10 Expectations students have on any learning platform
Embracing the real you
Disinterest is one of the most significant contributors to academic failure and behavioural problems. There is an innate feeling that schoolwork has no relevance to where they are in and what they experience outside school. Teenagers, adolescents, and young people must know who they are, what they want to be, and what they pursue and go through matters in school and the broader community. However, the school and teachers should affirm that when young people ask themselves the question, does the school care about my interest or who I am? Unfortunately, most students conclude that the school does not.
In her book — The Gifts of Imperfection, Brene Brown captures the experience of young people and a few adults. The book’s subtitle mentions to ‘let go of who you think you’re supposed to be and embrace who you are.’ The harsh truth is that schools make it hard for young people to follow the advice of Brown. In most schools, the bottom line for measuring learning is knowing what students cannot do, not what they can do, and rarely, weaknesses are viewed as insights into strengths.
No sense No purpose
To find out who they are, young people need a sense of place to do it. They need and want to fit into a community and connect with others who share their interests. The need is often so strong that young people take on personas that help them fit in families, schools, and societies. This aspect is particularly true while fitting in with a peer society. More than often, young people are not good at recognizing their own talents. The rigidity, certainty, and inauthentic nature of school make it hard to discover and validate abilities. Schools often cast insecurities and doubts about not being smart based on the student’s academic performance. This is a reason where young people seek to develop and discover their talents outside school.
The other purpose is that schools comply with restraints and restrictions built into the school organization and culture. The rationale usually is that young people need structure, and indeed they do. Still, schools impose the structure that impedes productive learning and prevents students from learning how to create their own. Students are usually not against restrictions if they emanate from the requirements of authentic education and work.
Students place a massive demand for themselves if they respect learning. They establish ‘locus of control’ as you find students wanting to change schools or find alternatives because their school does not let them have a say or no way to get a say. Students seldom have opportunities to choose in the daily school routine to pursue significant and enduring learning. They don’t usually get treated as young adults; they are soon to become and lacking opportunities. Many young adults do not sit still; they disengage, either psychologically or physically. So many students in school through graduation are disconnected from productive learning as students sit in their seats and go through the motions, gaming the system. They have learned how to excel at the kind of learning current schools provide without necessarily becoming productive learners.
The 10 expectations students have on any learning platform
A large part of young people’s realization of who they are and what they want to become is through their relationship with others as they seek affiliation and aggressively seek it. They look for places, people and circumstances to fulfil them. They join learning and practice communities in and out of school because teachers are a significant part of their lives. Students crave a relationship with these mentors and coaches. Schools and learning centres often fail to exploit this drive, and at a critical development of a young person’s development, schools typically step away from their students.
If we reflect, most of us remember one or two individual teachers who did fulfil our expectations. Still, most schools’ culture, structure, and protocols make this kind of knowing and caring burdensome on the teachers. Maslow observed that often a fear of understanding is a fear of doing. Kaplan, in 1998, noted that in-depth knowledge about students and their interests creates obligations teachers often find difficult to ignore. Even the most committed teachers might object to taking on such responsibility if the school does not permit it to structure.
When schools cannot respond to these expectations, young people seek other people and places that provide them with what they need. Usually, when safe and positive out-of-school places are unavailable, many youths begin using drugs and perpetrate other mischief doing more harm to them.
How many times as we sat in our class did we say: I’ll never use this in real life and in the work I want to do. The student who is eager to be engaged often asks: Once you know about me, do you make an effort to use what you know to engage in productive learning, develop talents and build strengths? What you teach, will it help in achieving career and life aspirations?
Striving for relevance does not mean the school cannot teach anything unless the students find it relevant. But there should be an attempt forced to make a connection with every student. The career of young people evolves rapidly as they want to go from becoming a doctor to an engineer to a dancer to a filmmaker in a matter of months. They eventually decide one as early as high school, and others discover it with their first full-time job.
Relevance begins with the learner and does not need to end there. Learning flourishes when the learner engages the larger world and wants to learn more. Relevance acknowledges the deep connections between the emerging interest of students in the given areas and the complex learning challenges that define those areas. Schools and other learning centres need to figure out ways for students to bring their interests into the school. Nurture them into lifelong interests and careers they will pursue in the workplace, the family, and the community.
Go back and recall the experience in school. Did you sometimes feel that you were in a restaurant being fed the menu rather than what is on the list? The settings, people, places, and school contexts are at best fake-real, scripted like reality TV. In school, most experiences are indirect, and students have no firsthand experiences with real-world mysteries and problems. The curriculum’s scope and sequence don’t reflect how knowledge and skills are used in the real world.
We all remember the endless word problems, grammar exercise, and other homework that seemed so unlike what real professionals do. These features of schooling contribute to its being seen as a form of disengagement from the real world. Teenagers, adolescents and young adults ask their schools for authentic learning experiences. They require assurances that these experiences will help prepare them for success in their future work and careers.
Application cement skill and understanding, and not just random application — it has to be authentic. Applying in the real-world environment ensures that students are ready for life-long learning and work. The application method enables them to ‘see’ their learning and typically results in the form of tangibles — products and performances that can be observed and evaluated by the students, teachers, and others. Students want firsthand experiences to develop competency and seek those experiences to mirror the way professionals in the real world think, perform, and learn. Students want to use what they learn — skills and understanding — to address real problems and challenges.
