Interest and Learning

So I tracked down an article related to teaching, an article that discusses engaging students in the classroom. It was actually quite timely for me, considering that I have a tutoring job this semester here at Brandeis, and one of the challenges I am assuredly going to face is how to get my fellow students to engage with the material and with my efforts to help them understand it. Of course, as a student myself, I have a slightly different perspective on the matter than the article, which is written by a former teacher and directed at teachers.

I found the conclusion especially interesting:
We tell more than we ask; we direct more than we listen; we use our power to pressure or even punish students whose interests don't align with ours. This has any number of unfortunate results, including loss of both self-confidence and interest in learning. But let's not forget to number among the sad consequences the fact that many students quite understandably choose to keep the important parts of themselves hidden from us.  That's a shame in its own right, and it also prevents us from being the best teachers we can be.
Perhaps it is my different perspective. But I had thought that would have been obvious long ago.

I began studying Japanese because I wanted to know Japanese. Nothing more. It had nothing to do with my major (at the time!). It wasn't precisely a required class; although I did need to take a foreign language, it didn't have to be Japanese. It was as close as I could get to a class that literally had no pressure on me. And way back then, my freshman year of college, it was probably the one class that I really, honestly had an interest in taking.

Three years later, it is my major, and probably my most significant marketable skill. That's not an accident.

No matter how many punishments are laid down, you simply cannot force someone to do something that they do not want to do. Punishment and coercion is usually viewed as such, as forcing someone to do something. But that's not actually the case. All that does is change the equation for the person actually making the decision: don't want to learn this? Well, how about now that you'll be expelled if you don't? And the problem with that is that the student can still say "no" even when the punishments grow severe. Can still go through the motions without actually doing anything of value.

Interest has to be central to learning. How to keep students interested, or how to change the system to encourage keeping students interested...? If only I had the answers. All I know is that whatever they are, we need to find them.

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