Purposeful Learning…

As we come off of Spring Break, heading into a wonderful time of learning as we head toward the end of the year, I am mindful of the kind of work I accomplished during those wonderful two weeks off. Spring Break was not a time where I sat back. It was a time of renewal, excitement, and energy as I started playing with ideas in my mind around learning, around utilizing some ideas I’m thinking about and possibilities that I’ve read about, and just thinking about planning and jumpstarting the road to the 2012-13 school year.

This is exciting work that I have undertaken. I was working on an analogy about my own personal theories of education and schooling, I was planning and preparing for our professional learning day, and I was looking at how to best set up our school for learning for next year. None of this is the small, boring, paperwork kind of stuff that is not very exciting. This is the fun stuff…

The question it brought up in my mind was “What is the kind of work that students would design and take home with them because it was just so interesting and engaging to them?” That is the kind of work I’ve been working on. I didn’t bring home field trip forms to edit and check over, there was no checking over Achievement Test forms, I was not looking at small detail paperwork stuff…

I was looking at work that truly engaged me and excited me. How can we, as teachers and designers of learning, set up our students so that school is more than just worksheets that are laid out in front of them or sent home? Some students can be good at this type of work and be successful, but that does not mean it is engaging. Others, who find it difficult, find it even less engaging because they see no purpose to the work.

Whether you want to look at inquiry-based learning or project-based learning, or just learning in general, I believe that “Purpose” is the main ingredient that is needed to enable and allow students to be able to undertake their work in a way that is exciting and makes them want to undertake the work.

I remember seeing an interview with a golfer, who talked about how others saw his work. They didn’t see him getting up at 5 AM to go hit balls. They didn’t see the stress that came from playing golf on a professional level. They just assumed it was all going out with friends on a Sunday afternoon and enjoying around of golf and possibly a few bevies. For our students much of the work we give them, whether it’s homework or classroom work, is seen as being relatively uninteresting and having very little value. The works that always seem to catch their interest the most was the work that caught my own interest. If I was excited I knew they were going to be excited. If I was bored, I could pretty much guaranteed that they were going to be bored. Working to develop a sense of any interest and excitement in their work is not some thing that schools have typically worried about in the past. I would say our goal is to help students find those areas where they are excited and interested.

A parent, whose sons I worked with in the past, talked about how his son was finally to learn to read at an older age because he had a huge interest in all things military. He was able to figure out that if he was able to crack this “code”, he could learn more about the things that interested him. He did not learn to read because he wanted to read the next level of books. He did not read because he wanted to please the teacher. He did not read because he wanted to impress anyone else. He did not learn to read because he wanted a better score on his report card.

Take a minute to think about what you read. It is all materials that are read for a essentially selfish reasons. I read educational research and books because I want to become better in my work. I read classic novels because I enjoy them and I love trying to understand the historical context around some of these books. At night I read easy cheesy science-fiction/fantasy novels, one of my favorites being the James Bond novels, because they are just mindless relaxing wonderful stories that take my mind off everything and help me get ready for sleep. I do not read for anyone else…

Same thing with the rest of my work I love. I love my job and I am interested in becoming better. That is why I work long hours and spend so much time on it. I do not work long hours because someone tells me I have to, where they have assigned the work and the amount of work to be done. How do we instill the love of learning in our students? Tall order I know, but this is the work we as educators signed on for… and I love it!

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