Best Questions: Engaging Learning Strategies
Despite the rumors, school improvement is hard. It's not about a single passionate leader. It's not about "fixing" teachers and teaching or parents and parenting. It's not about poverty. It's not about money. And it's not about standards. It's about all of them. And more.
In this column, I'll take on the real deal of school improvement—for all schools, not just certain kinds. And for all kids. Because it's not about quick fixes or checking off the instant strategy of the moment. It's about saying, "Yes, and...", not "Yes, but..." no matter what our circumstances are. It's about asking ourselves the best questions.
It's been a few months since I've revisited the central questions of a whole child approach in this column, but if ever a topic begged me to pop the question (engagement pun intended), it is "engaging learning strategies." Let's ask ourselves,
- Are our kids engaged (in their learning, school, and community)?
- How do we know?
- What have we done to make it so?
- What have we taught them to keep it so?
In some ways, this particular version of the series (asking if our kids are engaged versus healthy, safe, supported, or challenged) serves as the centerpiece of a whole child approach because it is the lever that moves schools, classes, and lessons away from a culture of achievement as it is currently measured, to one of learning. Learning, after all, is the point.
Memorization does not equal learning. The binge-and-purge cycle of test prep + bubble sheets + immediately forgetting does not equal learning. And far too often, teaching does not equal learning (see the commonly heard disclaimer, "I taught it, they just didn't learn it").
Learning is active. Learning necessitates doing. Learning leads to long-term memory and application. Dare I say it, learning is fun.
For learning to occur, kids need to be fully engaged—butts off the chairs, eyes wide open, and kids talking more than the adults and saying "that was cool." The research supports this (check out the great work of Shelly Billig and others) and experience proves it over and over. Test for yourself: Think about a learning experience you've had that was particularly powerful. What made it so? How did you feel in the moment? How do you feel now when you think about it? What was your role in the experience?
When was the last time you were a part of one of those experiences in your own school? Was it a rarity or the way you do business? How many kids really get that kind of experience on a daily, weekly, monthly, or yearly basis? What could change?
Our culture relentlessly pursues achievement at the moment. What could happen if, instead, we relentlessly pursued learning?