Friday, April 23, 2010

Training or Teaching? Part 2: Learning is self-training

I talked a little bit about training in Part 1 of this series, mostly in the context of external training (trainer-trainee). In this installment I will be discussing true learning. Learning is simply self-training.

A learned behavior is the most ingrained of all trained behaviors. So-called bad habits like nail biting or hair twirling start almost by accident and snowball from there. A child under stress learns by chance the act of chewing ones nails alleviates stress. This works because anxiety/panic is a discomforting feeling that tells us our needs are not being met. Doing something always relieves the feeling of anxiety more than doing nothing. Chewing your fingernails is doing something as far as the brain is concerned, so it creates a small amount of relief from the anxiety. This behavior can become self-rewarding enough to become routine, and the longer is is routine, the harder the habit will be to break. Woe to the kid who learns to disrupt class for attention and something to do at an early age!

True learning occurs only when the person wants to learn something for themselves. Initial interest in the topic is what usually sparks true learning, but not always. Creating conditions that help generate initial interest is the key to unlocking the door to lifelong learning and the true job of a teacher. Consider the kid who comes home from his field trip to the natural history museum enthralled with dinosaurs. He suddenly wants a dinosaur toy, pajamas, cereal, lunchbox, etc. What happens when we present the kid with a colorful book with pictures and lots of information above his "grade level"? The kid isn't going to know the difference other than he might need help with the book at first. I envision the kid pointing and the parent helping them to understand the books "tricky" parts. That is true learning at its best!

Learning is consciously directing the brain to produce new behaviors that bring a person closer to a self-defined goal. The kid mentioned earlier wants to learn about dinosaurs because he finds them interesting, not because mom tells him its important to learn it, not because he needs to know it for a grade, and definitely not because someone was going to punish or reward him if he doesn't learn 'enough'. He is truly learning for himself. A kid that learns something because someone else told them to will only learn until the person is happy, a kid who wants to pass will only do enough to get a D, but the kid who wants to learn for himself has no externally imposed limit.

Experiments have been done on dolphins and creative learning behavior. Dolphins were basically brought into a tank for a certian time limit. Researchers would then feed the dolphin it's favorite fish when it performed an original trick for the session. To get fish in the next session, the dolphin would have to perform an original trick. Predicably, the dolphin of course first tried what it did the first session, but without reward. When the dolphin did a different trick it started getting fish again. This pattern continued with the dolphin always trying last session's trick, but when the desired outcome was not achieved, the dolphin would then try a different trick and acheive success for the session. Eventually the dolphin ran out of tricks and for 15 sessions recieved no fish at all. It would sometimes swim in circles, sometimes try to splash researchers (misbehave), sometimes sit in the center of the tank and do nothing. Ocaisionally the dolphin would frantically try tricks to get a fish. 15 sessions went by and the researchers described the dolphin as looking "despondent". On the 15th session the dolphin by chance performed an original trick and was rewarded. Eureeka! The dolphin learned it was it's creativity that was being rewarded, not just performing tricks. In it's excitement at the end of the session it returned to its normal tank and began practicing and inventing tricks to impress the researchers. Eventually the routines became so elaborate and complex researchers had to end the experiment because they could no longer tell what was an original or new trick. Dolphin art!

This experiment was also done with humans. Upon figuring out that original behavior was rewarded the participants expressed releif moreso than excitement. The relief of the participants is obviously the result of a change in attitute from "I can't do this" to "I can do this." That's what everyone needs to feel for true education to occur. Sometimes that means the student will be frustrated, but the end result is worth the wait. It won't do to "rescue" students from frustration. Abraham Lincoln once said "give me 6 hours to chop down a tree and I'll spend the first 4 sharpening the axe." Instead we teachers often run in with a chainsaw to get the tree started for the kid. The result is that the kid never learns how to do it for themselves.

Who do we want our children to be like? The dolphin or the lion? (see part 1)

Teaching works with the nature of the child while training attempts to alter the nature of the child though pleasure and pain. The benefits from working with nature are obvious. Let's say the dinosaur kid mentioned earlier could not read well. A teacher would find books about dinosaurs for the kid to read choosing books carefully that help improve the child's reading level. The trainer would begin by having the kid write, repeat, and memorize the letters and phonics sounds of the English language with the goal of helping the child to eventually get up to level and be able to read the books on dinosaurs he likes. Who teaches the kid to read more effectively? Ever teacher knows this is common sense.

