Simple, But No Simpler


The title is otherwise known as the Einstein Principle – a scientific theory should be simple, but no simpler.

What if their was a simple formula to teaching and learning?

What if there was a simple formula for getting students to learn?
There’s an interesting phrase – ‘getting students to learn‘; really what we mean, is getting them to learn the things we want them to learn when there are other things they would rather be doing/are distracted by.

I would be the first in the line to say there are things all children should/must/ought to learn. The reality of life is there are things children have to learn whether or not they like it. I don’t only mean the things they need to learn but just don’t like – such as tidying up after themselves – but some of the more ‘traditional’ school subjects – what’s that word now – oh yes, content. It’s what makes us interesting and lays the foundation for learning skills. The alternative is Orwell’s 1984. Think about that the next time someone tells you we need to prepare children for the ‘jobs of tomorrow’.

We were told once the MTV generation needed quick-changing small learning segments because their 30-second attention span had been moulded by MTV and other programmes they saw on the tellybox. We’ve had Generation X, Generation Y and Lord know what it is now. I suspect now it’s the Alphabety-Soup Generation and they need an alphabet-soup of classroom approaches to ‘keep them on-task‘ – that, apparently, is how it is with children these days – they need to be kept on-task – because being on-task is the very thing they don’t want to be. If you believe that.

What if we viewed education, not as what we wanted to do to children or as something to keep them occupied, but something in which we wanted to include children? What if we brought them into the learning process in which the teacher was as much a learner as them? To do that, you have to go to where the student is.

Ian Gilbert writes about WIIFM – What’s In It For Me – the attitude that every child has when sitting in a classroom. This is the teacher’s first hurdle.

Getting over the WIIFM hurdle involves finding the thing that motivates each individual student in your classroom. It doesn’t have to be every lesson – it can’t be, there’s only one of you – but it can be for each child for some lessons. The thing that motivates every student is the thing they love and often it’s a hobby. If you can find a way to tie that into lessons, you bring a whole new level of meaning to what you do in the classroom.

Examples I have used is tying slopes into one boy’s interest in mountain biking; inventing a dance to show different plate tectonic movements which appealed to the dancers in the class. It’s not just finding a new or fun way to teach something – it’s deeper – it tying learning directly into the students experience – an experience of a thing they love. It doesn’t have to involve all the technology in the world – though it could. It doesn’t have to be complicated. In fact, the simpler it is, the better.

As with all things educational, we should be cautious about making things too simple.

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