“We need to be intentional in the words we use with our students. When they get home from school instead of asking, “What did you do at school today” ask “What did you learn?””
What is the purpose of school?
Take a minute to think about that before you answer.
Of course, school actually accomplishes many goals, but what is the foundational, most basic purpose? I believe that the primary purpose of school is learning. We may disagree about which learning is most important – which courses should be emphasized, what content should be taught, the progression from one topic to the next. Fundamentally, however, students attend school to learn.
Unfortunately, we adults often shift the focus from learning to something else entirely. Sometimes we shift the focus to grades. Both teachers and parents are often guilty of this. Teachers may use grades to reward students who are compliant and punish those who are not. Parents may reward their children, sometimes financially, for getting good grades. We mean well and are endeavoring to encourage the students to do their best. However, this sends a message to kids that the grades are more important than the learning.
At other times, we put the focus of school on happiness. It is natural for parents to want their children to be happy and teachers to want students to enjoy their classes. However, if this becomes the primary goal of school, we are missing the point. When I ask kids what they like about Dalat, I often hear things like ice cream in the cafeteria, the playgrounds, and recess. We expect those answers from kids, but as adults we must look deeper. Sometimes the process of learning is not fun. It takes a lot of practice to master any new skill, and the repetition can be boring. We learn more when the material is challenging than when it is easy. As adults, we know that the short-term struggle is worth the long-term gains, and we need to value the same things for our children.
So how do we get the focus back on learning? We need to be intentional in the words we use with our students. When they get home from school instead of asking, “What did you do at school today” ask “What did you learn?” I have tried to do this when visiting classrooms, and the students don’t quite know how to answer. When your student gets a low grade on the assignment, talk about what they have learned and ask them what they still don’t understand. Talk with your students about things they would like to learn rather than just what university they want to attend. It takes time to change old habits and learn new ways of responding, but maybe the new thing we adults can learn is to get back to the focus on learning.