The Joy of Learning?


Image by Deines Fred, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Image by Deines Fred, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service


The other day I was talking with my grade 8 class and the subject of motivation came up.  Someone said that they were motivated to get good marks so they wouldn’t get into trouble with their parents.  I felt a little sad hearing that.  We discussed motivation and grades and I didn’t hear anyone really say anything about being intrinsically motivated at school.

I get it.  I was rarely intrinsically motivated at school.  Nor was I extrinsically motivated by marks since I didn’t care too much most of the time.  Mostly, I was bored.    Not always.  Sometimes a good discussion would happen, or my teacher would tell a story of travel or something (like when my grade 5 teacher told us all about England and Scotland and Hadrian’s Wall and Stonehenge).

I find it difficult to keep my own experiences as a student separate from my role as teacher.  I try hard to find activities that deliver the curriculum and engage my students.  That is really hard with 29 students, many of whom who have little interest in math or English (the two subjects I teach).  There are always some who are disengaged.

I would love to try a democratic school system like Sudbury Valley.  I really wonder if it would work in the public system.  If students followed their passions and interests what would happen?

I read lots of other teacher’s blogs to learn from them and to become a better teacher.  I am very reflective of my practice.  I read TapintoTeenMinds by Kyle Pearce every day to help me with grade 8 math.  His ideas (and those of others like Dan Meyer, Mr. Orr and many more) are simply incredible.  I think it’s important to develop a deep understanding of the math concepts.  I wonder though, why is it important to learn math?  Does everyone have to?  I think it’s fun now, but I hated it in school.  Now that I’m intrinsically motivated I’m learning a lot and seeking out learning opportunities on my own.  I think students would be the same.  If they decide they want to learn algebra for some reason, they will.

I was reading Brian Aspinall’s post The Fixed Mindset of Student A & Student B and I was thinking how much I agree with many of his points, such as “Students who are afraid of – or driven by – marks won’t take risks because it’s not safe.”  I think this is true.  I also think that students who are afraid to look stupid in from of their peers won’t take risks.  Brian goes on to talking about employers and how they will want risk takers, communicators, and problem solvers.  I agree with that also.  But I wonder why we put so much emphasis on employers, 21st Century skills, etc.  What about the joy of learning?

I think marks and planning for careers take away the joy of learning.  We are born to learn.  We are born to love learning.  What happens to us?  Although I think schools are improving, and inquiry-driven planning helps, we are still trying to teach everyone the same thing.  We are trying to make the same material interesting to everyone.  I don’t think this is possible.  I think we can make it more interesting for sure, but we are all different.  We are driven by different passions and interests.

Could we have schools where students follow their interests?  Sudbury Valley schools manage it.  They have answers to all the arguments against them (and for teaching our students a little of everything).  If you are interested in the answers to questions about going to university or writing SATs, etc., check out their FAQ.

If I ran the school system, it would be like democratic schools.  Students would not be sorted by age.  They would be able to roam around the buildings and engage in activities they love.  Music, theater, math, reading, hiking, canoeing, drawing, painting, sculpting, coding, playing video games, biking, sports, astronomy, latin, the classics, playwriting, meditating, inventing, engineering, etc.

What do you think school should look like?

Just to prove I'm motivated about math now, here I am with my colleague, Carmen, who teaches grade 2.  We were doing Calculus (and we don't even really know what calculus is!)

Just to prove I’m motivated about math now, here I am with my colleague, Carmen, who teaches grade 2. We were doing Calculus (and we don’t even really know what calculus is!)