What inspired the writing of this post is a word amazing JosetteLeBlanc
used to describe how we learn. She said that “We learn when we are engaged”. It wasn’t the word “engage” itself though that made such an impression to me; it was the teaching/learning context she referred to. It was the fact that she mentioned the word to describe the creative activities she uses to teach TESOL trainees. And her pictures along with her comment got me thinking about how and when engagement is missing from education (especially higher education)- and our adult lives in general.
We all seem to emphasize the importance of engagement through active learning when teaching young learners or teens, but from some point onwards I’m afraid that engagement is missing from the picture. We are allowed to play and have fun while still young, but somewhere around adolescence the words “responsibility” and “serious studying” come up. So, we’re often left with no choice; we need to forget about fun and play all those elements that distract us from learning the skills for a “demanding society”. Sadly then, creativity is often replaced with a rigidity which many feel suits better the “seriousness” of exam classes, university courses and later on any course for that matter.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying that being responsible and hardworking shouldn’t be part of the learning equation. I’m just worried that sometimes when “serious” learning takes place, when there is so much adherence to rules and book materials and syllabi that we overlook the nature of learning itself; that is, that in order for all of us to learn something, it needs to have a purpose and in order for us to advance in it we need to feel inspired and obviously engage in what we’re learning.
It’s the same as with everything else in life. When I started having singing lessons years ago, I was so excited because I had found my purpose – I wanted to learn how to sing. Time went by, my singing training courses advanced, I was technically improving, but something was missing. I hit the notes right and everything, but still I felt somehow lost. The learning context was there, I knew that I loved music, so where had this sudden feeling of confusion come from? What I couldn’t remember was why I wanted to sing in the first place – to communicate feelings and thoughts to other people, to share music that I liked with others. What was missing was the inspiration to move forward. It took a very special teacher to make me realize who I am musically and it was only through lots of experimentation with different styles that I found my singing voice.
To me, this is when “to engage” is most important. When the love of learning is there, but we struggle with our identities as learners and often as adults. We want to build a house and we’ve got the tools needed, but we don’t know what or who the house is for. Engagement then is a process that shouldn’t stop at any stage of life. Enthusiasm and a love for learning are starting points, but even if these crucial elements are present, all of us need to feel we can connect with what we learn. And that’s why creativity, active learning and experiential learning shouldn’t be restricted to our childhood years. Instead, they should be promoted throughout life, so that we can all be actual lifelong learners.
After all, who cares if the music is right, when everything else feels wrong?