When we are born, our brains are hardwired to learn. Watching a baby grow, develop, and learn new things is a joy. We can actually see in their expressions curiosity and determination, as they struggle to grasp a toy, roll over, scoot, crawl, and finally pull themselves up and walk. Babies are motivated! They are buoyed by our reactions. Our smiles and cheers encourage them to keep trying. This feedback, combined with the frustration of failure all register in their brains, and they try, and try again.
Not all babies develop skills at exactly the same time. Some roll over at 3 months, others at 4 months. Some are crawling at 5 months, others not until 6 months –and on it goes. Each child is unique, with thousands of variables impacting their ability to master a new skill or task.
At a certain age, prescribed by society, most children enter the school system. From this point forward, there is an expectation that the child develops skills and learn at least at an “average” rate along with the rest of their peers. There are content standards to be met, and curriculum to be covered, all based upon the child’s age – which determines the grade level of the child. Motivation to learn some things varies, often depending on the interests and previous experiences of the individual child. Parents become anxious when measures – tests, which might be “one point in time” indications of ability that translate into scores and letter grades (or might just be the sign of an un-motivated learner who stopped caring about grades) — reveal that the child is below average. The feedback the child receives at this point may be quite different from those earlier years. Should it be? Does it have to be?
It is a complex mix of motivation and feedback that will determine how the child will proceed. Will she/he persevere, or retreat? This is a time to set anxiousness and frustration aside, and focus on giving constructive feedback to your child. Carol Dweck’s research defining the growth mindset, which is an important element of being a learner, indicates formative feedback is an important and valuable tool for developing a growth mindset. It allows our students to sustain their efforts—even when faced with challenges or setbacks.
What if all learning could be supported in the same way we support a baby who is learning, with feedback, encouragement and interest? What if students could summon that same internal drive to learn that they were born with? These are some positive steps to take in moving from student to learner.