When searching for an expert on learning look no further than the crib. The infant brain is innately curious and without assistance, quickly begins to apply strategies for learning that help to make sense of the world around it. No one worries that a baby will be too lazy, uncooperative or unmotivated to learn; they know nothing of the sort. We are born with a built-in desire to acquire new information and will do so without fear of making mistakes or failing [i]. It’s this type of discovery that stimulates our natural love of learning and allows us to explore life in enriching and meaningful ways.
Yet with such a strong impetus for learning, research demonstrates that a lack of motivation to study and learn is widespread among youth in the United States, and that love of learning declines steadily from third through ninth grade [ii]. A number of views suggest that the structure of school (i.e. required attendance, school-selected topics/curriculum, and constant checking on student’s progress) assumes that children are not natural learners, but must be compelled to learn through the efforts of others. These structured approaches may in fact inhibit learning because they can avert a child’s natural curiosity, enthusiasm and intrinsic motivation.
So how can parents and educators help rekindle the love of learning? Incorporating these 5 strategies into your daily activities with students is sure to help. Not only are they important drivers for effective learning but they help to convey appropriate expectations for both you and the students.
- Modeling- Show that you’re a learner too. Children need to be exposed to your own learning initiatives. Talk about professional development, conferences and public events you’re involved with. Invite students to be part of them and then further seek their input about its value in the classroom.
- Trust- Make connections to your students’ lives. Show genuine interest in their well being. Children know when you’re fake or factual and may not hesitate to call you out.
- Respect- Listen to your students and value their thinking. Invite students to explore new topics and provide opportunities to investigate in a variety of ways. Focus on each student individually; they’re eager to receive attention and will do almost anything to reciprocate your acceptance.
- Feedback- Reward and celebrate students’ achievements with frequent, positive feedback and encouragement. Try to avoid extrinsic rewards as they can undermine the students’ motivation and may prompt students only to perform when a reward is given.
- Novelty- Create motivating learning experiences through passionate instruction. If you aren’t enjoying the class, neither are they. Step into character and act out a scene; the value of learning is worth more than the cost of your brief humiliation.
[i]Alison Gopnik. “The Scientist in the Crib: What Early Learning Tells Us About the Mind”. William Morrow & Co., 2000
[ii]Deborah Stipek and Kathy Seal. “Motivated Minds: Raising Children to Love Learning”. New York: Henry Holt & Co., 2001