learning v teaching

Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school.

-Albert Einstein

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Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Two days of Professional Learning down and I am already brain-dead, waiting for the next holidays. Actually, it’s not quite that bad, but anybody who has had to sit through several straight hours of being talked at, even if the topic is of interest, will know where I am coming from.

We had some interesting conversations today about exactly what teaching should involve and what it means to actually learn something. The topic was inspired by two things:

  1. A ‘gift’ from our Principal which we were required to read during our holidays. It was a rather tedious book, Visible Learning for Teachers by John Hattie, a renowned educational researcher and, apparently, lover of statistics. To be fair, he made some excellent points and I agreed with much of what he said.
  2. A brilliant and inspiring YouTube clip, put together by Prince Ea, called I just sued the school system Prince Ea is a filmmaker, poet and speaker (and, according to his website, it seems he is a master of Facebook and YouTube with over 500 million views).

Both of these were inspiring and thought-provoking in their own way, but at the core of each was the message that school should be about learning first and that teaching does not necessarily equate with actual learning.

Think about all of the subjects, topics and facts that you were taught at school. (Actually, don’t, we’ll be here forever.)

Now, think about all of the subjects, topics and facts that you learnt – and by learnt, I mean remember and actively use today. The list is so much shorter.

There is a lot of ‘knowledge’ that I remember being taught when I was at school, but I didn’t really learn it beyond what I had to know in order to pass the test at the end of the unit. Then I forgot it … so, did I really learn it in the first place?

Both men, in different ways, stress the importance of teaching the child rather than the subject. They bemoan the ‘cookie-cutter’ approach to teaching and talk at length about getting to the heart of, and nurturing, the child’s gifts and talents. Both of them decry a system, which unlike everything else in our daily lives, has not changed in the last hundred years.

So much of what we do as teachers is driven by forces that we have no real control over: curriculum (often written and enforced by people who do not physically work in a classroom) which we have to get through in order to tick all the boxes on the report; societal expectations, often unreasonable, unattainable and that really belong in the realm of parenting; system expectations regarding not only what we teach, but how we teach it and how we can prove we’ve taught it.

I think I am Prince Ea’s newest fan because, like Hattie and unlike a large proportion of society, he did not blame teachers for the shortcomings in education. He blamed the system.

Neither man was suggesting that we only teach children what they want to learn. That, as well, would be a disaster, because sometimes we need exposure to new and different experiences and knowledge in order to truly realise what it is that we desire to know.

They were, however, suggesting that we listen more to the children, find out what they already know, discover what makes them bubble and work out how we can nurture their interests and cultivate their desire to know more.

Maybe then we will achieve true learning, and a relevant and meaningful education.

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