Skills for life-long learning
I have heard so many people saying – “where has the year gone?”, and also “kids are growing up too fast”: We are entering the last phase of a busy year knowing that quite a bit will still happen between now and the ‘real end’ of the year – so we then have to ask ourselves … what is just busyness, and what is of true value? What will be remembered by our students, and what will not? What will be seen as irrelevant in the future and what will only later be recognized for the foundational value it brought to the lives of students?
Literacy and Numeracy would immediately come to mind as essential for the future, and that is absolutely true, but more foundational to even that, is the attitude to learning, motivation and self-regulation – which come from within. Corno (2001) pointed out that many students possess the necessary skills to do the work, but do not use them in the classrooms – it is therefore not a lack of skill but a lack of motivation that keeps them from performing at high standards. We as educators know how to teach learning areas, but can we teach students to have a love for learning? Extrinsic motivation is often what we think we should address to improve a student’s attitude to learning – we make learning enjoyable and more interesting with the view that if students value the outcome they will be more likely to engage with it; we might even describe unpleasant consequences for non-participation (e.g. ‘you will have to do it during recess then’).
If a student demonstrates lack of interest to learn we could, therefore, blame the teacher for not making it interesting enough, or exciting enough – however, if it was only dependent on this some students might never learn Math’s and others might never write. We should rather look at what makes students, who are totally engaged, work in the ‘flow’- a word that describes when people are completely absorbed in the activities they are engaged in. ‘Flow’ arises because of intrinsic interest in a task (personal interest), and when there is a match between the person’s capability and the challenge of the task (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990). A student with high capability presented with a low level of challenge will experience boredom; a student with low capability presented with a high challenge will experience anxiety. When both the challenge and the capability is high, when they match, it results in ‘flow’. Students are motivated to reach goals that are specific and within reach and provide a challenge. Self-efficacy, students’ belief in their own ability to complete tasks successfully, is therefore very important – but so is activating students to take ownership of their own learning (William, 2011). Providing students with learning goals, differentiated as a rubric, will provide each student the ability to monitor their own learning and to choose a suitable challenge – the student with low ability can choose a challenge to match, the student with high ability can choose a challenge that will stimulate their ability to use higher-order thinking (as seen in the rubrics we use, based on Bloom's taxonomy).
The beauty of this system is that no student is locked into a program that limits their ability to succeed beyond others’ impressions of their capability. Student tasks are presented in an open-ended fashion, meaning the work can be completed to different levels of achievement depending on a student’s individual ability at the time, but with a clear pathway for progression and extended challenge. To learn to take responsibility for their own learning, and to enjoy setting a challenge and goal for themselves, are essential life skills students should develop; it is foundational to lifelong learning and future success in any field of work or study.
Mrs Antionette Wilson