Here’s a question that’s popular with IQ test writers:
Which of the following is necessary element for education to occur?
This isn’t a tough one--I suspect most folks know that the answer is (d). But getting it right on an IQ test doesn’t necessarily mean we get it right in life.
First of all, what exactly do we mean by the word “student”? Is it someone enrolled in a school or paying tuition? Surely not—they would at least have to show up.
Is it someone sitting in a classroom, real or virtual? I have to say I’ve been in lots of classrooms with young people for whom getting educated on the subject of the day was just about the last thing on their minds. And on the other side of the coin there’s a great deal of education that occurs outside of classrooms (some would say most of it).
With all that in mind, a ways back I settled on a definition for “student” that I’ve found led to useful insights about education both in curriculum development and professional development contexts:
A student is someone who is attempting to learn something.
Exercising the logical skills that IQ test was meant to test, the first conclusion we would draw from this is that you cannot educate someone who isn’t trying to learn something, because you don’t have the only essential element of education, a student.
That in turns means the first task of an educator in any context is make sure your students are motivated to learn the subject. The primary and pervasive system used in schools for this is the examination system, with the concomitant threat of low grades leading to a terribly grim future.
That’s not to say that teachers don’t strive to motivate students in other ways. The good teachers, which is most of them, certainly do, knowing that fear is an extremely poor way to engage learners.
I’ve seen three especially effective motivations for learning:
1) The student decides that knowing the subject is important in terms of their own personal short-term or long-term goals.
2) The student is just interested in and curious about the subject for whatever reason.
3) Learning the subject is fun.
Truly great teachers—and curriculum designers—know how to inspire all three.