The Key To Getting Your Students Ready To Learn…
Like most of you, last year was far from “normal” in the VanTassel household. While being a teacher is certainly a part of my identity, I had never planned to become a preschool teacher. And last year, I got a taste of it. My daughter wasn’t old enough for kindergarten (and I’ll be honest, I was glad) but our preschool had closed (and I wasn’t sure how I felt about sending her out into the world at that point anyway). So we did “PreK at home” and that experience gave me a really great opportunity to reflect on my values as an educator.
When I was in the classroom, it was easy to say — “we just have to learn this.” It is part of the curriculum, part of the standards, you need it for your next course or for college, so on and so forth. But when it came to our work together at home — when it came to my own child — I found that those reasons weren’t enough. They weren’t enough for her (obviously: she was four and didn’t care about college), and they weren’t enough for me.
I realized that I didn’t want my daughter to experience learning in any way that wasn’t a choice. I didn’t want learning to become something she “had to do.”
I wanted learning to be a choice: her choice.
So that translated to… me working *extra hard* to get my kid to the table. (Or floor, or outside, or wherever the learning was about to happen!)
And throughout this experience, I realized: shouldn’t we always be working hard to get our kids “to the table”?
I know what you’re thinking — “Yah, I do fun stuff, I do games, I try to make my classroom fun.” Like you, I’ve always worked hard to make learning enjoyable and even exciting (I’m a nerd, and I love learning, and I want my students to, too!). But I’ll admit – I also have had a bit of this mindset somewhere buried in my brain: “it’s school, so you *have* to do it.” So here’s a challenge (and just try this thinking on – you don’t have to “wear” it forever!)…
What if they didn’t have to?
The Reality Is: Your Students DON’T “Have To”
The troublesome thing about our assumption — “it’s school, so you *have to* do it” — is that it’s just wrong. When it really comes down to it, your students don’t have to learn anything. And even the ones that comply in your class — that “check all the boxes” and “do all of the things” — may not actually be learning.
Because learning requires a willingness and motivation from the learner. It’s the old saying, “You can bring a horse to water but you can’t make it drink.” Learning is an active process that involves breaking down existing understandings and rebuilding new ones. It isn’t something that happens outside of your students, and it isn’t anything you can do or enforce.
And for that reason… your students don’t have to learn anything at all.
(And sure, there’s consequences for not learning — but the adolescent brain isn’t always thinking about those.)
But Our Brains Are Wired To, Anyway
So your students don’t have to learn, but in the right circumstances, our brains are wired to want to! Survival requires learning (learning of some sort) and so our brains are primed to do this — to be curious, to search for patterns, to develop explanations.
We have attempted to systematize this process in our education system (for both better and worse), but without a doubt, it’s a natural process that’s going to happen in some shape or form anyway.
We can take advantage of these natural inclinations by creating an environment where our students want to come to the table! Where they want to learn. Where school isn’t something they “have to do” but somewhere they “want to be.”
✨ Engaging our students is a key part of learning…
So how can we make it happen? And what if we’ve been going at it the wrong way?
As you head out, I encourage you to reflect on this question: What does “engage your students” look like for you?
Sometimes it feels like we’re trying to “engage our students” (and even our kids!) with shallow games and knick-knacks and JR treat rewards (I mean, yah, I still love my JR jar!)… but with all that, we’ve lost sight of the bigger tools we have to draw our students in — the things that really drive all of us.
- community and collaboration
- being valued and appreciated
- success and confidence
- aha moments and mastering something
- choices and autonomy
All of these things make us feel good – like legit, chemically, feel good. #itsbrainscience And these are the things that make learning their choice, the things that bring our students to the table.
This is the first step in learning. Because when our students come to us ready to learn, that is when they truly learn.
So then the question becomes…
✨How can we infuse more of those things into our classrooms to make it easier to get our kids to the table?✨
And that’s a topic for next time.