Teaching is about opening doors for students in the hopes they will step though them to see whats on the other side, not about shoving lines of kids though a revolving door to a place they don't want to go. Teaching requires trust from all parties involved.

The problem with goals in education is that they are always set by the wrong person. Student learning goals are set by the teacher. Teacher learning targets are set by the district, school board, government, or administrator. Administrative targets for attendance, graduation rates, etc. are set by the district. It's like we don't trust someone else to set a fair goal for themselves so we make it for them and blame them when they don't accomplish 'their' goals. Maybe they didn't accomplish the goal because they resented arbitrary goals being unfairly imposed on them, maybe it was directives from management that conflict with the reality of the situation from an employee's perspective, maybe the goal was genuinely impossible. Whatever the reason, low quality is the result. In order for quality to emerge in an organization there must be some shared goals, communication, and vision, but in education it seems like everybody is obsessed with watching everybody else to make sure they are doing their job instead of focusing on their own. Blame may help people hold onto their jobs in the short term, but it isn't going to save public education.

As for core standards like reading and writing, I am convinced that they can be taught in context of the child's interests. Its ridiculus to standardize curricula when all that is needed is to meet the student's needs. We can set standards at a district level, but we must allow students and teachers to work together with some degree of freedom to meet those standards.

Look at the appalling lack of respect we observe in schools. It's been going on since before the time of Aristotle who opined about the unlearned disrespectful youth of his day. Students' knee-jerk, no-thought, reactive, impulsive behavior is nothing new. They have been busy learning and misbehaving to reach their goals in line with their own agendas for millenia. They are young so their goals are often short term and do not usually align with a teacher's goals.

When a kid throws a paper airplane the goal is increase his power, freedom, and his reputation (love/belonging), and fun. The long term consequences like detention or a call home, usually do not usually interfere with his original goal and therefore are deemed inconsequential unrelated annoyances. He'll deal with those later and find some way to resist and frustrate the people who imposed those consequences. He'll show them! In the meantime he feels throwing the airplane and the accomplishment of his goal were well worth it in the end. He never reflects on his behavior or all the energy he will waste getting even. He doesn't think about the damage to his relationships with others caused by his actions. He believes the world is out to pick on him and he is a pawn in a game. What a shame! What a waste of potential!!!

When people do not agree to be trained their response is to learn to beat the system. This is common sense and it is universal. When people have no say and are given orders they resist. How often do employees assume the boss is up to no good or has an agenda when he is really just doing something his boss told him to do?

Our students don't know how to do so many important things for themselves, but I think if they know just 5 things, they could honestly choose better, happier lives for themselves.

Students need to know...

...They all have 5 basic needs: Survival, Freedom, Fun, Love/Belonging, and Power; and EVERYTHING they do from breathing to homework to laughing out loud is an effort to meet one or more of those needs.

...How to set clear goals for themselves that satisfy their needs in positive, productive ways and think about what success would look like before action is carried out.

...How to make a long term plan that addresses potential problems and will get them what they need and carry it out.

...How to honestly evaluate if their choices and behavior used in carrying out the plan got them what they wanted. Feelings are our built-in guide. Feeling happy means success; feeling sad, depressed, frustrated, angry, anxious, panicked, "sick", etc, are our body's way of telling us we are not getting what we need. These negative emotions are also social signals that tell us we need help satisfying our need(s). Being stuck in these negative emotions and constantly relying on others will eventually be interpreted by others as a form of control and destroy the relationship.

...Frustration means its time re-evaluate your goals, form a new plan, carry it out, evaluate the result and repeat as needed. The key to success is the ability to turn frustration into a reachable goal.

The above 5 items are called the GPAR process (Goal, Plan, Action, Result)and students are already doing it every second of their lives. Whatever the student's behavior is: doing homework, participating, dancing on a table, talking in class, etc. You can bet that at some point the student had a goal in mind, then chose a behavior, carried it out, and realized doing the behavior made them feel very happy (met a need in some way, at least for the short term.) If repeating the behavior continues to get the same or better results, the behavior will become self-trained into the student's brain. The behavior will be permanent so long as students continue to believe everything they do is not their fault because they "couldn't" control their behavior. When students learn to extend the GPAR they are already doing into the future and reap the positive feeling that comes from achieving long term goals, they learn what it means to be successful.

Better family structure will help students be successful, but only enough to please their parents. The key to successful education isn't just better families, its getting students to learn for themselves and in so doing becoming true lifelong learners. The student who learns for themselves has no limit!

You Learn for Yourself and yourself alone.

No comments:

Post a Comment