Schools need to provide opportunities for students to take the learning developed in school and apply it outside school. They should also offer opportunities for students to bring the knowledge they have accomplished outside school into school.
Students want choices in what they learn and when and how they learn it. Can they lead with their strengths? Can I focus on getting good at something I value? Often, young people look back on their high school experiences and say, I wish my school had offered such-and-such course. However, surprisingly more and more schools focus on a tight curriculum with a few opportunities for student choice. Students feel pushed away by the meagre menu of options. Students with fewer test scores often have fewer choices because they must focus on raising those test scores.
Research on the locus of control demonstrates how essential student voice and agency are in productive learning. Students need to make choices and accept responsibility for their decisions. Placing unnecessary restrictions on young people inhibits their ability to do so. Failing to provide options is particularly unfortunate when students have unique talents that could be developed in school. Common sense tells us that the uniqueness of each student requires a different response to his or her learning needs. Providing different students with the same learning opportunities and learning environments is not giving them an equal chance for success. Schools must have the courage to stand up for each student and create a unique program of study wrapped around his or her interests. One in which the student fully understands the responsibility of being part of the learning community.
Teenagers, adolescence and young people embrace challenges outside school that they see as relevant and push themselves towards excellence. Similarly, they expect to be pushed to the edge of their competence in school as well — and to be provided with the support necessary to learn at that edge. Authentic challenges give the scope and depth of real-world rigour. Great educators deliberately promote rigorous learning and rigorously incorporate discipline and cross-discipline knowledge and skills into real-world contexts. Students want and need many opportunities to discover what excellence looks like in the real world.
Students like to play. They want opportunities to mess around and experiment with their learning at work. This is not fun that has been spoken about, at least not exclusively, although a bit of fun is significant. What is being mentioned is the time to explore, experiment, and discover. Learning how to do that productively is difficult because most schools’ organizational structures and cultures are antithetical to messing around. From Edison to Einstein, all innovators tell us that mistakes made through play are potent ways of learning. Mihal Csikszentmihalyi, in 1996 wrote that flow is achieved when work looks like play. The play has challenges, but the risks are low, and the recovery opportunity is plenty.
Play lies in the heart of innovation and creativity, freeing the mind to invent. In 2011, Professor James Bernard Murphy from Dartmouth College wrote that “children are liberated from the grim economy of time as they become so absorbed in fantasy play and projects they lose all sense of time. For them, time is not scarce and thus cannot be wasted.” However, some argue that regimentation and a focus on skills development are what the real-world demands.
It can’t be all fun and games like it was in kindergarten. As early as the first grade, these students need to be prepared for the harsh realities and demands of the real world. But the fact in these schools looks less and less like the real world of learning and work. Today, the most successful companies, start-ups, strive to increase purposeful play into their organizations and cultures to spark creativity and inventions.
The practice is a companion to play. It focuses less on discovery and exploration and more on honing skills and performances. Practice entails deliberate attention to failing and learning from mistakes, often guided by ages of quality and craftsmanship in performance and product. Ken Robinson, in 2011 mentioned that the development of creativity requires a willingness to be wrong. Students want expert practitioners to guide them in their practice and learn how to practice. They want the experience of going deep into the content area or the mastery of a specific skill. Students want to make a mistake ‘early and often as the experts’ advice without being punished with poor test scores and grades. Schools need to regard mistakes made in practice as approximations of success and ‘smart failures’ as many successful organizations describe them.
In 1990, Charles Handy, in his book, the age of unreason, provides an insightful example that illustrates the problem schools have with time. He says imagine if you have to go to work in the morning and start working in your office or cubicle. After about an hour, a bell rings, you pack up your work, go to another office down the hall, and begin work on a completely different project. Imagine if you repeated the sequence 6–7 times all day, every day. How much productive work, Handy questions are you likely to accomplish? How much effective learning would you expect to engender with such a system?
Students differ considerably in the time it takes them to learn something, yet a rigid schedule governs schools. Teachers are forced to move briskly through the curriculum, carrying every student along with the same program, leaving no time for exciting discussions or reflections.
Students want to control timing as well as time. They want to see time and timing as variables to be exploited in accommodating their need for practice and play and their need for just-in-time rather than just-in-case learning. Yet schools act as if learning opportunities come only once. For example, schools believe students who do not learn geometry in high school are doomed to failure and will never have other opportunities. The standard curriculum’s scope and sequence provide a rigid grade-by-grade script for what is taught and when — another of those Procrustean beds that characterize schools. John Elder Robinson, in 2011, reminded us of the word ‘delay’ means what it says — late. Delayed does not never mean, no matter how much it may feel like that at age fifteen or even twenty-five.
Seymour Sarason was a professor of Psychology Emeritus at Yale University who had powerful ideas, and one of them focused on timings. Sarason’s law postulates that teachers can teach reading or math only when the child wants to learn and read or do the math. Sarason reasoned that once teachers focus on their student’s interests, they will be eager to understand more about what they are doing and want to learn to read or do the math. Imagine what educators might do with their students to bring them to demand to learn how to read.