I having been thinking recently about the different learning styles of people, and the way in which we receive and accept information. I have over the last week taught students ranging in age from 9 to 18, from various walks of life and backgrounds.
The 9 year olds came in with a willingness to do whatever was asked and an eagerness to achieve. They were open with their lack of understanding and happy to ask for help. They tried different things and weren’t put off if they couldn’t do them.
The 18 year olds were fairly similar. Also happy to ask for help, they seemed to feel no shame in not knowing and had a definite need to understand. They constantly asked for clarification and were open in their wishes to do as well as possible.
The 14 years old were a far more mixed bag. They veered between a similar approach to those above and almost the exact opposite. Many of them were not keen to ask for help or admit a lack of understanding and, more pertinently, a number of them had no apparent interest in their achievement. This I believe however has far more to do with what else is happening within them at that particular age than a specific attitude towards education.
This blog is not intended as an attack on the learning styles of mid teenagers. Whilst the paragraph above may seem a little harsh, it is not intended in any way as a derogatory judgement. I will be blogging very soon on what I see as the massive flaws in our education system and will talk about age then.
Rather, what I wanted to talk briefly about was the state that these children came to learn in. By which I mean the attitude and mental approach they had towards the learning. Let me list again what I felt were the important factors.
- They were unafraid to admit ignorance.
- They were keen to increase their knowledge, ability and skills.
- They didn’t see a need to do this as any judgement upon themselves.
- They were happy and eager to ask for help.
- They were happy to try stuff, regardless of getting it wrong or right.
- They were keen to achieve.
Now I know many people will be sitting reading this thinking that it doesn’t reflect how they felt when they were that age. In defence, aside from my direct experiences I would also ask you to think about how mixed together your entire education probably is in your memories. For myself, my over riding memory of education was a dislike of it and a lack of motivation and interest. However, if I really pick it apart I realise that between the ages of 4 and 13, I loved it. I also loved it even more at college and university. I didn’t have the best time at GCSE and A level, but as I suggested above, there was a lot more going on then than just learning!
I feel very lucky in how my education has turned out. Having left school feeling thoroughly demotivated, I re-entered education 2 years later with a passion for drums which meant that I fell in love with the process all over again. However, something that took me much longer was to regain the traits I have listed above. We, as learners and people seem to have a massive issue with admitting ignorance, asking for help, simply trying stuff and constantly striving for improvement. So many people that I meet seem to have reached a glass ceiling with their learning. Inset days are ‘a waste of time, patronising, dull, worthless etc.’ Outside training is never taken up because ‘it just isn’t worth time’. These peoples’ subject knowledge is exactly what it was when they finished learning however many years ago. And the people I describe here are mostly teachers of one sort or another!
If we can change education so that it teaches people to keep an open mind, avoid fear of ignorance and instead instil a need to challenge that ignorance and learn and ask questions, then we can create an education system that lasts a lifetime and not just the first part of our lives.
Make a list of everything you’ve learned this week. Then try going back and making a list of everything you’ve learned so far this year. Think about how many questions you’ve asked. Try to remember the last time you told someone you didn’t understand and would they please explain it. Then make the honest judgement of yourself of whether you have anything left to learn. If the answer is yes, then what are you waiting for?