Friday, May 6, 2011

When you have interest, then you have education

The title of this exhibit comes from a quote by Arthur C. Clarke found in the following TED Talk by Suata Mitra:

Recently, my wife and I played host for an evening to three homeless families staying at our place of worship for a week. This is part of the Interfaith Hospitality Network which helps "low-income families achieve lasting independence." We spent most of the evening interacting with the nine kids ranging from an infant to a teenager.

During this four hour span, my heart alternatively broke and was lifted up. I thought about the hardship these kids faced and wondered how they could concentrate on school given their situation. And then I would watch them interact with each other and with us and recognize that learning finds a way even in the most dire of circumstances. It was during these moments that I was reminded of Sugata Mitra's research.

I watched as a nearly three-year-old boy watched intensely as two older boys recited and then wrote down the words to a rap they were working on. All three had their heads together as they shared a pencil and a piece of paper. Later, the little boy mimicked the moves and the words as they performed for us. He was clearly learning from these knowledgeable others. "Children can teach themselves and each other, if they're motivated by curiosity and peer interest."

Around the same time, another boy, the oldest of the group, decided to join us. He had been maintaining his distance, checking us out. I guess he decided we were harmless, so he began to show off a skill he had learned earlier in the week from another host - juggling. I can juggle a bit myself but I resisted the urge to teach. Instead, I took Dr. Mitra's advice and implemented the "Method of the grandmother." I watched, admired, and asked questions.

Okay, I could not resist my teacher instinct for long. When it seemed he was comfortable with three tennis balls, I suggested that he try three different objects (ball, beanbag, and shoe) as a challenge. Without hesitation, he went off to practice - making sure that I was watching and calling for my attention when I was distracted by another child.

These experiences are important reminders that learning is a natural state for us. As a teacher, I often muck it up by trying too hard to control learners and the learning. When what is actually required is for me to open the door to experience and get out of the way.

Oh, and accept and admire them as they go; this is extremely important!

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