It takes time to really learn

Published by Lori Pickert on November 2, 2011 at 05:32 PM

There’s a problem with how we teach kids in public school. Content is often broken up into little pieces, scattered, and taught in isolation. Ideas aren’t connected. Kids don’t have the luxury to follow one idea to the next in a natural way.

For teachers, it’s the same. Schools have teacher institutes during the year to do in-staff training. What happens? They introduce some exciting new idea, which is then never talked about again. Even teachers who genuinely want to try new methods aren’t supported in any way over the following months. It’s a one-shot deal.

Adult life is like this, too. We’re bombarded with new ideas and inspirations and possibilities. Like excited children in a toy store, we see something that fascinates us, but before we really sit own to play with it, we see something new and the “old” thing (even if it’s just minutes old) is dropped by the wayside and forgotten.

To really accomplish anything takes time and concentration.

To turn an idea into reality, you have to stick with it for awhile.

This is the basis of project-based homeschooling, but project-based homeschooling isn’t just for kids. It works for adults, too. If it didn’t, it wouldn’t be a very robust learning method, would it?

To achieve anything at all, we have to dedicate ourselves to it. We have to dedicate time, space, attention, resources. Mostly attention. 

The longer we can stick with a single idea, the more we can accomplish. We’ll learn more, understand more, create more, share more. We’ll turn it into something real, and it will become a foundation for future learning. We can make natural connections with other ideas, venture out into new territories. The new ideas will connect with the “old” ideas, making something even more complex and meaningful.

But first, we have to stop dropping one idea as quickly as we see the next, tantalizing, new one. (I’m looking at you, Pinterest.) We have to care about something long enough to devote ourselves to it. To think about it over and over again. To talk with someone else about it. To ask questions. To play with it. To imitate it. To make something new with it. To really put it to use. To incorporate it into who we are, what we know, what we understand, and what we make.

It takes time to really learn. More and more, we don’t give kids in the classroom that time. We don’t give teachers that time. We don’t give ourselves that time.

To really learn, we need a revolution. We need to cut decisively through the things that don’t matter until we come up with a chunk of time big enough that it can hold real learning. A chunk of time big enough that it’s worth concentrating and focusing.

Once we’ve carved out that time, then we can figure out what’s important enough to spend it on.

There’s no reason for children to focus, no reason to really work hard, if they know we’re just going to shoot on to something else tomorrow. They’ve been trained to sit and watch the world go by like a constantly moving, constantly changing parade, entertaining them but rarely asking them to do more than spectate. And we’re watching the same parade. If the parade never stops, how do we know it’s time to turn our focus inward and start creating something of our own?

12 comments

Comment by Luisa on November 2, 2011 at 07:00 PM

Well put :) One of my favorite things about homeschooling is how much time (if they choose to) they have to dive into something for a length of time instead of being dictiated or allowed a short of amount of time to get the concept, idea or project done. Connections are made on their own that we can then talk about.

If I remeber correctly when I was in school give me a half hour and I didn't get it done till the last 5 minutes and even if I wanted to go back and revisit it another time oh well that wasn't going to happen.

Comment by T.L. Ryder on November 2, 2011 at 07:53 PM

Wonderful post. I totally agree that we need a complete revolution in education and in the way we think about the sea of information around us.

I have to admit that I am partially enslaved to Pinterest, though. :)

Comment by Lolo on November 3, 2011 at 03:39 AM

Today I had conversations with 3 teachers in my school and we all lamented on how little time we have to let the children be and let them explore. And we are in a private school where there is a little more freedom of choice on how we help children be learners. Your post is an exact representation of what we do to the kids every day and how we indeed feel the need for some kind of revolution.
But the revolution will only come if every body is on board; and by every body I mean all levels from elementary to University. We need thinkers in today's World, not robots that walk like the system makes them walk.'PS: I apologize for the grammar, English is not my first language or the language of our school!

Comment by skywind8 on November 3, 2011 at 04:56 AM

I'm so glad you're posting again - your perspective on learning is so valuable.

I'm an adult who is constantly learning (as I try to keep pace with the tech field my job is in!) and I love the self-directed learning that involves. I always have; I started learning software development when I was 4 years old. I was blessed to be in a family that respected the time it took to practice that, and always gave me the opportunity and believed in my ideas.

That kind of learning came so naturally to me, though, that I have trouble finding the words to explain to other people why it works. You have the words, the explanations, the context that I need to be able to talk with others about it. So I deeply appreciate your posts!!

