What are you an expert at? Maybe you’re not a world-class expert, but you know more than enough about a particular topic or you have a specialized skill set that not many other people possess. I have teacher friend who within the last few years has developed a gardening skill that produces some magnificent vegetables. She’s done her homework in learning what season is best for growing particular foods. She’s dedicated the time necessary to care for her plants. She literally enjoys the fruits, and vegetables, of her labor. If I ever decided that I wanted to learn how to grow my own food, she’d be the one I’d go to first.
When asked about her backyard garden and what got her started with this hobby, she simply just tells me that she wanted to know if she could do it. The challenge of doing something that she hadn’t done before intrigued her. She needed something to redirect and refocus her thinking after a long day in the classroom. And the potential of saving a few dollars at the grocery store was a little bit appealing too. No one was telling her that this was what she needed to do. It all stemmed from an inner desire to develop a new skill. She’s intrinsically motivated to do her best.
An Empowered Learner displays motivation to learn. Our students are often motivated in many areas of interest that we rarely see because they are not written into a state standard. We teach student athletes, musicians, artists and even gamers who spend hours of their own time developing skill sets that provide for them a sense of empowerment.
Maybe our students aren’t able to articulate why they do what they do, but researchers who have studied what motivates people find that when a learner is intrinsically motivated the learning that occurs is authentic learning. It’s learning that sticks because the individual has found a way to make multiple connections within their existing schema. The neural network is literally rewiring itself when we see how one concept relates to another. The more connections that are made, the deeper the learning that occurs. And once the rewiring takes place, we are able to apply that new knowledge in different ways, to make reiterations of it. This transfer of learning is what prompts us to ask ourselves, “I wonder how I could…”fill in the blank. We ask more questions when we are intrinsically motivated, and when we ask more questions the creativity that exists in all of us flourishes because we want to find solutions. But we don’t simply seek to get to the final discovery, we thrive on the exploration and the experimentation that takes place along this journey. For us, the destination isn’t the end, but the beginning of something else. Through this process of learning, we find deep personal satisfaction. While encouragement, compliments, and awards are appreciated, an intrinsically motivated person will continue to pursue their passion even if no one pays attention.
While life does provide us the opportunity to be adventurous and explore new territories, there are things that we just have to learn how to do, because it’s part of life. For these instances, our motivation is extrinsic, and the learning is usually just enough to get us by, or surface learning. Oftentimes, what we supposedly have learned can’t be recalled long after the the need for it passes. Our interest in the topic or skill only goes as deep as the requirement demands and please don’t ask us to invest much of our precious time, energy, or effort. Just tell us what we have to do and we’ll do it and be done with it. The final destination is all we care about and the straighter the path to get there, the better. After all, we’re only learning how to do something in order to satisfy someone else’s requirement.
Can I be honest with you about something? This is exactly how I felt about completing the SEI requirements that the Arizona Department of Education stipulates in order to have a valid teaching license. I remember nothing about that learning experience. But, in order to cope and be compliant with state law, I’ve figured out who in my school district does know and I refer to her as my source of information. This allows me to keep my mental activity on other areas of interest.
Our students are no different. If they are learning something in school that they have difficulty mustering up the motivation, they will simply do the bare minimum requirement and find other resources to help them stay compliant.
It is our job to create learning experiences that draw on their interests, that support them in the neural networking process, and light a fire within them so that the learning that takes place is authentic. We accomplish this by giving them a VOICE and a CHOICE in our classrooms. This is what drives an Empowered Learner.