Thursday, October 4, 2012

I can't do it............

One of the biggest problems I come across when working with children is the learned response to something which poses a problem. They are being asked to step outside their current understanding and explore something new; it isn't straight forward, they do not come up with the 'right' answer straight away and give up.

Why? Because they do not have the strategies in place for dealing with a state of confusion.

One of the world's most eminent philosophers, Nietzsche, said, "out of chaos comes order". What he meant by this is, you have to go through a stage of not knowing something [the chaos] to learn it and then understand it [the order]. This is the element of learning which is missing, when your child says, they can't do it, or, its hard, or, I'm useless, I've failed. In a child's mind, the connection between can't do something and failing is close and has to be handled carefully before it becomes an established pathway to a lack of self esteem and the desire to give up and the slightest difficulty.

So, let's look at this process a bit more closely and work out, where, as parents we can intercept this path and divert it into one of exploration, where they feel confident within themselves not to  get the 'right answer' each time they do something.

 A question I used to pose new teachers I was training in the classroom was, why do we teach children? What, as teachers is our role in a child's life and how can we do that effectively? This equally applies to parents, what is it that parents teach and what role, in teaching, do they form within that child's life?

Put in that context, we can start to un-pick the responsibilities as it were, within a child's development and share the teaching, rather than what often happens at the moment, both fight over one another to teach the child the same thing but using different methods and employing different loyalties within the child. So what role does each have and where does the overlap come? Interesting thought and one worth pondering.

As teachers, we take the child into the world of known facts and introduce them to the wealth of knowledge the world has already gained. We cannot show them all of it because every day that knowledge gets more and more, but we can show them how to do the major skills our society feels is important for everyone in that society to know. We turn them to face the past and show them what has gone before; we invite  them to learn how to do/learn these skills and reward them for successfully doing them - making each child like everyone else in that society with a similar knowledge base.

Where, however, do new ideas come from?

We have words for these people - innovators, explorers, thinkers, genius', even scientists, philosophers and psychologists. All very grand words which seem to separate these people into a 'super-race', but why? All children are capable of being innovators, of exploring the world around them, of thinking things through for themselves and coming up with something novel [ the definition of which is, new and unusual, not seen before, a new approach]. So why not teach them this? Why not allow them the room to continue their exploration of the world? Why restrict their 'learning' into being taught how to do things we, as a society already know and not give them the tools to think for themselves as well?

A child is an amazing piece of kit; they have a brain poised to absorb everything it is given. They have sets of neurons [brain cells] just sitting waiting for stimulation, to be switched on and used to their fullest capacity, so why not give them the privilege of giving them the opportunity?

If you are saying yes to this then read on............

Puzzles, games, exploring/visiting new places, experiencing new skills, joining clubs and organisations which take them to camps, adventure playgrounds, learning about life from a fun perspective.

Why do you think so many Australian and American students travel? They're not afraid to do it!

 As teachers, we can introduce the element of exploration through various methods and as a rule do many of them, but the one which I feel is missed in both camps is the one Nietzsche mentioned, the one which allows the child to be in chaos before they can find new order. How do we do that? We show them the way of exploring, using their own strategies, and one of the best ways of doing this is through topics such as non verbal reasoning and verbal reasoning. By their very name, you can see they are expecting the child to do some thinking, to become thinkers themselves and process through, to find the most logical answer. In some cases there is no one answer but a range of answers that can be proved to be true by the explanations given. Is that not the basis of an innovator? By taking facts they know and placing them into the melting pot of the problem they 'feel' their way through to the answer and come up with something which is logical to them. Is that not the start of an explorer? They take paper and scissors and replicate the problem then explore in the physical world the process of working to wards an end point. Is that not the beginnings of a scientist?
In this world there is no failure, just a range of possible answers; no-one can reach a point of 'not being able to do it' because no-one can do it, its a conundrum which needs a logical answer.

If we want to take the pain out of learning we have to give them the fun back

If a child doesn't understand a fact, then the teaching hasn't addressed something in the child, not the other way round! If the child isn't willing to try something that may not have a concrete answer it has to be taught how to 'let go' of the need for right answers all the time and that is done through the language of the adult who is with them.
In the next blog I will start to review how we talk about failure and failing and how that has a direct impact on children. I will also show you some language patterns which may help you adjust your attitude toward failing and therefore allow the child to change theirs.

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