Learning is an adventure. The human race is built to be curious and this leads to learning. Each of our life experiences is a learning opportunity and when you have beginner’s mind you might just get a fresh look on an old view.
I invite you to think back to when you were trying something new as a child. Maybe it was learning how to ride a bike, a skateboard, or playing an instrument, or swimming across the pool. Think about something that was new, exciting and challenging.
Relax back into that time as a child.
Are you there yet?
Who was with you when you first failed?
Who was there when you were successful?
What did you feel in both of those situations?
What happened that you kept going through failure and on to success?
My first time on a bike was with training wheels. I was able to peddle up and down our gravel driveway with great skill. However, I knew that training wheels were for “little kids,” and I was a big kid at the age of 6! I was so good at riding my bike with the training wheels on that I asked my dad to take them off. I immediately got on my bike, and started to peddle down our driveway. After a few turns of the wheel, the front tire hit some loose gravel and I wiped out. Tears streamed down my face and I had chunks of gravel in the palms of my hands. I ran into the house to my mom for a little TLC.
The next day I asked my dad to put my training wheels back on my bike. He was sure I could ride it without the training wheels, but I wasn’t so sure. Back on went the small white wheels on either side of the large back wheel. My confidence in riding a bike had been taken away in just a few seconds, but I was ready to try again – with help from the training wheels.
The next week I went to my cousin’s house to stay for a week. I brought my bike with me. My cousin was 6 months older and could ride like the wind without training wheels. I needed to keep up with him so I asked my uncle to help me. In their backyard was a gently sloping hill with grass. My uncle held the back of my banana seat bike and ran alongside me as I peddled as fast as I could down the grassy slope. After going down the slope several times, my uncle let go and I was peddling! I was doing it myself. I was so excited and couldn’t wait to tell my mom and dad when they came to pick me up at the end of the week.
This is what learning is supposed to feel like. Excitement, thrill, joy, perseverance, connection, and part of the surrounding world!
Did your experience feel like that too?
How can you design learning so it feels like that experience for students (and teachers too)?
Katie Martin does an excellent job answering that question in her book Learner Centered Innovation. Ms. Martin has outlined 10 characteristics of learner centered experiences in a blog post. On her blog she highlights the learner’s experience and is quoted,
When we focus on learners, connect to their interests, needs, and goals, we can create experiences that ignite curiosity, develop passion, and unleash genius. As I work with diverse educators and talk with students, there are common characteristics that always surface when people share powerful learning experiences. They often share experiences that are: personal, allow learners to exert agency, have goals and accountability, they are inquiry-based, collaborative, authentic, allow for productive struggle, provide and use models, ensure time for critique and revision as well as reflection.”
My experience of learning how to ride a bike was a powerful experience and each of the ten characteristics happened in that process.
Take some time and reflect back on your experiences in childhood where you initiated the learning because you were curious, passionate, or wanted to improve a skill. Did you have the feeling of accomplishment, success, or joy? How can you support youth in their learning experiences, as well as your own? Perhaps you can even learn together!