UDL

Learning: Motivation and Mechanics

A Challenge

My friends do something very important for me.  They make me think.

Beyond that, they challenge me to formalize my thoughts into coherent messages.  This is what happened on Monday, March 10, during the weekly #OHEdChat twitter chat.

Scott Kinkopf asked me to write more about a comment I made.

We were discussing “learning”.  Yes, that’s right, “learning”.  Sean Wheeler (teachinghumans.com) made an excellent observation about learning being sparked by a) utility, b) curiosity, and/or c) whimsy.  My graduate school friends would say that means we learn through what is useful, unexplored, and/or interesting.

I thoroughly agree with that observation, but it does just tell one side of the story.  These sparks can tell us a lot about the motivation to learn, but that is not where the journey ends.  It is not enough to want to learn.  The resources to support learning must be accessible.

“Presuming Competence”

Professor Douglas Biklin won the UNESCO/Emir Jaber al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah Prize to promote Quality Education for Persons with Intellectual Disabilities in 2012.  His work focuses on providing equitable access for all students, regardless of labels such as socio-economic status and disability.

Can you explain the concept of “presuming competence” and how it relates to inclusive education?

Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan
By Family member of Thaxter P. Spencer, now part of the R. Stanton Avery Special Collections, at the New England Historic Genealogical Society. See Press Release [1] for more information. (New England Historic Genealogical Society) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
When Anne Sullivan first worked with Helen Keller, she approached her with the presumption that she was competent, that Helen’s problem emanated from her not having an effective means of communication.   Even before Anne began to work with Helen, there was evidence of her desire to communicate—she used pantomime to show her interest in making ice cream or wanting toast with butter.  But it was Anne’s introduction of spelling and words that proved liberating for Helen.The principle of “presuming competence,” is simply to act as Anne Sullivan did.  Assume that a child has intellectual ability, provide opportunities to be exposed to learning, assume the child wants to learn and assert him or herself in the world. To not presume competence is to assume that some individuals cannot learn, develop, or participate in the world.  Presuming competence is nothing less than a Hippocratic oath for educators. It is a framework that says, approach each child as wanting to be fully included, wanting acceptance and appreciation, wanting to learn, wanting to be heard, wanting to contribute.  By presuming competence, educators place the burden on themselves to come up with ever more creative, innovative ways for individuals to learn.  The question is no longer who can be included or who can learn, but how can we achieve inclusive education.  We begin by presuming competence.

interview with Dr. Douglas Biklen

Every educator realizes at some point that it is not enough to merely want all students to learn.  It is likewise not enough to believe that every student wants to learn.  Students must have available the necessary resources, tools, and skills to facilitate the mechanics of learning.

Like Peanut Butter and Jelly

Motivation to learn must be paired with competency in the mechanics of learning.  The student who is competent in the mechanics but has no motivation is bored and disconnected from education.  The student who has the motivation but lacks important skills (e.g., decoding text, comprehending text, organizing thoughts) will become increasingly frustrated, like the fox who found he could not jump high enough to reach the grapes and concludes the grapes are sour anyway.

Problem is, our foxes are being tested on how many grapes they’ve eaten.  And instead of putting the grapes where the fox can get them, we conclude that if the fox were hungry enough, he’d find a way to get the grapes on his own.

Lifelong learners have both a strong motivation to learn and a firm grasp on the mechanics of acquiring and applying new information.  They have both the spark and the fuel that results in a roaring fire for learning.

If we hope to produce lifelong learners, we must attend to both of these essential factors.  We must protect and develop each student’s innate curiosity and desire to learn, and we must foster and support the development of appropriate, practical skills for all students to access the general curriculum.

If the next Helen Keller registered for your class tomorrow, could she learn there?  She has the motivation.  Are you supporting her in developing the mechanics?

Big thanks to Scott Kinkopf, Sean Wheeler, and Mike Thayer for taking me down this road!

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