If an activity can be made fun, will that help a child pick up new knowledge?
The process of evolution, Geary says in the study, has resulted in students being able to acquire certain types of new knowledge and skills in a relatively “effortless” manner, through processes that are “child-centered” and fun.
Schools have attempted to use child-centered and fun methods, in the belief that students' natural curiosity will lead them to take on certain, more difficult tasks, like learning to read or do fractions, in the same way they learn language or how to count, he says. But Geary argues that explicit, teacher-directed instruction will be needed for many children to learn more unfamiliar and difficult, or “evolutionarily novel information.” Evolution “has not provided the scaffolding for this learning,” Geary told me. And so “the scaffolding must come from instructional materials and teachers.” Schools should not expect students to be motivated to learn this evolutionarily novel information in the same way they are motivated to learn through social relationships. “There is no such inherent motivation to learn linear algebra or Newtonian physics,” he said. If schools help students understand that effort is necessary and important, children will have a “greater sense of personal control over their learning,” and more sustained focus and motivation as they get older, he writes in the study. — Education Week: Evolution, Enthusiasm, and Science
I’m sorry, what now?
Child-led learning is “fun”, “social”, and “effortless” and works on things that are easy, and teacher-directed instruction is evolutionary and necessary to learn difficult and novel information.
Okay, well, I am going to have to disagree. Guess what? Children who are learning about something that is deeply interesting to them will not stop as soon as the work gets difficult … or “novel”. They don’t run up against the need for a new skill or a brand-spanking-new thought process and say “Wait, what?! Hey! I don’t know how to do this effortlessly — I quit!” In fact, they are motivated to learn — all. by. themselves. Amazing. But true.
Wait — is it so amazing? Because — hey! — I myself have actually experienced this! As an adult! I have been deeply interested and motivated in doing something brand new — and when I ran up against the part that I did not know how to do … miracle of miracles! … I did not quit! In fact, I figured out what I needed to do to keep going, and I did it! I learned new skills! I acquired new knowledge! And I didn’t even need someone to “help me understand that effort is necessary and important”. Golly. I figured that out all on my own.
I am reading this again, and I believe that it says — ((cough)) — that children’s natural curiosity can’t carry them through a “difficult task” like learning how to read or doing fractions. Mmm. WHAT?! Sorry, sorry. Let’s see. Everyone who learned how to read through sheer force of will and overwhelming excitement and desire, please raise your hand. Again, believe it or not, it does happen. Not possible without teacher instruction seasoned by a lecture on effort? Oh. my.
But my favorite part is this: “If schools help students understand that effort is necessary and important, children will have a ‘greater sense of personal control over their learning,’ and more sustained focus and motivation as they get older…” Yes. Because having someone else force you to learn something in a teacher-directed way, while sanctimoniously informing you that your effort is important and necessary — that is what helps a child develop more focus and motivation.