Tuesday, September 1, 2009

More on learning

I ran into an acquaintance on the subway yesterday, a local mom whose boys have been in some of the same plays as my girls. Turns out she's a dean at a big-name private school just north of here. We got to talking about education, and what leads to intellectual curiosity. (You know, one of my favorite topics.)

She described her upper-level school's emphasis on independent study and seminar-style classes. This is one thing I wish Eldest's public high school could offer, but budget pressures mean every class is filled to the max with 34 students, so it doesn't. I think it's hard for a teacher to elicit genuine interchange of ideas with that big a class.

This woman teaches English, and she said one of the tricks she uses to get students engaged is to assign two or three students the task of opening the class discussion. It's their homework, and the job rotates among all the students. Those 'on call' have to come prepared with questions to ask and observations to share about the reading. The reason for this is to side-step the teacher as the nexus, and help (okay, force) the students to interact with each other. I appreciate the wisdom of this.

Who does the questioning plays a big part in how kids learn to think. When they're four, they ask why all day long. Then they go to kindergarten, where it's the teacher who asks all the questions. The reward system is set up to promote getting the answer right, rather than to encourage good questioning and good finding-out skills in the student.

There's a lot of info that has to go into kids' brains in the early years. What concerns me is that kids need time and space for things to come out, too. Otherwise how do they become comfortable with their own thoughts? How do they generate original ideas? How do they learn that boredom can be a prelude to creativity, and isn't something to be video-gamed away? This is why my style of homeschooling is 'give me two hours a day, and then do what you want'.

I told my acquaintance that Eldest's biggest peeve about high school is its inefficiency. The woman laughed in surprise and said, "I never thought of it that way, but school is inefficient." It's a lot of time.

1 comment:

  1. Or not even time and space for thoughts to come out, but to just sit inside their heads and percolate. Around here, "I'm bored," has reliably been the precursor to many creative moments. Often the busy humming would begin within ten minutes after the complaint. Obviously I agree with you, Julia!

    Laura, who isn't really anonymous