Teaching: We’ve Been Doing it Wrong For Years and It’s Destroying Our Future

It’s the most complicated, convoluted, inequitable social program we have and we’ve been doing it wrong since the beginning.

Education is seen by most as a hallmark of a strong and productive society. Free education ensures equal opportunity for all, at least in theory. The problem is, whatever our intentions or desires about the outcome of students on Statewide Tests, we have ignored a fundamental truth about learning.

It doesn’t happen when we teach.

Extensive brain research has shown that learning isn’t as simple as passing along information. In order for students to have a deep enough understanding of a topic they must literally make thousands of neuronal connections first. This process doesn’t happen by simply showing a child how to solve a problem.

The problem is, students begin to rely on rote memorization and recall rather than understanding and application. They leave school with the “book” knowledge, but not the skills to do anything with it. The qualities businesses are struggling the most to find are the same qualities traditional teaching has failed to produce.

To be successful, a student must assimilate knowledge and understanding to develop novel ideas often in group settings with limited time. A boss doesn’t ask for simple numbers to review. An employee must be able to understand enough about the environment, employees, employers, and customers to produce those numbers and analyze them. A seemingly simple task, yet many high school graduates struggle to get through the process of interviews.

While the most obvious question seems the most pertinent, it is also the most irrelevant: Why?

There are a myriad of reasons to answer this, but the questions itself isn’t the issue. It isn’t about what’s working and not, it’s about rethinking education entirely.

Here’s an example: You walk along the road and you see a flower, one you’ve never noticed before. You become curious and pick the colorful plant. It sits in your house until it begins to wilt. With some research you learn this particular flower needs a lot of sunlight and grows in gravel or coarse soil…

This sequence of events is called natural learning; that sense you get when you are really interested in something and want to know everything about it. Each day we explore, observe, make a claim, accumulate knowledge, and revise or tweak the claim to come to a final conclusion.

Most people assume the brain is like a computer. You put information in, and it comes out when asked in the form of a question. Unfortunately, our brains do not store information the way a computer does. In fact, the analogy is flawed in every way. Neurons don’t Store 1s and 0s in neatly packed units of memory. The brain stores information by making connections. If the same activity above was taught as a classroom lesson, it would look something like this:

“Okay class today we’re going to learn about plants.”

Collective grown.

“But plants are exciting!”

Eyerolls.

And the teacher spends the rest of the class trying to convince a bunch of kids that what she’s telling them is true and important because it will be on the test. Unless they’re botanists, they don’t care; and by introducing the lesson with the topic, you’ve already lost the majority of your class. You’ve taken the most important thing away from learning.

Curiosity.

We wonder why kids grow up hating school when the answer is in front of our face. Quit trying to teach them, and let them learn.

A lot of talk has been generated about things like rigor, grit, and other terms misused to describe something most don’t understand to begin with. Humans don’t accomplish things because we tell them to; they do so because they are driven to. It’s this intrinsic motivation and curiosity that drives innovation and discovery. If these are so important, why then are they left out of every school lesson.

Hope.

By changing the way we think during lesson planning and designing activities that take advantage of a child’s natural curiosity and build understanding through discovery and failure, we can harness the true potential of any child, build intrinsic motivation, decrease discipline problems, and ensure a greater level of success with changes that give you more time to enjoy teaching for a change.

In this series, we will explore what it takes to get it right. You’ll witness even your most struggling students come alive with anticipation.

Next Up: Exploration and Curiosity

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