All of us have barriers to learning. Some of those are deep and personal. Prior experiences, wounds or trauma can cause deep-seated resistance and unpredictable reactions, especially to authority, processes and rules. There are no simple answers. Consistent, long-term plans, flexibility, adaptation to student needs, and teachers willing to try new and innovative ideas will help overcome these barriers. Additionally, cultivating good relationships and establishing trust with students will serve to build a solid foundation to lessen the influence of these barriers.
For this post, we wanted to talk about five common barriers to learning and how we address them at Paradigm Learning. Those are: 1) Focus and concentration; 2) Fear of failure; 3) Emotional factors; 4) Poor past experience; and 5) Personal resistance.
(Note: The 5 common barriers used here came from Ideas Classroom)
Lack of focus and concentration. I'm wrestling with this barrier even as I write. The subject is difficult and and there are other things I need/want to do today. It's no different for students. While it's hard to imagine anything more thrilling than learning how to use a new rule of grammar or a double-digit subtraction problem, we must concede to the possibility that there is. (I jest) There are ways Paradigm proactively works with students to overcome a lack of focus and concentration. This one progresses slowly, perhaps over several years
First, we have implemented five Learning Zones, one of which is a quiet area where students can move to so distractions are minimized. Next, there are frequent breaks. Younger students can look forward to specific times for games, conversation, play, or other activities that distract them during work times. Also, electronics other than ones used for learning are put away. And of course, we encourage students to practice hard to focus and concentrate. This one is the least fun, but arguably the most important for the long term.
Fear of failure. There are lots of ways this can become a powerful force in one's life because it is directly tied to our self-esteem. We might ask ourselves questions like: Are we going to let down someone we care about? Have others told us we are failures or can't do anything right? How do we compare to others? Have we been excluded from certain groups or cliques? Have we been challenged with material we are not ready to get into yet? Each of these can be a catalyst for fear of failure. At Paradigm:
Students progress at their own pace. There is no timeline to the curriculum and each student is challenged with new material only when they are ready. This makes comparisons moot. We teach failure is inevitable. Failure is normal, expected, something to learn from, and the path to success by teaching us what won't work. Like other great women and men throughout history, students must view failure as a pointer toward a new set of questions and decisions, not as a commentary on them. There is no real growth without failure.
Emotional factors. Responses to uncertainties and differences can have a strong emotional content. Our minds weave complex scenarios around what we don't know, and these can be very stressful. How do we help resolve these emotions?
First, we set daily goals and expectations for every student. They can open their computer after arriving at school and see their Playlist for that day. Also, alongside performance is the constant reminder to do the best you can. Be proud of your accomplishments that day. Another is that we do not give letter grades. Rather, we are seeking competency. And every student has achieved some level of competency. Finally, we strive to maintain a positive environment. We appreciate every step of effort made by a student.
Poor past experience. There is nothing that can be done about past learning experiences. The past is the past and it cannot be undone. But we can do something about future learning experiences. Eventually, the past becomes less influential over the present.
To help, we create new learning experiences. Student feed back is a vital part of that. It is what helps keep the student engaged with what is being learned. And then, the learning experience is expanded by what is discovered and what questions are being asked, not merely what facts have been memorized. Next, what has been learned is applied to the activities and areas the student loves. Learning becomes real and important when it is comprehended in the context of a real-life, student passion. The power and influence of their past learning experiences eventually evaporate.
Personal resistance. There are some students who simply don't like the circumstances and experiences where they find themselves. They like the old way...or no way. Clearly, any solution to this cannot be forced. And trying to manipulate or coerce the student into a process will always end badly.
At the core of learning is Passion Projects. This is where the student uses what they are learning to invent and create something around what truly motivates and excites them. Everyone asks and answers questions. Personal discovery and invention is key to see resistance fade. It builds trust and reinforces motives. Finally, we believe in learning in pieces. We present curriculum in either smaller or larger modules, however the student is more comfortable. All of this helps break down the barrier of resistance to learning.
Our goal is learning. Not teaching. We can do it this way because as a microschool, learning is truly personalized and the curriculum is competency-based. The teaching process will be whatever is needed for a student to break down their own learning barriers. There will always be math, science, social studies and language arts. Our goal is to help them become proficient and competent to an ever-deepening level in these areas of study. But how that happens, the process and methods, at Paradigm they will be determined by the needs of the student, not the comfort zone of the teacher so barriers to learning can be minimized and students can become life-long learners who love to learn.