3 Learning to Learn Moments from the Education is Life Podcast
In over 20 conversations on the Education is Life podcast (so far), one common theme that has emerged is the concept of “learning to learn.” This approach contrasts with the traditional methods we like to call “check-the-box” learning, where students are completing the same types of assignments to perform their knowledge on certain predetermined topics.
When education becomes a part of life, rather than a goal in and of itself, the focus shifts from a student’s mastery of the curriculum as compared to their peers to the sum total of a student’s skills, abilities and knowledge as a human with a distinct identity forging a meaningful engagement with the world.
Check out some of these highlights from various members of our community witnessing that magical process of “learning to learn:”
This quick episode by host Rob Huge unpacks what’s happening during the period of “freedom shock” for both kids and parents during their first days at Greenfields. Part of it is the student tapping into their “inner compass,” following their curiosity and taking initiative to shape their own educational journey. But the other part of it is a big change in the relationship between children and adults.
“When we break down the walls of ‘adults must be the power keepers’ and we open it up and say ‘Life is messy and bumpy, and here’s where I’ve fallen down and here’s where I’ve struggled,’ that’s empowering to kids...No adult lives up to the expectations we put on kids.”
From the classroom to extracurriculars to the dinner table, our traditional expectations for kids are to engage in wholesome and productive activities all day long and consistently perform. But when you consider that we don’t get graded on everything we do as adults, we all fall down and goof off on a daily basis, isn’t it a little dishonest to expect perfection from our kids? Once we establish a level of honesty about what’s really important and set more realistic expectations for behavior, young people feel more free to open up, live and learn authentically. One of the ways we do this at Greenfields is by inviting parents and community members to talk about their careers.
“It allows [kids] to approach the world with...I wouldn’t even call it confidence. It’s more like acceptance of the world and knowing that you can get through it rather than something that needs to be defeated or overcome.”
In this episode, Greenfields' parent Scott Leonard shares a bit about a pandemic project he embarked on as an enrichment project with his daughter, a botany course titled “The Love of Nature.” Scott’s objective for his daughter in taking on this project is for her to come out of it with a love of nature, but it’s also an opportunity for him to get a sense of how his daughter learns.
“I think of this botany course as an experiment of sorts to see not how my daughter is doing with her learning, but what her behaviors, practices and habits are. How does she take notes? Does she take notes? Does she ask questions? Is her hand going up and down? And I’ve been delighted to see a little of all those things.”
In his own educational journey, Scott spent several years at a traditional school before his parents made the decision to start homeschooling. But in both situations, learning felt like a very passive experience rather than an activity or an experiment. Doing this botany course together has allowed Scott and his daughter to get up close with a subject where he doesn’t know all the answers and engage with curiosity. In his words, it’s about getting her to “catch fire,” not view learning as “drudgery.”
“If I can empower her to ask questions...if I can empower her to pause and to look at things attentively, to really observe, I really think there’s so much power in skills like that. And if we can impart even some of those things, we will have done our best.”
In terms of “learning to learn” at Greenfields, this led to an interesting discussion about homework and how it takes away valuable time for students to be themselves at home in addition to the time they spend focused on learning in school. We try to blur the line between learning at school and at home so that there’s no difference in the kind of activity, but rather a choice to continue working on projects to achieve specific goals and outcomes.
Pawel begins his interview talking about the amazing things kids can do that are far beyond the expectations of their parents and educators. For example, he shares a story about a six-year-old building a skateboard.
“Just showing [kids] that they can means that 85% of the time they will, because they want to.”
According to Pawel, there’s a visible difference in facial expression when a child realizes that they can do something; he has witnessed the confidence and motivation to act that comes with the recognition of their own ability to make something or create an effect that they are excited about. Rob adds that “that’s not something that goes away after a test; that’s something that stays with them forever.”
“I think it’s actually even more than [confidence]. I think it’s self-conception: their vision of who they are. And not like who they could be, but who they are right now.”
The practical side of this is learning to accurately identify a goal, weigh some possible ways you might accomplish that goal, break it down into smaller steps and execute with some trial and error. But when a child takes responsibility for their own learning (by recognizing what they can do), it amounts to a shift in attitude. As opposed to thinking about what they want to be when they grow up (think guidance counselors and aptitude tests), it becomes “who do you want to be right now?”
Pawel shares a couple of stories to illustrate that this type of agency is often what empowers children who are seen as “difficult” or “troublemakers” to get on the right track. The key here is treating children as humans and allowing them to express themselves genuinely rather than forcing them to learn, work and be in narrow, prescribed ways.
What is “Learning to Learn?”
Based on these snippets of much larger conversations, we can infer that “learning to learn” is much more than mastering steps of a specific, repeatable process. It’s a collection of skills that are unique to each individual, and it’s something that requires more than confidence and motivation (although both of those are important pieces of the puzzle); it takes ownership and becomes a part of our identities.
As a young person really starts to “catch fire” with their unique learning style, a few key changes take place:
A change in the relationship between adults and children in educational settings
A change in our concept of the work to be done: not assignments, testing and mastering specific processes, but learning, doing and learning by doing in a way that’s authentic to who they are
A change in a student’s relationship to themself: validating their curiosity, passions, and abilities
Are you eager to hear more about how we do learning at Greenfields? Subscribe to the Education is Life podcast on your favorite streaming app and learn with us!