Friday, July 20, 2012

What Should Children Do All Day?

They should learn. 

How and what should they learn? 
What have I learned from all this? That children love learning and are extremely good at it. On this matter I have no more doubts. . . . When they are following their own noses, learning what they are curious about, children go faster, cover more territory than we would ever think of trying to mark out for them, or make them cover. ~ John Holt, How Children Learn
It is, in fact, nothing short of a miracle that the modern methods of instruction have not yet entirely strangled the holy curiosity of inquiry; for this delicate little plant, aside from stimulation stands mainly in need of freedom; without this it goes to rack and ruin without fail... ...It is a very grave mistake to think that the engagement of seeing and searching can be promoted by means of coercion and a sense of duty. ~ Albert Einstein 
According to John Holt and Albert Einstein, curiosity should be the guiding factor in how Learning happens. 
The keys to [learning] are study environment, study habits, course of study, and high quality books. The goal of our home schools should be to teach our children to think - and to think faster and better than we, ourselves do. The student who masters a subject on his own learns more. ~ Dr. Art Robinson
According to Dr. Robinson, training for independent thinking should be the guiding factor in how Learning happens.
Unschooling is a range of educational philosophies and practices centered on allowing children to learn through their natural life experiences, including play, game play, household responsibilities, work experience, and social interaction, rather than through a more traditional school curriculum. Wikipedia 
According to the Unschooling philosophy, learning should happen by the child's choice in everyday experiences such as games, work, and social interactions. 

What other definitions are there for what and how children should learn?

What do you believe are the guiding factors in what and how children learn? 

How are they different for adults? 


Thursday, April 19, 2012

But what about . . .

But what about their socialization?
Maybe what someone is really asking when they ask this unavoidable question about home schooling is, “What on earth do you do all day?”

What do children do all day? What should they do?

Sit at a desk? Attend lessons and clubs? Dig? Make grocery lists? Read? Talk to neighbors? Build? Work with dad? Write? Play sports? Color? Act? Compose? Practice? Complete worksheets?

And how does a parent decide what their children should be doing? How does a child participate in this decision? What role does society and community play in how this question is answered?


Wednesday, March 21, 2012

FOUND: What’s up with ‘Schooling’?

Lincoln's schooling was so slight as to be almost nil. He did not grow up in a literary atmosphere. But in the matter of his official utterances he must be compared with the ablest geniuses and most cultured scholars that have preceded him, and not merely with his early associates.

How does someone become a genius without ‘schooling’? And do we have a word that describes the kind of education Lincoln went through that made him as great as he was?

Through close observation and student interviews, we found that students failed to engage in the coursework and spent little to no time studying. Students were disengaged from their learning responsibilities and the derailing of their studying began as early as elementary school.

David Castillo and Peter McIntosh, Khan Academy: Learning Habits vs. Content Delivery in STEM Education

How do students become disengaged at school? And how is society changing this trend?

According to Castillo and McIntosh, “Improving content delivery helped, but not enough” and “Poor learning habits revealed the core problem”. “When we stopped worrying about whether Khan Academy videos were better than our own lectures or whether the exercises had the appropriate mix of concept vs. drill, we recognized that we had found a powerful tool that reached students and changed their habits in ways we had never even considered possible.”

It sounds like they have found principles that will help Learners Drive their Education. So, how are Khan Academy videos changing learning habits? The authors list the following aspects of Khan videos that influenced this change:
  • “Most exercises are not multiple-choice, which eliminates guessing.
  • Questions are randomly generated, which eliminates copying
  • The short video clips engaged students and allowed them to replay the material until they understood it; and
  • The online environment and Khan Academy’s overall design appeals to the students, resulting in significant engagement time.”
I’ve known about Khan Academy for a while, but I haven’t taken the time to really investigate it for Learner Driven Education principles. What else in our society is changing ‘schooling’ into something that is Learner Driven? And how are they doing it? How do we let go of worrying about 'content delivery' in order to find what really helps students succeed? What helps the student rise above his environment to greatness like that of Lincoln?


Thursday, March 1, 2012

FOUND - Reasons to Stop

I'm just finishing up a study of Abraham Lincoln's life through Henry Ketcham's autobiography. Two posts about education in schools have me making some interesting connections between our battle today to reform education and the battle of Lincoln's time to conquer slavery.

Cevin Soling frames his perspective on education in clearly 'good vs evil' terms in his essay "Why Schools Must Be Abolished".

Seth Godin also unequivocally declares war on the current school system in his latest (and free) ebook entitled Stop Stealing Dreams. He addresses this topic from the perspective of our children's dreams and goals and how education has not but must foster them to fit the needs of our changing economy.

Both adamantly call for radical changes in how we view and do education, changes reminiscent of the call and efforts to abolish slavery.

