Thursday, February 25, 2016

Learn Like a Baby III

If you’ve already read the immediately preceding posts, you’re aware that I’m focused on what I’ll call “natural” learning, that is, learning that takes place, stimulated by experience, rather than isolated tasks meant to be memorized.  Today, I’d like to throw out an idea that brings together the concept of “learn like a baby” with some of the ideas I’ve discussed with how the brain learns.

It seems to me that it would be wonderful if, beside language arts instruction and math instruction, there was a serious commitment to what I’ll call “general education” in the school.  General education, here, is meant to expand students general background skills and knowledge.  Topics that appeal to me are formal music instruction, applied science, cooking, applied history, computer programming, and construction.  Specific topics would be age-appropriate, and there’s no reason to think that some topics might be eventually dropped in favor of areas more suitable for older children.  Mine is just an “off the top of my head” list.  No doubt you could provide others.  Notice the word applied in a couple of the topics.  What I’m looking for is to engage students minds by engaging their hands.

I’m thinking month-long units, perhaps eight a year, that give students hands-on, in-depth experience developing skills and knowledge which would allow them to reach adulthood with a fuller tool bag of skills and experiences, broadening their ability to function as a grown-up.  Each unit would represent a potential jumping-off point for further independent learning throughout that student’s life.  The suggestion of month long classes is just that, as suggestion.  Formal music instruction might take six to eight weeks, cooking only two.  Over a number of school years, the goal would be to give students foundational skills from which they could go off on their own and explore further.  

One unit that I didn’t mention earlier but with which I am quite familiar is drama.  I produce 8 - 10 student musicals each year on a volunteer basis.  When in the classroom, my classes did three or four musicals a year, though only two went to full production and performance.  When I first tried a classroom musical, my purpose was reader’s theater.  I simply wanted to give my students more experience reading expressively and the music was sort of “candy” on the side.  Quite quickly, it became obvious that the musicals gave my students more than expressive reading skills.  They learned how to memorize a fundamental learning skill.  They developed confidence speaking, and singing, in front of an audience.  Most were willing to challenge themselves in ways that they never did in math class.  To this day, I still see all of that in the musicals I produce.  In eight or nine rehearsals with very little coaching from me, and a lot of personal work by the students themselves, they achieve something that they could not have imagined… and they love it!  In the future, if asked to memorize something or to speak to an audience, they will have the recollection of their previous experience upon which to build confidence.

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