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Learning by Doing

Gone are the days where students were seated in rows and listened, for what seemed like hours, to the teacher on a particular topic. Content was to be memorized and learned in a specific way. Teachers taught and students were to listen and absorb everything that was said and discussed.  It was as if the students were considered empty vessels to fill up. There was no time for trial and error for students to ‘play’ with various concepts or to learn a particular concept further. Additionally, there was no time to allow the student to relate to the content and material in a way to better digest/comprehend or connect. To obtain information and knowledge, this was to come solely from a linear approach of expert /teacher to student.

A students’ goal was to acquire knowledge as fast as they could and learn how to master a particular subject most likely through memorization and additionally learn the necessary content in a particular order. This type of thinking could be considered a fixed mindset where one focuses on maintaining the knowledge base acquired while avoiding failure or risk at all costs. For each person it is predetermined on what they are capable of with very linear thinking. Experimenting, which typically includes trial and error, would not even be considered for this type of student in this frame of mind.

Course material would be taught in a predetermined way and modifications and variations on what and how the content would be taught would vary little. Class dialogue was most likely at a minimal level and the percentage of speaking was clearly higher for the teacher than the students. With little ‘play’, one approach to learning and a fixed way of looking at the learning process, this could only lead to a very limited mindset to what each individual student could achieve.

Contrary to this view and at the heart of what makes the “growth mindset” so winsome, Dweck found, is that it creates a passion for learning rather than a hunger for approval. Not only are people with this mindset not discouraged by failure, but they don’t actually see themselves as failing in those situations — they see themselves as learning (Popova, Fixed vs. Growth). Experimenting is encouraged and expected in order to achieve the appropriate knowledge base. A growth mindset embraces learning by doing.

The fixed mindset type of teaching style and way of learning in the classroom has almost disappeared in these modern days, but a reflection of the past can also help you appreciate where we currently are and the progress that has been made. Clearly in the teaching model in the past, students were dictated on what to learn and how to learn the material. There was no room for interpretation and clearly the notion of ‘playing’ or experimenting would not have been considered.

In our current environment, there is no time for theory and lecturing at school with application conducted in either another subsequent lesson or at home.  Often through inquiry and through experimentation, students can learn faster and more effectively than compared to the times of the past. It has been shown that if you are actively involved in learning through doing from ones own actions, as opposed to listening to a lecture, you will retain more. Additionally, you are enabling your problem solving skills as you learn through discovery rather than through instruction or passive learning.

In many modern international schools and at Eden School the teacher is very often moving around the classroom discussing and working with small groups of students as they engage in their learning of a particular project or session.  Students are learning on their own and often are working with others to share ideas. This then leads them to better connect to the content of the class creating engagement and motivation where the goal is learning and not reciting facts back in a particular order.

Take for example a typical math class in Eden School today. Many times games are used to determine strategies or discuss with classmates how to tackle a particular question or riddle. Through the action of ‘doing’, it is often said that this is a more effective way to learn rather than through the passive way of listening to the teacher site facts and reasons of why something is the way it is.

In science lessons, you will also find that students are exploring different hypothesis of what could happen, why something did happen that way it did and what could be done differently next time.  This can also be extended to modern coding and computer classes offered at school. You are learning through discovery and not from a lecture by a teacher in front of the classroom.

These are just a few examples of how effective learning can become when changing the perspective that through doing, which can include failing and making mistakes, this is considered part of the normal process to achieve success of gaining knowledge.  Knowledge is not a finite or fixed idea that is looked to as the end goal, which under the fixed mindset is a clear linear approach. A growth mindset would view obtaining new knowledge as a process. Through this process is where the learning occurs and creates a skill set which can be effective to the student as they continue their life long journey of learning.

Hopping as we play hopscotch for the sound "h"
Hopping as we play hopscotch for the sound “h”

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References:

  • John Dewey, The Child and the Curriculum (1902)
  • Dan Finkel: Five Principles of Extraordinary Math Teaching (2016)
  • Maria Popova: Fixed vs. Growth: The Two Basic Mindsets That Shape Our Lives
  • Carol Dweck: Mindset: The New Psychology of Success