What similarities and differences do you see between our challenge today and the challenge of Lincoln's generation?

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

FOUND – Learning through Landscapes

Sometimes you find something and you think, “Hey! That totally fits what we’ve been talking about on the Leaner Driven Education blog!!” If that ever happens to you, please share it in a comment on the Learning Experiences tab above. Some of them we'll put into a FOUND post.

I’ll start.

My husband is a landscape architect, and in our family we love exploring new parks (and criticizing the flow of parking lots—weird huh?). We particularly love a great play ground. Here’s a picture of one of our favorite play grounds here in China.
The Chinese love to use cool rocks in their landscaping.
One of my favorite blogs is Playscapes. In her post, Natural Playground Inspiration from Learning through Landscapes, Arcady shared information about playgrounds that promote outdoor learning and play in natural play spaces. Here's one of the videos that she shared:

In LDE language, these play spaces do a wonderful job of creating learning experiences based on a child’s need to explore and create in open ended, physically demanding and challenging ways.

What I LOVE about these play grounds is how they have used largely materials that can easily be found in their environment/community. Did they consult experts in creating these playgrounds? Yes. But experts and parents and teachers were not the driving force, the children were. Did they take a chance? Yes! What I saw, however, was that the environment they created did such a good job helping the children to explore and create in open ended, physically demanding and challenging ways that the risks and problems that are found in other play spaces were almost nonexistent. And the rich environment naturally led to play that built upon the lessons they were doing in the classroom.
~What kinds of landscapes do you, or someone close to you, enjoy playing in?
~What do you have in your learning environment and community that will give your Learner a place to explore and create in open ended, physically (or otherwise) demanding and challenging ways? (and just for play ground type learning)

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Context Sketch: English Classes for Chinese Kids

OK, so (also) for over a month now I’ve been carrying around a rough draft of a Context Sketch for the English classes we teach here in China. Given that it’s a ‘sketch’, I had a great start on it in an outline format. However, that format wasn’t entirely working for me. One of my goals with these sketches is to show that anyone, with or without ‘teacher training’, can teach. Hopefully this format will help all of us feel more confident in our efforts and help us gaina clear picture ofwhat we’re doing: what we’re doing well and the next best step(s) to take. And most importantly, I’m hoping this format will give us the piece and confidence to take those steps, to be the Learners driving our education to be great Prime Learners. (This feels a little bit like the cat chasing his tail, but hopefully you get the idea.)

So here’s my pioneering post for Context Sketches:

Context Sketch: English Classes for Chinese Kids in Shanghai, China

The students are Chinese kids who live, primarily, in my housing complex here in Shanghai, China. Their ages range from 6-9 years, and they are mostly female. Because of where they live and my experiences in the first 8 week class, I am making the following assumptions: These kids are Chinese Nationals (citizens) and are relatively well-to-do. They have been public schooled, which means lots of memorization and not so much real free play time.

Prime Learners
~The primary instructor is me, Verena. I generally hate ‘teaching’ because I see today’s definition of ‘teaching’ as overwhelmingly uninspiring and incredibly unenlightened. I gladly ‘failed’ in a private class to ‘prepare’ a 10 year old for an English test. I want things to be REAL, and I prefer quiet one-on-one time with the students. I feel stressed about meeting parental needs and requirements, although I enjoy the financial boost to the family budget as well as the connection with Chinese nationals in the complex that these classes offer the family.
~My TA is my daughter, Ema. She’s a typically inexperienced teenager who loves kids and teaching. She doesn’t like dumb ideas for teaching, and definitely has an opinion about the lesson plans. She also enjoys the opportunity to earn money.
~My assistants are my other children who choose to participate. They love playing with the students, though they are cautious around Chinese people, especially adults.
~I also include the parents here as prime learners. They also influence the Learners in addition to learning from this experience along with their children. They have a public school, conveyor belt mind set which means education is memorization and test driven.

Learning Experience Needs
I’m using ‘needs’ rather than ‘goals’ because it fits with the basic LDE Principles. I think they also help Prime Learners take a fresh look at their roles. ‘Needs’ should not be equated with ‘demands’, however.

The Primary Shared Need is to facilitate English language learning. Sub Needs are to facilitate learning to connect with and enjoy the company of friends who don’t speak the same language and come from very different cultures and to facilitate learning by connecting new ideas with personal interests and by seeking quality not conformity.

As the Prime Learner seeking to design learning experiences, my needs have been to answer the following questions:
How will students want (feel inspired) to learn English?
What activities will help them feel confident and successful as they figure out how to learn and use English?
What activities and/or contexts will help them want to learn English?
How do we optimize those activities and/or contexts?

