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My ideas are constantly changing as I learn. Sometimes they even change midway through writing a post.

Monday, August 29

Learning, Fear, Motivation

A response to a comment I made about deadlines and even "topics" making it more difficult for me to write:

That being said, Burroway explained in her book that the reason why we suffer from writer's block, is due to fear. We fear that we cannot meet a deadline; we fear that our writing will be rejected by a publisher; we fear that our readers will not appreciate our work; we fear that our ideas aren't good enough, or believeable, ad infinitum.

Fear can hinder creativity of any kind whether it's writing, music, or solving one's everyday problems.

When I first started this blog, I mentioned an English educator by the name of Charlotte Mason. In the late 1800's and early 1900's, she developed some very interesting ideas about education and implemented them in her school and helped parents organize and learn to take on the education of their own children.

One of the concepts I learned from researching her and her methods was narration. It was one of the most helpful ideas I've come across in her writing (and there were a lot of good ones).

Narration involved reading aloud, having the child read from good quality literature, or making careful observations during an outing and then telling it back in their own words. The narration could be spoken aloud, written out on paper, or sometimes drawn, painted, or even sculpted. It was recommended that teachers/parents keep criticism to a minimum and even refrain from comment. Fellow students could ask questions and make corrections to factual errors.

I was very skeptical of this idea for a homeschool setting (and somewhat for a classroom setting). I thought that a lot of learning was from making mistakes and having them corrected. It might "work" in a classroom setting where there were multiple students to take turns narration, asking questions and making corrections - but how could it work one on one while keeping commentary to a minimum? It did work for her and the children of parents who used her methods at home (so far as I know). Samples of their work can be read in some of her published writings. Her students' writing was exceptional. I realize that some of it might have to do with a different culture and era, but apparently her work caught the eye of other educators of her time.

Her theory was that if students were exposed to good language, they'd improve on their own over time. Educating was something that expanded each student's knowledge individually - not a checklist of knowledge where "gaps" were filled in.

My experiences definitely seemed to corrobarate this. In the course of experimenting and trying to work out what it meant for my children to be educated and whether "narration" as described here could be valuable at educating, I worked out a few ideas of my own about it:
(1) Fear of criticism can be an enormous block to attention, memory, and creativity. (2) Good motivation (inspired by interest) can enhance attention, memory and creativity exponentially.

A child who struggles to read a 4 sentence story (not of his choosing) will work long and hard to get through "The Lord of the Rings" or "Harry Potter" and then proceed to write his own versions of them. A child (or adult) who is fearful that his work will be criticized may freeze and be completely unable to come up with anything to say or write.

1 comment:

MC said...

Narration is a powerful tool for educators, as it can provide feedback to the instructor the degree that the pupil has understood the material at hand.

If you simply ask the pupil to read a paragraph, all you are demonstrating is the pupils' ability to read.

Ever seen a toddler "read" a Dr. Seuss book? They aren't reading; it's rote rehearsal -- parrotting.

As you mentioned, having the pupil recite the text in their own words, or facilitating a discussion on the topic at hand demonstrates abstract thought processes -- a far more desireable trait.

The bottom line is, that if they are motivated, children will learn on their own. I would highly, highly recommend the book "Learning All The Time" by John Holt. It is an incredible account of an educator who observed how children learn how to read, write, etc., without being taught. The book was required reading when I was a Freshman in the Faculty of Education, and it still inspires me to this day.

This is all reinforced with your last argument; a child who is a poor reader, but highly motivated, will fight to read J.K. Rowling or J.R.R. Tolkein, and will likely succeed, even if it takes them longer to finish reading the work than his/her peers.

If J.K. Rowling can get the worlds' youth to become passionate about literature, than I could surmise that her work is justifiably good in nature. I have to shake my head at those religous groups who frown on Fantasy literature, claiming that it teaches Paganism.

Check John Holt out. You will laugh and cry, and you will fall in love with Holt and his students. When you're done, then I suggest you read Louanne Johnson's: "My Posse Don't Do Homework". Which in 1995, was re-titled "Dangerous Minds", and adapted into a Hollywood motion picture. Here again, is a true-to-life account of a teacher who changed the lives of a classroom of inner-city delinquents.

I guess this has little to do with the subject at hand, except that you will be inspired. Within the pages of these two books is proof that the world can be made a better place, if you care enough.