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.