We are ALL cut out for learning

“So, what’s all the hype about Baby George?” I wondered as I left GEDI training (aka Contemporary Pedagogy) on Wednesday night.  Our professor had sounded so disappointed that we couldn’t watch a TED talk titled “What Baby George Taught Me About Learning.”  Intrigued, I watched it after I got home from class:

I really enjoyed this TED talk, especially when he highlights how we should see the different strengths that students have.  He points out that we often hear people saying “well, some kids just aren’t cut out for school,”  and yet what that basically means is “well, some kids just aren’t cut out for learning.”  Isn’t that a bit of a ridiculous claim?  Everyone can learn, but not everyone learns in the same way.

During my own experiences in teaching, I have often wondered how to reach a large class of students with a wide variety of learning styles, concerns, challenges at home, and goals for life.  I desperately want to inspire and mentor students through their educational experiences, but how am I supposed to do that when I am given a room full of strangers to get to know in just a few weeks?  How am I supposed to do that within current academic restrictions (e.g. grades, strict policies, departmental cultures)?

I hope that during this semester I will be able to find creative ways to meet the challenges of teaching in university settings.  Perhaps I will even learn how to better use technology in the classroom and Networked Learning to improve the educational atmosphere of my future classrooms.

No matter how far-out or inventive or mundane the solutions I come up with during this semester, I hope to remember this phrase from the Baby George video: our educational journey is less about learning “how to make a living” and more about learning “how to build a life worth living.”

13 Comments

  • Kadie Britt says:

    I love your reaction to baby george! I absolutely felt the same way when I watched it yesterday and took away so many favorite quotes. I admired his desire to reach out to every student and figure out a little bit about them. The readings for this week combined with that TED talk made me, too, realize that classes are not just for learning how to make a living just to get by, but more so about working to build a life that makes you happy and is worth living!

    • Kristin says:

      I think that the professor’s desire to reach out to every student genuinely affected how the students responded to him as well. I wonder how different classroom dynamics would be if the professor truly cared about the students individually and the students could feel it?

  • Brittany H says:

    I also walked away from video and readings pondering how I can incorporate networked learning into my future classrooms. I agree that the education systems is very restrictive and there are a lot of rules both written and unwritten. I think it just may be a learning process and also takes practice.

    • Kristin says:

      You’re definitely right, it’s a learning process for the instructor, too. Sometimes I wonder how many of the “unwritten” rules are just in my head or are actually common among those in the department/college/University? I would bet that some are just in my head, and I just need to find a way to break out of it and do what I think is best.

  • Selva M says:

    I totally understand what you mean by feeling overwhelmed by the strangers in the room and how to connect with them quickly. In my experience observing professors I’ve TA’d for I noticed they would take time to call on random students and ask them questions about themselves or what they think, and always got to know their names.
    The problem I find with academia, is it doesn’t always value the time you would spend learning how to implement effective teaching tools or the time spent going to lunch with students as Dr. Wesch said he did in his TED talk. I think, as long as you put your efforts where you are most passionate, you will definitely ‘build a life worth living.’ 🙂

    • Kristin says:

      I remember one professor I had in undergrad who (before the semester) would sit down with the list of students and memorize their names and faces. Then on the first day of class as everyone was coming in he would walk around shaking hands, calling the students by their first names, and maybe chatting for a second or two. That had a HUGE impact on how I viewed that professor from that day on. I always wondered if the department recognized and valued that type of effort he made to actually get to know the students.

  • Mary says:

    I loved this video also. It was a great reminder to take that meta-perspective to realize what really matters about teaching: Students learning. I admit I get caught up in the constant hamster wheel of academia. With everything on our plates, it can be difficult to give the time necessary to our students to ensure they are really learning. Everyone learns in their own ways, just as Dr. Wesch showed. It is increasingly harder to reach every student in a meaningful way when you teach online, which is my current teaching role. I have half-halfheartedly (unfortunately) asked my students at the end of my syllabus quiz to share anything they would like to about their learning styles so that I can direct them to the specific resources they need. But, in reality I only have so much time to devote to making individualized learning plans (even though I would love to). I think you are absolutely right: the academia in its current state does not value this type of work as an instructor. It values research and bringing in money. Don’t get me wrong, that is important work too. But we need to do a better job in the academy of valuing time spent on real and meaningful teaching.

    • Kristin says:

      I agree, there is a lot to be said about valuing quality, meaningful connections between teachers and students. I also can imagine that teaching online adds another level of complexity to the issue of reaching to students and providing individual learning plans. What a challenge that would be with so much distance and a computer separating you!

  • I know how you feel about wanting to be creative with teaching, especially with a large group of students. If the subject matter is dry, that does not make it much easier. How many of us have had to fly through lecture-style classes where the teacher might even say, “we’re already behind”?
    Teachers know that this type of learning style isn’t the most effective, but I get the feeling that a lot of them don’t really care, or they’ve given up and believe that their subject is too complex to get creative with teaching. I’ve heard teachers say, “this subject (particularly math/science) can really only be learned through memorization, reading, and completing problems.” That may be partially true, but giving up on the discovery and creativity process is to give up on your own learning – not just the learning of the students.

    • Kristin says:

      Yes! Why is it that math/science/engineering always has that stigma of being dry, boring, blah blah blah? Is it because teachers have decided that it is the only way to learn this material or is it something else? Discovery and passion for solving interesting problems are what make these fields interesting, so it shouldn’t be left out of the classroom.

      • Amy Hermundstad Nave says:

        I definitely agree! There are so many times where I have heard those in the STEM fields say that there is just too much content to cover to take any approach other than lectures and reading assignments from textbooks. But often times, students memorize the process without fully understanding the concept. Incorporating more discovery and problem solving can be a great way to engage students with concepts and not just the process.

  • Shaun Respess says:

    Nice thoughts Kristin. I think the distinction between being “cut out for school” and “cut out for learning” point to concerns that many of us have with the current state of education. Namely, “school” is a process, a paradigm, and an environment that is less concerned with “learning” and more concerned with training, possibly. In this sense, there can certainly be a student who is cut out for learning (something essentially everyone is capable of) who is not cut out for school as we have designed and imagined it. Your desire for creativity and innovation are moving and speak to a desire that many of us have: to recapture “learning” in the classroom by utilizing more enjoyable ways to stimulate inspiration and complex thought in our students.

    • Kristin says:

      Absolutely, we have “designed and imagined” a school system where only some may succeed and others are forever assigned to the outer circles. It seems like in this day and age we could think of other ways to reach people with varied learning styles and strengths.

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