponies, catching grasshoppers, and diving under electric fences, we were left to ourselves to create mental models and develop problem-solving skills from a very young age. I think this learning enabled both of us to be "good workers" as we became young professionals and leaders. Our minds were malleable, and we realized that rewards came from stretching the mental muscles we developed as young explorers in Washington.
What I have witnessed happen in so many classrooms across the world is that when students are encouraged to learn through the 9 Hows, they are stronger thinkers, collaborators, and leaders, regardless of their skill levels in each of the traditional subjects.
In my own first year of teaching, I had a student (let's call him T) who was exceptional at experiencing, empathizing, creating, and interacting. T may not have been a superstar "academic" student in the beginning of the year, but he had enough self-awareness and confidence to move his desk away from his peers to insist on sitting alone in the front of the class so he wouldn't be distracted. His ability to empathize with his peers and imagine something different for them, gave him confidence to suggest a group of them stay after school to finish their homework and get help from the teacher. His ability to empathize with his struggling, stubborn, first-year teacher allowed him to advise and suggest new ways I could support the class so that we could iterate and create a better culture. T made me thinking differently about how students should learn.
How much are our children missing out when they don't learn how to learn?
How much are our children missing out when they don't learn how to learn? It doesn't feel like children can learn how to learn when they are viewed as consumers of knowledge and are taught 'lessons' instead of being active participants in the learning process. What can we do as educators to help build these ways of doing and model these hows? And, how do we extend this thinking into technology too?
I'm going to explore some of the answers to these questions as I reflect on what I have absorbed and determined from my experience, observations, and research. I'm happy to know what you think too.