Making Learning Happen

horse_water-700x434Somewhat related to my long meditations on motivation is the idea that we can cause learning to happen volitionally.  I certainly recognize that anyone is able to choose to learn for themselves, but as I sit here in the last hour of a school day prior to a long weekend I am reminded again and again that you can lead a horse to water, but the drinking is very tenuous.

So can we cause another to learn?  Is it appropriate to herd souls into lined up seats and then, with the ringing of a bell, in essence say, “Now, learn this stuff?”  As one Freshman recently said to me, “Mr. E, you just sellin’ what I don’t want to buy.  You want me to read and I just don’t feel like it.”  Now in that moment there was certainly the need to press the ideals of discipline and self mastery, etc. to push the young man out of his laziness and into the light, but there is the rub again: if he does not want to do so, the best I can hope for is his faking it enough to pass the class.  But I don’t teach to such ends.

I wish to see my students learn.  I almost beg them to do so.  I prepare great lessons, based on lengthy contemplations, just the right questions to spark their minds, models of great Truth, Goodness, and Beauty, and all the humanity and grace I can muster for the classroom.  And many respond.  But others just sit there.  I seek their soul and it just can’t always be found.

Please don’t view this as a big bottle of whine.  I have been doing this long enough to have gotten past that; I just want to be faithful and find that this issue is at the heart of the temptation toward infidelity.  Just dial it in; they are not listening anyway.  Make a worksheet and call it learning.  Give them work time knowing they will be thinking about a lot of things, almost none of which resemble the work assigned.

I think the appropriate pedagogical approaches best suited to answering these things are found in conversation (two way discussion in the class) and writing.  I give mostly essay tests these days.  It is much harder to “fake” engagement in a written essay than when you are simply guessing the patterns of multiple choice or matching questions.  While some students can try to bloviate their way through a class discussion, and some quieter ones are just as engaged, or more so, this is where the experience of a teacher or tutor comes into play.

I think the best answer to this question is that the teacher must be engaged in the learning process, not simply pushing learning at the student but entering into it himself to have any hope that the student will enter in.  We must be students to be teachers.


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