In the United States, students attend school six hours a day, 180 days a year. At most schools many of those 1,080 hours are lost to assemblies, frazzled teachers trying to get students’ attention, and myriad other miscellaneous distractions. Some researchers suggest that at some schools as much as half of that time is lost.
Conventional thinking about student learning, that it takes place almost entirely in schools, is terribly limited because students spend the vast majority of their time outside of school. How can we promote informal, natural, day-to-day learning over the other 185 days?
Here are some suggestions:
1) Spend time together outside. And pose questions about the natural world. About plants, animals, insects, the weather, the natural world more generally. Watch Animal Planet. Plant a garden. Ride bikes. Continually ask questions that defy simple yes or no answers. Why do teens swear so much? What purpose does it serve? Why do people litter? What’s the best way to prevent people from littering? Why?
2) Go to the closest public library and check out whatever books strike your fancy. And then read. Tell others about the books you most enjoy. Right now I’m digging The Little Way of Ruthie Leming by Rod Dreher. And I’m excited about what’s next in the queue, Nate in Venice by Richard Russo. My students often tell me they like to read, but not what’s assigned in school. Remind young people that the summer is a golden opportunity to decide for themselves what to read.
3) Encourage young people to write about what they’re doing or reading in a diary or in letters to extended family members. Or to write poems, stories, whatever’s most fun.
4) Plan a camping trip and thereby combine one and two—unplug and read in a natural setting.
5) Work some of what’s going on in the world into dinner conversations. Talk about Nelson Mandela’s fragile health, why young adults are cycling more and driving less, and the pros and cons of the evolving immigration bill.
6) Pose word problems in the car. The total distance of our trip is x, we’ve gone y, how much further do we have to go. If gas is $3.70 and we get 40 mpg, how much is this trip costing in gas? What if maintenance adds 10% more, then what’s the total? If I make $18/hour, how much time will it take me to pay for this car trip? Of course, adjust for age. The kitchen is a primo place for informal math learning too. Teach fractions while baking. Ask a young helper to write down what the recipe would look like if it was doubled. Or halved.
What other ideas do you have for promoting continuous learning that is a natural part of day-to-day life?
Of course the other option is to continue delegating teaching and learning to credentialed teachers. In which case you can just count down the days to the start of school in September.