Part one of this story focused on boredom and humiliation/fear of humiliation as obstacles to learning. My experience of boredom and fear of humiliation in my K-12 education was a driver for me to start looking closely at learning. Here, I present the findings from my doctoral research. As a student, I never understood why nobody seemed to care about how we felt about the teaching. Seems that nobody thought to ask us. Respect goes a long way with kids. In fact, I have found that expressing my genuine curiosity about how and what a child thinks usually promotes learning. When I do it, I’m showing them respect. I found an excellent essay on this topic here http://bit.ly/cvqBwy .
For those interested in the methodology of the study, I’m happy to answer questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I interviewed 12 co-researchers who went through a 30 session treatment with me. All of them had struggled in school. All made significant progress shown by a range of measures including pre/post testing. I’ll use quotes from the interviews when possible so the learners can speak for themselves. From our interviews, I discovered 3 major themes:
1. Self-Enhancement Through Play.
This was by far the most common theme. It was common to hear the word “fun” paired with a statement about valuable learning. From an 11-year-old girl with reading problems: “I felt like I wasn’t smart. I wasn’t reading high-level books. I was reading lower level books….[Here] I’m learning while I move, like I’ doing hands on moving around and touching things. Just more fun and active.”
The learner was solving problems in those sessions. The problems encouraged a specific type of thinking. Learners experienced the sessions as play, and play is fun. In the book, “A Theory of Fun”, Raph Koster tells us what is fun is “exercising our brains” and that all games are edutainment. http://www.theoryoffun.com/ What do you think about that definition?
2. Experiencing Freedom
In the program I used, tasks allowed the learner to think and solve problems in his/her own way. We set out to create habits of thought. “A lot of time you get to do your own thing. You don’t have to follow rules.” “I got to find my own way of finding out and remembering…[I]t wasn’t like you have to follow this pattern.” One little girl said, “You didn’t teach me anything, really…everything else [i.e., the games] taught me.” What was really happening was that she was experimenting with her thinking. Another teen said, “[Y]ou didn’t teach me anything. I want to say you helped me but you didn’t teach me anything.” What an excellent compliment!
3. Enhanced Sense of Self-Competence
A 16-year-old boy whom I will never forget illustrates this theme. Initially, his expectations for himself were low. “I didn’t think I could be taught very well–my mind was like, when I walked in I was like, well, I don’t see how this is gonna help.” By the end of our sessions, a shift occurred and Steven’s potential became realized. “I experience[d] how to put that [thinking] into my schoolwork. I didn’t realize my learning capability.” I kept in touch with Steven for a few years after. He continued to do fine work in school.
Some of my co-researchers had ADD/ADHD, LD, or dyslexia diagnoses. It’s important to say that not all learners at my clinic improved. But, certainly most did. For my research, I selected the learners who showed improvement on a range of measures. After years of doing this work, it became clear that this was about more than learning. Learning isn’t just about school It is about life. We use our brains in all the things we love. Many children improved in athletics. Steve, for example: “I’d have to say –I’m playing lacrosse right now–if you put me back to December or any of those, I wasn’t half as good. I didn’t pay attention period to the game. Now its like I’m so into it, my reaction time is a lot better. I’m a lot quicker. Some improved in music. Loren: “I play cello a lot better now.” One adult no longer got lost and can now read a map. One girl, after improving her reading, went from “worst to first” playing the recorder.
I began to think about how we could make these experiences available to everyone. I eventually began developing video games. I noticed that game developers–the good ones, think like psychologists. Lately, there is an interest in play, video games, and learning. You can check out this article for a good discussion http://bit.ly/buy6oE . I like to focus on making games that are really fun and that target the types of thinking that helps kids become confident, happy, and free to think creatively. Freedom and creative/playful thinking leave little room for boredom and humiliation.