The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

Tom Osborne

How do we learn?

Learning is about asking questions, not about being told the answers, argues 16 year old Tom Osborne. Is it time to re-think priorities for schooling?

Have a think about this question: how do you think we learn? What is our motivation to learn? 

Most of you probably think that all our learning comes from school, and within school comes from classroom lessons.

But is this really the case?

Lessons from the pandemic

Learning has been turned upside down during this last year with the pandemic and school closures, making all of us think about how we actually learn, what we actually learn and the most effective ways in which we learn.

One thing this time has really highlighted for me is that learning comes in many shapes and forms and that what we learn can't just be judged by exam results and tests.

Harvard studies suggest that the biggest predictor for success is self-control and emotional health. Why then are we not taught about bullying and how to handle stress or rejection, anxiety or depression? Skills we need for our entire lives. Who is being prepared for real life, for example how to pay our taxes, apply for a loan, or get a job?

Wouldn't it be better to prioritise exploring and learning these crucial life skills and give them more time?

Even to cook which is a basic skill that we need three times a day. Nothing is more important than nutrition and health so why does this play such a small part in our curriculum?

You may argue that PSHE tackles these topics but it is definitely perceived by students (and arguably teachers) as a less important lesson as it is not assessed, when in actual fact it is probably the most important subject of all. At my school we have PSHE just once a fortnight. Wouldn't it be better to prioritise exploring and learning these crucial life skills and give them more time?

One size doesn’t fit all

Everyone is different. Yet the current education structure is not about the individual. There is an expectation for everyone to make progress at a standard rate. Everyone is taught the same way with the same techniques and the same content – but not everyone learns in the same way. Working to children’s strengths boosts confidence.

We all feel better when we are praised for our work and generally put more effort into it. If we are put down it can affect confidence which in turn impacts motivation and achievements. Finding an area students excel in and nurturing this is so important and gives students the confidence to build up knowledge in other areas that they may not be as good at.

Above all learning is about asking questions, not about being told the answers

My cousin is a good example and some of you may relate to his story. He found maths really difficult and as a consequence was put in a very obviously bottom set (something which, by the way, affects the confidence of all students). He lost so much confidence that when he was ever asked about his maths he said ‘I'm terrible at it’ which wasn't the case at all. He is a smart child who just needed a little more confidence instilled in him.

The lack of understanding shown led him to be bored and inactive. And it affected his desire and willingness to ask questions, to share, participate, create, contribute or cooperate.

Active learning

Research shows that being actively involved is more efficient than passive receiving. Things like Duke of Edinburgh’s Awards, geography field trips, cadets, band night and all the extra-curricular clubs and activities provide a very active way of leaning which is both enriching and fun. This is where a huge amount of our learning comes from without us even realising it.

School should surely develop and stretch our creativity as that is the one thing technology will never have. Any of you with younger siblings, relatives or friends will know that young children say why? why? why? all the time – there is a natural and constant curiosity about everything.

Above all learning is about asking questions, not about being told the answers.

As the educator John Dewey famously said, ‘education is not preparation for life, education is life itself'.

Putting personal development at the heart of your school

The Excellence in Pupil Development Award offers a structured framework to evaluate and enrich your pastoral curriculum, and supports in developing pupil’s personal attributes and attitudes, such as self-confidence, resilience and self-discipline. Find out more.

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