• Guest Blog: Alan Wagstaff: Caring about learning

    437 562 Stuart O'Brien

    Parents of young children connect strongly with their kids’ schooling. You’ve probably noticed this. They’re wide-eyed about plays, excited at sporting events and festivals, and attend parent-teacher sessions religiously. Maybe you’ve also spotted that this enthusiasm wanes as the years pass. By the time students are in high school it’s much less evident. This should come as no surprise. A parent’s longing for a caring learning environment is part of their nurturing instinct, wrapping as a force of nature around them and their young children.

    I like to think of teaching as a subset of parenting. It reminds me that caring is fundamental and inseparable from the task of imparting knowledge, skills, and attitudes. Great things can happen when this nurturing ‘force of nature’ is active in those who teach. It’s like an ‘Open Sesame!’ that unlocks the hidden cave of learning treasures. And it turns out that this is not just wishful thinking.

    Education researchers and thinkers continue to draw attention to the vital role that caring plays in young children’s learning. Some have even suggested that primary level learning is hardly possible unless, and until, a caring relationship exists between student and teacher. I suspect parents know this instinctively and so are relieved when they see caring flowing from teacher to child. Probably this instinct is at the foundation of much of the home schooling movement.

    Learning needs to be accessible anywhere – any time; it needs to be tailored to the needs of the individual learner – but it also needs to be caring. This is a particular challenge for digital providers. How do we demonstrate to young learners that we care?

    Here are a few of my favourites:

    1. Tailor discrete learning to the individual – and ignore means and benchmarks.
    2. Situate learning in contexts that are developmentally appropriate.
    3. Put learners in touch with other learners.
    4. Use formative assessment – not summative testing.
    5. Reveal the scope of the learning to the learner and put them in charge of the rate.
    6. Make it crystal clear to the learner what is to be learned.
    7. Encourage the learner to give feedback on their learning experience. Listen to them and acknowledge them.
    8. Include physical, emotional, intellectual, and intrapersonal challenges in the activities so that a more human learning experience is offered.

    Those are some of the caring creeds I’ve come up with thus far; matters that we incorporated in Zaprendo’s first app Sounds English Phonics which has been proven to accelerate early reading acquisition by as much as 1 year in 20 school days*.

    I’d be delighted to hear from anyone who can expand my take on this challenging issue.


    Stuart O'Brien

    All stories by: Stuart O'Brien

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