Introduction to every day learning part 2: engagement
Why do we as a society tend to focus so much on measuring things that aren't accurate predictions of a child’s future well-being and success?
There are articles in the news nearly every day about the need for more academic rigor, more ways to assess learning, more standardization so no child is left behind. As parents, we have tied our children's academic success with their feelings of self worth, and then hitched that to our own desire to be a successful parent.
Note how very little of this treats children as unique individuals with needs and desires of their own.
Sometimes I wonder if our obsession with testing is just pure laziness. If we can put kids in a box and weigh it, we feel like we've accomplished the task of assessing our children's progress efficiently. The reason this isn't efficient is because it isn't accurate, and it is disrespectful and demeaning to children.
It's time we view education as part of nurturing our children. We should also change the parameters of our assessments to measure the things we value, and use methods that provide us with an accurate picture of a child's unique strengths and weaknesses.
Every Day Learning: Measure What Matters is a short series of posts about my recommendations for encouraging and measuring important characteristics and skills that children need to be happy and successful:
Children are naturally curious, but traditional classroom methods tend to focus on moving through material quickly, then testing recall of memorized facts. This doesn't allow children to engage with the subject matter or pursue answers to their questions.
"Engagement" is one of those words we use frequently to describe learning goals, but what does it mean, and how do you measure it?
When children are 'engaged' in learning, they are connecting intellectually and emotionally. They are naturally motivated to move further into the subject and delve more deeply. They exhibit greater focus as well as enthusiasm, and develop their own learning goals. Their persistence and pleasure is all the evidence you need to realize that they are engaged.
Many homeschoolers have labeled this as "delight-directed" learning, and I think of this term as a very accurate description as well as an education goal.
How do you increase engagement?
- Create a dynamic where your children are comfortable asking questions about things they don't know or understand. Light bulbs should go off in your brain when most of their questions are about space, or insects, or animals, or volcanoes. However, don't trot out a bunch of textbooks and turn their curiosity into a lesson plan. Give them the resources they need to find the answers to their questions and experiment with their ideas. By all means, you should provide guidance, but don't dampen their enthusiasm with workbooks and tests.
- Give them the go ahead to pursue topics further on their own. Homeschooling isn't about you - and the sooner you give them ownership of their education and their future, the sooner they will experience a sense of independence, responsibility, and accomplishment. Skip the lectures and move to a better learning dynamic where students are active participants in their education, instead of desk warmers.
- Pay attention to the methods they use to obtain answers to their questions. Make sure they know how to use such tools as a table of contents, indexes and databases, online research, discerning reliable sources, and then there's the old-fashioned notion of finding someone with wisdom and experience and asking them for help.
- Are your children able to focus for significant periods of time, and is their attention span increasing as they mature? The ability to focus can be linked to how your kids are feeling physically and emotionally, whether or not they are already interested and motivated, and even what time of day it is. But overall, their ability to pay attention should grow as they do. Their level of engagement is a huge factor in how long they are able to concentrate on a particular topic, regardless of the presentation. Pay attention to when and where they have problems focusing for ideas on how to troubleshoot those weaknesses.
If you listen to your children and to your instincts as a parent, you know what to do to help your children connect with and process new information.