How can learning be made more meaningful?
I have blogged a couple of times this week about Gladwell’s book Outliers. The book continues to keep me thinking about my own practice, how I plan and assess, and the different ways that I deliver my curriculum to the students that I teach. While running today, I was once again listening to the audiobook version of Outliers. The part that resonated the most with me today was about what makes our jobs meaningful. In Gladwell’s opinion, to feel truly fulfilled with our work, 3 specific criteria must be met.
Although Gladwell was referring to success in the workplace, when we really look at the criteria list above and ask ourselves what makes learning meaningful for our students, wouldn’t the same key criteria stand out as being critically important? Students want to feel a sense of ownership over their learning and decision making (at least most do). They also need to be challenged, to feel that what they are required to do isn’t easy nor is it overwhelmingly difficult. The learning must be complex for them to feel engaged. Lastly, they need to know that the hard work they put in is well worth the effort and they can see the connection between the effort and the reward.
This is made even more powerful when the reward itself is more intrinsic in nature rather than extrinsic. Although extrinsic rewards work to motivate our students to try hard, its been proven in numerous studies that it only works in certain situations. For students to find long term satisfaction in school and in the process of learning, we must get them to find intrinsic value in putting in the time and effort needed for success. Success is a relative term here though because what success looks like is so vastly different between our learners.
As Gladwell states, teaching is a meaningful job, so the 3 criteria from above are a great reminder to all of us to make the learning of our students as meaningful as possible. For those teachers from the northern hemisphere just about to begin a new school year, it’s perfect food for thought. For those teachers halfway through their school year in the southern hemisphere, keep working hard to meaningfully engage your students.