Saturday, January 31, 2015

Despite what they say, there really are "students who can't learn"

There are those who are fond of saying "every student can learn". It is roughly equivalent to arguing “it doesn't rain on parades.” Sometimes it does. Some students can't learn.

Among them; students who are not present. Whether by their chronic truancy or by their momentary inattention, students who are not present are “students who can't learn”. Similarly, those who don’t want to learn for any reason whatsoever, are “students who can't learn”.

When people talk about no child being unable to learn, I suppose that they are thinking longitudinally; over the long term. Over the long term they believe, a child can be neither so profoundly damaged nor so deeply disadvantaged, that they cannot learn. I don't believe that, but it’s beside the point. We need to be looking at learning, not in toto, but as an accumulation of momentary opportunities.

A child, who is able to learn, can learn only for the length of time that they are both present and wanting to learn. Even children who are routinely present and for the most, wanting to learn, spend a certain amount of the day every day, daydreaming, distracted or rebelling for some reason or another.

"A certain amount of the day" varies from student to student, classroom to classroom, and school to school. All of the “certain amounts of the day” add up to an astonishingly large part of the day.

Anyone who has not tried to teach a class

of thirty children with little more in common than their approximate age and socioeconomic status; sitting in five rows of six desks, each of them on the same page in the same book (that they can't read all that well), studying for the same test they will all take together on the same day,
has no idea how much of the day is wasted by students who are unengaged in their learning.

Education is not something one does “to” a learner. And, certainly not without their cooperation. The finest teacher imaginable, cannot make a horse “want” to drink.

Making education palatable to immature minds would be a huge step forward. Making education desirable gets us to the finish line. In order to do that, we are going to have to individualize their learning paths; in direction and speed.

It is time to stop trying to standardize the individual academic performances of thousands of learners. It is time to stop trying to standardize the performances of even two.

By creating independent lifelong learners at the earliest opportunity, by taking advantage of children's intrinsic motivation to learn, we will increase the likelihood creating large numbers of students who will be productively engaged in learning of some kind. They won’t be disrupting classrooms because they can't keep up.

We will create students who only occasionally actually need the attention of a "teacher", and when they do, that teacher will have the time to give that student individual attention because s/he will not be otherwise engaged in trying to keep 29 children all in step in a "learning line-dance".

We have made a deliberate choice to
  • standardize the individual educational growth of children with nothing more in common than their approximate age,
at the cost of
  • providing learning that is fun and interesting enough to maintain and reinforce the intrinsic motivation children bring to learning.
Based on that truth, we should be doing everything we can do, within reason of course, to make learning fun and interesting. Fun and interesting, the diametric opposite of standardized learning, standardized tests, and standardized testing.

It should be a fundamental tenet of education and learning; In the interests of rapid growth; if ever there are two or more ways to legitimately learn something, allow the student to choose between them, even if they pick on the basis of which is going to be the most "fun".

For those who think "suffering" should be part of learning and earning a diploma just like "it was in their day"; simply require graduates, in exchange for their diploma, to walk five miles uphill in snow and bare footed to retrieve it.

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