Most students in Public School according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, are not proficient in any subject.  What is going on here?  Why can’t most of our students perform well on the tests?

There could be a number of factors, but I believe that the largest factor is that the students don’t know why they are going to school, what they are supposed to achieve while there, or how to do it.  Many students could care less about a stupid state test because it does not affect them… it affects their school and their teachers, but not them.  Those students that do care often become over anxious about the minimum knowledge and skills test, causing unnecessary stress.

At the risk of beating a dead horse, I am just going to say that learning is more than tests and much of the learning we want and need students to acquire, cannot even be tested.  How do you measure persistence, or inquisitiveness for example?

So how do you get students to care about what they are supposed to learn?  The answer is not something that most educators will like but they know it is true. The answer is… quit teaching the students.  When I say “Teaching” in the “traditional sense”, I mean…i.e., telling them what to know and what to think.  I know, not “teaching” directly contradicts what schools are all about.  What do we have left when we take away the traditional teacher?  Freedom to learn.

Now don’t get me wrong.  Given the choice, students will not want to “learn” in the traditional sense:  write sentences ten times, perform 50 mathematical operations on worksheets, underline the parts of speech, outline a chapter in the textbook, answer the questions at the end of the chapter… typical learning activities in schools.  Learning this way, or getting to the stage of remembering, is hard work.  Repetition requires effort, diligence, patience and perseverance.  So why would a student want to do it? That is the answer.  They have to have a reason to do it…an internal, intrinsic reason.  Learning has to be its own stimulus and response.  It is a simple concept to convey to students: the reason to learn this is so you can use it to build, create, solve, resolve, or invent a particular thing.  This is called project-based learning.

Here is a universally understood example.  Since the advent of computer games, children, youth, adults, males, and females spend crazy amounts of time and energy to learn complicated finger manipulations, strategies and game rules in order to succeed at a video game.  I’ll say it again, a game.  The same could be said about sports, music, art… All of them are something that the individual likes to do and sees a value in doing it.  In all cases it involves initiating activity and doing something active.

We can apply this to learning in school.  If a learner knows that he will need a certain knowledge and skill set to complete a project, he will do what it takes to learn, especially if he has to present it to the world. This is not new.  Athletic coaches and band directors base their whole programs on this concept. Any parent can do this at home.  For example, my daughter used this concept in her homeschooling of her five year-old.  Getting him to study and practice was hard until she figured out that he loved to present.  He avidly read books and wrote the slides for his shark PowerPoint presentation which he presented through zoom to both sets of grandparents and his cousins.  He just shared his black-hole informational booklet, which he wrote and illustrated by himself.  What made the difference in his desire to learn? He was creating something with the knowledge and skills.

Rather than “teachers”, students need motivators, enticers, or learning engineers… who can inspire students to…want…to learn.  Who better than a parent can provide this? Regarding the reason to learn, parents can be the best motivators…praise, rewards…and yes…bribes.  But that is not all.  If you want to speak another language, nothing beats planning a trip, knowing you will need to use the language as a motivator to learning it.  Learning the piano… if you know there is going to be a recital and your name is on the program.  Performing a song when 100 of your friends and relatives will be watching.  Or working as an intern and having to explain your project to your team mates.

Learning must lead to doing, otherwise it is just for passing a minimum standards test.