In my introductory assemblies with students I have begun to explain what I believe about learning. Much of what I believe is summed up in this video from the Khan Academy:
What I like about this video is that it reminds us about the learning process: “nobody’s born smart; we all start at zero.” It can be off-putting to see experts who find what we are beginning to learn easy, but they were once beginners too – “there was a time when Einstein couldn’t count to ten, and Shakespeare had to learn his A, B, Cs just like the rest of us.” When we are struggling with a concept, a new idea or a skill that we are finding challenging, it can be comforting to remember that others – who find it easy now – struggled when they were first starting out. Struggling, finding it difficult, and having to try really hard are all signs that we are learning. If we don’t have to struggle, chances are we already knew how to do it.
The other thing I really like about this video is the way that it emphasises how important the attitude of the learner is. If a learner is put off by difficulties and mistakes, or gives up if they don’t understand things straight away, they will not succeed. However, a learner who understands that mistakes, difficulties and struggles are helpful in the learning process is more likely to grow: “each wrong answer [is] making your brain a little bit stronger. Failing is just another word for growing, and you keep going. This is learning, knowing that you’ll get it even if you haven’t got it yet.” The truth is, you only fail when you’ve given up. Until then, everything is learning.
The final reason that this video resonates with me is that lightbulb moment: “one day, you walk.” For a teacher, watching the moment when a student gets it is what makes the job worthwhile. And the most important thing is that the learning process is completed by the learner themselves. It’s our job as teachers to create the right conditions for learning – the resources, the culture, the climate – but it’s the students who do the work. When a learner puts the effort in, struggles, fails, keeps going, tries again, tries a different way, then stops, thinks…and it clicks…that’s the moment we teach for.
For students at Churchill Academy, having the right attitude to learning is vital. We expect students to make mistakes, to get things wrong, and to find it hard – that’s the sign that they’re learning. The mark of a successful learner is one who keeps going, keeps trying, keeps putting the effort in until they’ve got it. I’ve seen evidence of this across the Academy again and again this week, and long may it continue.