We teach these in the living and dining room of our home. We primarily use the resources we have as an English speaking home schooling family and our computer, the internet, and a printer. We also obtained a white board from some friends. We divide each class into 4 sections, under which I will discuss some of the activities we have used.

Welcome: We have a warm up activity which is usually tossing balloons around or blowing a ping pong ball around a table. Then we sing our Hello Song which has been modified from the LDS Primary Children’s Songbook. We also introduce each other and the target vocabulary for the day usually by allowing the Learners to express their opinions in relation to the new words by repeating some variation of “I like . . . What do you like?” and “I don’t like . . . What don’t you like?”

Singing time: We’ve used a variety of common children’s songs and also many non-religious ones from LDS Primary Children’s Songbook. We found singing to be rather exhausting, so we began limiting our singing to just 2-3 songs. Some of our favorites are “The Wheels on the Bus” (which my 6 year old son leads), “I’m a Little Tea Pot”, “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes”, and “Do as I’m Doing”. These songs give the Learners a chance to hear English words, act them out, and then say them when they are ready.

Story time: Learners each choose a story for us to read. We use the children’s books we have on hand for this. We don’t have access to a library here in China. I’ve been amazed at how much the Learners appear to enjoy this despite some of their very limited English abilities. (Maybe I’m just witnessing good school training?) We do have a few students with more English abilities and this allows us to meet their needs as well. Some of the books are very simple board books (“Brown Bear, Brown Bear” by Eric Carle and “Red Hat Green Hat” by Sandra Boynton), in which case we read the book together in chorus. We tried ‘going on a bear hunt’ but we never found a version that we liked very well. We try to have some free time toward the end of class, and I’ve found some of the Learners going back to these books to look at them. The books we brought are classics for our family, and hopefully they are also inspiring our English students.

Vocabulary time: I usually put together a coloring sheet with the vocabulary words on it and a place for them to write the word. Then we try to do some sort of activity to help them remember the vocabulary words. The favorite is to assign each word a number and then we roll the dice and act out the corresponding word. For my advanced Learners, I include a place for them to use the vocabulary words in open ended sentences.

Game time: The first advice I got from others about these classes was to play Uno. We didn’t like it. Their language skills weren’t good enough. We have since successfully rotated through playing memory using I Spy cards, assembling puzzles, doing more coloring pages, and playing ‘closer and too far’ to find objects hidden in the room. Playing simple games that are very easy for them to understand feels like the best way to help them learn simple English phrases.

Next challenges:
Provide opportunities where they need to use simple English phrases.
Find ways to review vocabulary from past classes.
Figure out how to keep things fresh and interesting even though we’ve already used the most obvious vocabulary lists and most of our family’s resources for books and games.
Help the children better understand the books and songs that we’ve been using for a while.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Context Sketches

I started this post almost a month ago, but my opening quote scared me enough that I hit a wall:
 We won't meet the needs for more and better higher education until professors become designers of learning experiences and not teachers. Larry D. Spence
I really do love this quote, but when it came to actually applying it, to talking about what I was doing to design learning experiences I felt completely and utterly inadequate. Then last night during our English class, a few more pieces connected for me in this journey to re-frame Learning and Education. The connecting piece can be summed up with a question:
 Where is the proper dividing line between what people can do for themselves or with the help of friends and family, and what they require professional help for?
Dr. Michel Odent The De-Medicalization of Childbirth
One of my goals with this blog is to help create a world where Learners seek the very best context and the very best Primer Learners to help them reach their goals. I also want to help Learners and Primer Learners foster effective learning contexts where Learners Drive their own Education. There are so many experts out there with so many different theories about how to optimize learning, and Dr Odent’s question reminded me that if we spend too much time worrying about how to apply what the experts are teaching us, very few of us will actually put in the effort to create learning experiences for the Learners we have the opportunity to impact.

With that introduction, I’d like to introduce Context Sketch posts to this blog.

Soon after starting this blog I began looking at my situation from the perspective of Context. How do all of the Contexts in a given learning situation influence the Learner and their drive for Education? How can a Prime Learner help Learners to use these contexts to meet their immediate and long term needs? I am anxious that LDE be a place for discussing how those factors work together and how a Prime Learner can create valuable learning experiences that will help a learner meet their needs. Context Sketches will be posts where Prime Learners can learn from the experience of others and gain the confidence to step outside of dominate definitions of teaching and into that of creating learning experiences, or in other words, facilitating a Context that will help your Learners Drive their own Education.

The first one we’ll do is my English Classes for Chinese kids here in China. Stay tuned!!! Also, I hope you’ll start thinking of ideas for future Context Studies. Post them in a comment on the Learning Experiences page of this blog.


P.S. While some of us may fit the definition of an educational Professional, I hope we can learn from each other as we would friends. Besides, I find it highly unlikely that anyone could be more of an expert on your learning Contexts than You!