Independent Learners

chassity cook

I try to not tell people what to do. I don't offer anyone their education. I'm not much use to people who want to be students; who ask "What do you want me to do now?" All I can answer is, "What do you want to do?"

Oh, sure: I can give people some options. I can point out, for example, that some people think fractions are easier to understand once division makes sense. But, if someone wants to skip division and start adding fourths, I'm okay with that too. I'm not the boss of you, and if it's really important I know we'll get around to it in time.

Not everyone appreciates this 'Choice Theory', somewhat liberal view of adult learning. Some people really do want to go to a school where they can be instructed and tested and rewarded with stars and blue check-marks. Fair enough. That's just not what I do.

This isn't just personal: I was trained to avoid that sort of stuff and to force allow learners to take responsibility for their own learning. Though the climate has changed, and top-down schooling is much more in fashion these days, my bosses haven't yet thrown me out. Until they do, I'll continue to offer choice, not instruction.

I saw a minor success today - or something Good, anyway.

A learner finished hand-writing a short piece about her dream home and decided to post it on her blog. I was called out of class just as she sat down to type it into Word. (We often type things into Word before posting to take advantage of the spell- and grammar-check tools.) By the time I returned, she was done - posting, picture and all.

"That's great," I said. "I'll take a look at it on my laptop."

I called her blog site up, and there was the post. Some of the spelling choices won't make the purists happy, but it wasn't a central concern for her, so I only pointed out the one spot where a spelling error changed the meaning of what she wanted to say.

There was also a bit of formatting trouble. She had cut and paste directly out of Word and into blogger. This meant the insertion of incompatible background code and a bit of jumbling. She asked how to get the letters the same size. I showed her how to fix that by copying the full text into Notepad, then copying the Notepad text back into the post, and re-posting. That extra step removes unneeded code and makes for a cleaner post.

(I actually write most of my posts directly in Notepad because I find it's scarceness helps me focus on word choice rather than formatting tricks.)

The independence she showed makes me hopeful that blogging might be a tool she can use on her own for learning and expression. I don't mean to suggest blogging is something people ought to do or anything like that. I mean, if this was a kind of reading/writing she chose to pursue on her own, I'd feel good about having helped her a little at the start.

As a literacy worker, I'm always pleased when people who haven't done a lot of reading or writing start doing more on their own and for their own reasons. Whatever the value in that "life-long learning" slogan, my learners can't spend their lives with me. I'm just here to help them get started, or get started again. If they are going to be healthy, self-reliant, citizens, they have to be willing and able to read and write and network independent of me. In other words, they have to take charge of their own learning.

A learner who posts on a blog - or picks up a novel, or figures out a tape-measure - when I'm out of the classroom is likely to do it again when they are out of the classroom.

And that independence and self-direction is a Good Thing. That's the Goal.

Everything else is just institutional humbug and job security posing as a helping hand.

2 comments: said...

you probably know this already but...

sometimes if you copy text into a blog post using 'edit html' instead of 'compose', the formatting is stripped.

now i am going to try an find the blog about the dream house.

Wendell said...

I did Not know that. :)

I have noticed that in some atom/rss readers things like bold and italics disappears which makes me wonder about the worth of using those forms in posting.

The "Dream House" post... yeah... I was unsure how much or how little to give away ago that. It's public and online and all that.... Still, I'm always reluctant to identify someone as one of my learners. (Even when they agree, I'm troubled by some doubts.) Which is fodder for a number of posts, I'm sure.