Friday, February 23, 2007

What is Learning?


I have been contemplating learning. What do I really believe? This is such a complex question, that I want to try to answer. I have so many thoughts, and for me the acquisition of language has been the most difficult. According to Gardner, I am quite confident to say that I would rate my linguistic ability in the bottom half of my abilities of the intelligences. My definite strengths are mathematical-logical, interpersonal, intrapersonal, bodily-kinesthetic, spatial and naturalistic. My ability to comprehend language is fairly strong, but to me my expressive language is lacking. There is so much I have to say and want to say, but it seems like I have only ever been able to communicate about 10% of what I have mulling around inside of me.

I believe that knowledge is constructed, and that there are certain truths. The amount of knowledge is vast and unfathomable. These truths are created by our society, but nonetheless they comprise standard knowledge. Knowledge is situated and constructed differently by each individual. My daughter knows how to sing and play the piano. She has learned piano by listening and memory; her teacher says she has an “ear” for music. She can’t be bothered to read the notes. She has learned through one type of situation, a cognitive apprenticeship if you like. My son is a very good math student; I believe this is genetic. My father and my three brothers were exceptional math students. One of his strengths is math-logic. He has also become a very good golfer; this he has learned from his family, mainly his father and grandfather (definitely not me). He has learned through a community of learners, repetition and guidance. One area of future interest for him is archeology, and I am quite certain that this came from watching the Learning and History channel, playing computer games like Civilization. He also reads historical novels – the same ones several times. I’m not sure where this love for history came from, but I do know that his love of reading came from my modeling.

Some things that my children know have been self-taught. For example my son can draw and fade his golf ball. His father likes to think that he taught him this, but he didn't. He watches the golf channel for hours. My daughter is very interested in creative writing. She has been writing stories, and magazines on her own for many years. At this very moment, she is working on her magazine (and it isn't for school).

I can honestly say that I recall very little from high school. I did well in most of my subjects, but nothing really mattered to me, other than leaving my family home. Going to school was very difficult. I never felt safe, secure, normal or accepted.

The point I am leading to is that I truly believe that learning can only occur in nurturing, safe and caring environments, and this is what is holding many of our students back from learning, and becoming all that they can be. I think that we have vastly and ignorantly ignored this vital component - this hierarchy of needs for both students and educators. When I was in elementary and high school, I felt very isolated. I hope that as educators, we try to have the understanding and compassion about what many kids are going through each and every day at school. My experiences have shaped me into the educator and person that I am today, and each and every day that I go to school I want to help everyone be all they can be. I want them to feel safe and important. My own children have “learned” the most from these teachers. I believe the thing that matters the most to our students is that they are accepted, nurtured and encouraged. This has to come first; this has to be the foundation. If people feel secure, then they can be guided and coached to learn and thrive. Everyone wants to feel like they truly belong, to a community.

Learning: once we are safe, secure and encouraged to learn, we learn within a situation. Sometimes these situations are forced upon, and sometimes these situations are created by choice, but there has to be a connection to a situation before the learner can begin to construct his/her lown knowledge. Because I feel that motivation is key, I think the learner retains more in a situation of his/her own choosing. The other key indgredient is inate intelligence.

Just a few thoughts…

1 comment:

Miss Profe said...


Your thoughts on learning really resonated with me. Particularly with respect to the nature/nurture dichotomy. Like you, I believe that what one knows and learns is both inherited and constructed. In other words, there are things that I was pre-destined to do, and there are things that do to opportunity, interest and motivation, that I have learned and/or have taught myself. As a language teacher, I believe that there are students who possess a "foreign language bump", just as there are people who possess a math "bum", an art "bump" and a sports "bump." This is an unpopular view in some circles, and I have had online debates with a colleague, a fellow foreign language teacher, who believes that learning a foreign language successfully is not determined by a "bump."

With respect to learning in a nurturng and safe environment, I agree, and, also like you,jr.high and high school were not life-changing events for me. I did extremely well,and I was exceptionally prepared for my college studies. Yet, I didn't feel safe. Looking back, I suspect that very few students felt safe and nurtured in the ways in which you describe. Which is why reaching out and connecting to students is so important, and getting to know what is going on in their lives, and learning about what they care about. Of course, there are students for whom reasons beyond our control, we cannot help. But, I think that we can help a good many, and, make a difference in some way. It does, after all, take just one.

BTW: Re: your son's golf aspirations: I used to live and work in Augusta, GA, home of the Masters. Due to the graciousness of a parent of one of my students at the time, I was given practice round passes. My brother, who came to visit me during Master's Week each of the three years I resided (every school in Augusta is closed, given the awesome flood of spectators who converge on Augusta), accompanied me to the Augusta National Golf Club. And, it is as green as it appears on television. Perhaps one day you and your son can go down.:)

**I enjoy your blog as well. I appreciate your honesty and thoughtfulness in your posts.:)