I was in a discussion today and the topic turned to the question of motivating kids to learn. Somebody pointed out that motivation is the key — once kids are motivated to learn something, they are unstoppable.

But then somebody cautioned “yes, but we want to motivate them to learn the things we need them to learn.”

I found myself disagreeing, on the grounds that this entire view of the situation contains a fatal oversimplification. In order to be truly compelling, to tap into kids’ powerful inner motivational engine, the entire transaction needs to be more of a dialogue than a one-way conversation. You can’t just impose your ideas about what is valuable onto kids, and still expect them to remain motivated. Rather, you need to work with each learner’s natural enthusiasms. That is the real raw material of high quality learning.

Each human mind comes to the same subject from a unique perspective. For example, many people find they have a great desire to write — and therefore to learn how to write well — but not everyone is trying to write on the same topic.

Similarly, I know an awful lot about computer programming by now. But I was never particularly interested in computer programming. My interest was in creating images, visions, making visible the worlds that I could see in my mind. It turned out that computers provided me with a great way to do that. And so I started picking up all sorts of skills in math and computer science that were useful in achieving that goal.

I realize that what I am saying is heresy, from the perspective of received wisdom about educational policy. But there really is no way around it. If we want to fully engage those astonishing minds that kids have — by far any nation’s most valuable resource — we need to rethink education at a fundamental level. We might need to throw out most of what we think we know about teaching and learning.

We need to recognize — and to truly respect — that every learner is an individual learner.

4 Responses to “Motivation”

  1. Doug says:

    I completely agree, but first you will need to invent a way to automate a lot of what a teacher does. Otherwise you would need a one-to-one student teacher ratio.

  2. admin says:

    I see why one might think that, but I’m not convinced such a thing would be necessary.

    WIth a fundamental redefinition of the relationship between teacher and learner there are more options. I agree that the teacher/student ratio should be improved, but I think we can move toward a more conversational model without requiring a teacher for every student.

    Indeed, with the emergence of new information technology tools, we now have an opportunity to make use of interactive media to help the teacher understand where each learner is coming from and what he/she is ready for, without necessarily going all the way to a one/one ratio.

  3. Bernadette says:

    I saw this lecture and thought it might offer another POV. 🙂

  4. Michael says:

    I completely agree as well.

    As for needing more teachers: While there should be a healthier ratio than there is now (assuming the one here in Germany is similar to the U.S.) there’s also one almost untapped potential: Other students.

    Learning with students that have similar interests (and might even be in a different age group) has mutual benefits. In that case a teacher serves a lot more as a general guide than as somebody who just spills tidbits of information on the subject at hand.

    I do find the Montessori method to be quite intriguing: (partially because I was exposed to a similar, but a lot less extreme system in a relatively tiny school).

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