Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Principles Of Learning

This week in one of my classes, we discussed two important principles of learning:

1. Building on what you know

2. Building on your success

So often, schools administer assessment tests in order to discover what the students do not know. Once this information is ascertained, teachers begin to fill in those gaps. They start from the top, from the end goal, and work downward.

This is actually not the most effective way of teaching. By introducing completely new concepts to students, you throw them into an unfamiliar arena and expect them to excel with steady confidence. Additionally, you don't consider the student, but rather the missing information you wish the student to acquire. You start from the goal and work down toward the student. A better way to teach is to discover what the student does know and build upon that. Instead of working from the top down, you work from the student's knowledge base and build upward. You learn about the student's interests, passions, and strengths, and use those to guide the student toward new ground. The student, in turn, feels more confident about every step forward, because each step is taken from a familiar starting point. The student perceives, "I have succeeded up until now. Now I can take another step forward."

That brings me to the second principle - building upon success. There is nothing that strengthens confidence more than success. With every feeling of success, a person is more willing and confident to move forward. If the person feels unsure or shaky, he/she will feel much less willing and capable to advance. You cannot build higher on a structure with a shaky foundation. That's why it's important to recognize your student's (or your own, by the way) every advancement. Praise, especially after a particularly important step forward, awakens that initial desire and inspiration to succeed.

This does not apply merely to students in a classroom, but also to all people, and to your own self. If you ever want to push yourself to succeed, or help someone else succeed, I feel that both these principles are vital. You don't need to throw a party every time you do something you've never done before, but don't be afraid to give yourself a little proud smile. You did it. You advanced! Now take that feeling of pride and accomplishment and throw it into the next step up on the ladder towards your goals and ambitions. Let every past success inspire your next success. And remember that every unfamiliar territory begins with what you already know.


Tehila said...

I agree with you that the test-and-fill-in-the-gaps method is flawed. But when you try to build on what the student already knows and is good at, don't you run the risk of losing their interest if they think you are being repetitive? Isn't it better sometimes to introduce something new and different and exciting?

Erachet said...

Tehila - Of course you are introducing new and different (and hopefully exciting) things. The difference is that you are not thrusting students blindly into a new situation without giving them the foundation to deal with it. Instead, you are showing them how what they've already succeeded at so far can help them in this new place. When they know they can succeed (and have succeeded) at step A, they will feel much more ready to take on step B (rather than just sticking them at step B and expecting them to have the confidence to succeed).

Erachet said...

They will also understand the logic and purpose of Step B must better if they have already succeeded at understanding Step A.

RaggedyMom said...

These concepts really speak to the core of working with kids who have challenges with learning, and those who don't, and our own children, employees, etc. I agree wholeheartedly.

Re. our discussion earlier, building on success is why a rhyming book works so well with a struggling reader, or one with many familiar sight words. The idea is to make it seem accessible and comfortable. Books that are repetitive (eg. No More Monkeys Jumping on the Bed or something similar) can imbue the confidence to experiment with the unfamiliar or previously intimidating. Attitude and a sense of likelihood to succeed or fail are tremendous factors.

When I'm starting with a new struggling reader, I like to read books that they know - it's a good informal assessment for me, and the pressure to tackle something new is off. Tehila, if you have kids of your own, or have spent time with kids, you know that wanting to hear or do something "AGAIN!" is a hugely common thing. Older kids sometimes lose interest if something is too repetitive and/or if they get the sense that you're deliberately making it easy for them.

I'm so glad you're talking about this stuff on the blog - vicariously re-living my school days ;)