Friday, May 1, 2015

What do you want to be when you grow up?

Begin with the end in mind.  The second habit according to Dr. Stephen Covey.  Decide what you want your results to be, then pursue those results.  This is a wonderful principle that will most certainly lead to greater happiness for each one of us.

As I think about the way many educators discuss future goals with a child, I wonder if there is a flaw to our rationale.  Oftentimes, we ask young children about their future as an adult, "What do you want to be when you grow up?"

There is nothing wrong with that question!  It is good for kids to visualize an excellent dream career as an adult!  It is also good if they change their minds 100 times!  But sometimes we start talking details when we talk to kids, especially when we try to connect today's work as a student to tomorrow's success, "You need to care about your math if you want to be a professional bull rider so you can take accurately manage of all your winnings!"

We try to justify the importance of certain learning objectives based on their potential future.  We try to justify the importance of good behavior based on life as an adult.  For most kids, adulthood is both too far away and a completely foreign concept.  You don't really get to know what it is like to be an adult until you are one!

We tell kids, "You need to behave in school!  If you act this way as an adult, you won't be in trouble at school, you'll get fired from your job." 

"You need to learn how to understand the author's purpose so that you will be able to better communicate with your customers and clients if you get a job that requires written communication."

"You need algebra if you are going to be an engineer or work with computers."

Young kids can't even fathom having a real job.  They hear that school IS their job.  But for a few kids, that rationale doesn't matter.  A few kids just can't wait for the bell to ring.  The minutes until the end of class agonizes them.  Then they get in trouble and hear about a future that is year's away while only trying to get beyond the next 20 minutes.

Most kids agonize over waiting two days to go to Six Flags.  They can't stand waiting an hour for dinner.  And doing homework for 30 minutes prior to go outside to play takes FOREVER.  Yet we try to give them reasons to do well in school based on a purpose that is still uncertain and many years away.

It is impossible to convince a student to see the benefit of yet another worksheet or generic writing assignment.  The learning activity may benefit the kid now, and it may make his future brighter, but that kid may just not truly be able to put that rationale to work.  The student probably wants to believe the teacher's reasoning and simply cannot.  If it was easy to simply tell ourselves something and make it come true immediately, with no problems, then every single one of us would be healthy eaters and McDonald's would go out of business.  Last time I checked, there was still a McDonald's on every corner!

I have definitely seen a decline in the need for this type of conversation in schools over the last ten years.  Teachers are designing lessons that engage students with meaningful and interesting projects.  These well-designed lessons create an intrinsic curiosity that engage students.  Good classrooms do not look like worksheets anymore.  It is impossible to convince a kid that the worksheet has a purpose and the textbook is wonderful.

Good teachers create lessons that no longer have the need to convince students to perform.  Good teachers understand that learning is a process that takes a different amount of time for each individual.  They also understand how to design lessons that play to the interests of as many kids as possible.  Good lessons do not require a child to suddenly see into future far enough to understand why a basic understanding of Newton's Laws of Gravity will be beneficial.  Good lessons make Newton's Laws fun and interesting and naturally worthwhile!