Comment by sarah :: greenclogs on November 3, 2011 at 03:05 PM

As usual, you had such good timing with this post. This is the #1 thing that I struggle with - not me wanting to cram too much in, but her wanting to flit from thing to thing. I think she's afraid to push past the surface to areas that are difficult to learn and master. I did some deep thinking on recurring themes in her work, and I think I have a place to start now.

I was reading this while knitting a pair of fingerless gloves for my son and thinking about how 5 years ago, I would have been too afraid to knit them. But now I've knit and ripped out and reknit enough things of varying complexity that I didn't even blink. I adjusted the pattern for my yarn and just dove in. And I thought "hey!" I've finally mastered knitting.

So, thank you. As usual.

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 3, 2011 at 07:40 PM

hi, luisa. :)

re: revisiting - exactly. we really train kids to NOT pay attention, NOT dig in, and NOT use their long attention span, because they learn that we’re just going to skim and move on. why invest their interest? why work?

i felt that way in college. it was all a huge rush - too many classes, too much assigned reading, too many simultaneous projects. even when i was truly interested, i still had to hurry my way through books and ideas because there was just no time to linger. it wasn’t till i was *out* of school that i could really start to read and learn again! ironic. :)

thank you, T.L. lol, you aren’t the only one who’s fallen under the sway of pinterest, that’s for sure! :) i joke about being anti-inspiration, but really i just think it’s difficult to maintain that crucial balance between being inspired and still creating yourself.

lolo, thanks for the validation. i call on my own experience working at my school + my friends’ experiences + the teachers who i mentored and trained. it is a universal problem from what i can see!

i agree completely re: everyone needing to be on board. that includes parents, who i was very surprised to find *against* no-homework policies and often (not always, of course* *pro* standardized testing. there needs to be education at every level about what’s really best for kids, optimal for learning, and best for creating those non-robotic thinkers.

your english is great! thank you for your wonderful comment! :)

thank you so much, skywind. :)

i think constantly learning is the best way to be. it means being involved and creating as well as taking in new ideas and information. i really think it boosts happiness and contentment.

thank you so much for your kind comments - i know what you mean about struggling to articulate these ideas to others. i have been trying to do that for many years! :)

hi, sarah. :)

it is an interesting problem when you, the parent and learning mentor, are pro-deep learning but you have a perfectionist child who perhaps wants to stay on the surface to avoid getting to the mistake-generating challenge level. you want her to do that harder, deeper work and it absolutely means facing making mistakes, confronting problems, and etc.

i think you’re absolutely right re: your knitting example - a person has to work through that period of making mistakes until they accept they’re inevitable and they have a level of confidence re: knowing they can do what it takes to fix the problem and keep on. the question is, how do we help our perfectionist children get through that difficult patch.

thank YOU, and we should keep talking about this. :)

Comment by David on November 4, 2011 at 06:42 AM

I am a little bit scared that the 'robotic children' that are being 'created' will potentially become parents (or possibly educators) themselves down the track and, unless have reason to think otherwise, will not know or expect anything different from learning or schooling....

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 4, 2011 at 01:32 PM

i interviewed student teachers who told me that they didn't believe in progressive education (even though they were applying for a job at a progressive school — they obviously didn't believe in interview preparation either!) and they expected to teach the same way their mother did — very traditionally.

it makes sense to me that people who go into the profession are largely people who like the system the way it is. they did well there, they enjoyed it, and they're looking to replicate it. in my experience, a much smaller number harbor a hope of changing and improving it. they are probably the students who wanted more, wanted different, and they hope to be able to provide that for their students.

it's always going to be a challenge to change the system when 80% of those involved are satisfied with the way things are.

Comment by Heather on November 5, 2011 at 08:53 PM

I needed this. Thank you.

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 6, 2011 at 07:13 PM

thank YOU. xo

Comment by Kristin on November 13, 2011 at 10:16 PM

Thank you for this post! And thank you especially for your inspiration. I emailed you about a year ago completely frazzled and in the beginning of homeschooling and a living in a new place. Your advice then was perfect and your posts are a continued support. After a year of trying to move toward project-based learning, we are finally seeing it take root and blossom. But, it has taken time, time for all of us to switch our thinking, time for the ideas and process to percolate. It is happening though. I turned around last week and was astonished to see how much enjoyment my 4 year old is getting out of writing and drawing. He spends hours a day now writing letters and notes about the things that are important to him, not because I am requiring him to practice writing. It is beautiful to watch his genuine interest and concentration build!!! Thank you for all that you have done for a family without even knowing it.

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 14, 2011 at 12:51 AM

kristin, thank you so much — i’m so happy to hear that things are going well with you! your comment makes my day. :^)

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