Trust The Children

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

What's Wrong With Wanting More From My Education?

I am not sure when I first noticed. Like you, I spent hours in the classroom, being told what I was supposed to learn. I did pass tests for the most part so at least my parents thought I was learning. And I was learning to a certain level. Still, some teachers in school and some coaches in sports and some experiences at home, took learning to a deeper level, a more lasting level, a level that contributed so much more to my own self esteem and vision of self worth.

I didn't know why, but all my life, I felt that "teacher-tell" style of instruction was good, but not enough. When teachers justified this "teacher-transmitted content and teacher-directed learning" (Weimer) method of instruction, by claiming that it was the only way to reach 30 kids in a classroom efficiently, I understood what they were saying, but felt inside, that I didn't really care about the constraints of their job choice. What I cared about was my learning so I could get ahead in my life and do what I wanted to do with my time on earth. I wanted to learn with other students who felt the same way as I did about it. So it wasn't the classroom that bugged me, and it wasn't the teacher. I enjoyed my friends in class and I enjoyed the occasional learning experience with other students who were excited and motivated. What I didn't enjoy is endlessly being "talked to" instead of being given the chance to learn some things on my own. There needed to be more of a balance than I was experiencing.

Now that I have been studying instruction for the last 3 years, still learning, I now know that part of what I was seeking is called, "Learner Centered Instruction." Learner Centered Instruction is allowing others to learn for themselves to distinguish one thing from another. Instead of "told and tested" being the definition of "learning", students experience and use what they learn in practical ways as part of the learning experience. It's ok for a teacher to "tell" and even "test", but the student experience doesn't end there. In a learner centered classroom, the teacher creates an environment where students can work with ideas, applying them, and using them and testing them. The outcomes of this kind of "learner centered" approach are promising, according to Maryellen Weimer, author of the book, "Learner-Centered Teaching":

1. Students will understand more of what they are learning
2. Students will retain what they learn longer
3. Students will learn more than just the content
4. Chances are good students will be changed by what they learn
5. Students will love learning more

She writes, "When students interact with the content, when they speak about it and work with it, they make it their own and it becomes meaningful to them. It makes sense. They see why it's important, why they must know it and how it fits with what they already know and still need to learn."

Interestingly enough, these were the outcomes we felt we could experience in our home schooling environment. It was these outcomes that guided us to a more natural learning model at home. Over time, it formed the basis upon which we could "Trust The Children" to learn through experience and be just fine. We chose to make little use of organized curriculum programs, although I don't think they are necessarily bad. For us, they were too expensive and unnecessary. We had the scriptures, the newspaper, the local library and the internet.

Sam and I were talking about this a few weeks ago. He reminded me, that during one of their home schooling play times, they lined up desks, had Allison, our oldest, stand up at the front talking, and they "played" school. Then after that was boring ,they went back to their normal routine, which was playing and experimenting and building things, which is where the real learning took place in their minds.

A self directed, student centered approach, is uncomfortable for some. There are personality types, who need everything to be outlined, sequential, step by step. Sometimes, these folks are often unconcerned with personal agency as part of the learning process. "I know better so shut up and listen to me tell you". And of course some of that is completely necessary. However, life also respects than we should be engaged in doing many things of our own free will and encourage personal learning in this way as well.

Of course for the students who have been spoon fed in the teacher centered environment, having to do little or no work in order complete the requirements of the class, asking them to do more than sit there and veg out, can be problematic. Often, their "personal choosing" muscle has been weakened by over protecting environments at home and at school. Many students have been on the public school "dole system" for years and having to work to learn is a new experience. We found with one child who decided to "experience" public school, that after he returned home it took about 1 1/2 years to get him to believe that it was OK not to be told what to learn, but rather much better to follow his own curiosity and trust that that was plenty. Nine Masters and baccalaureate degrees later and counting, it turned out to be enough.

The purpose of this article is to pique your interest in a style of teaching and learning, that you may not have experienced in your own public school experience, but might have experienced a great deal of in your own life. I hope you will consider trusting the idea of Student Centered Learning to the point of experimenting with it in your homes. Google is your friend so just type in "Student Centered Learning" and you are off on your own learning adventure. A student centered one!


  • I am currently struggling with this. I believe in it and try to apply it in all that I do as a teacher: either at school, church or work. I have been trying to apply these principles at work with my 20+ 5th and 6th graders and find that it takes a lot of commitment. I am still trying to figure out how to make a lesson plan that keeps the students at the center of the instruction. What are your tips to help me make better lesson plans for learner centered instruction?


    By Blogger Jonathan Weiss, at 5:06 PM, June 12, 2011  

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