Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

I Learned to Believe in Me: The Experiences of Great Learners and Resilient Learners Can Teach Individuals How to Improve Their Own Learning and Show Schools How to Support Learners of All Kinds

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

I Learned to Believe in Me: The Experiences of Great Learners and Resilient Learners Can Teach Individuals How to Improve Their Own Learning and Show Schools How to Support Learners of All Kinds

Article excerpt

What are the attributes and habits of "great" learners? What do their learning lives look like, and what beliefs do they hold about themselves that they might share with the rest of us? How can learners build personal, individual resilience when they're in academic programs that sometimes seem intent on focusing on their failures, highlighting what they're not good at, or making judgments based on previous unsuccessful performances? What if no interventions are available to them, or the available interventions are ineffective or off the mark?

For 10 years, I've been listening to people tell their learning stories, and my latest book describes how the institution of school can sometimes hamper our deepest and most profound desires to learn. Virtuoso learning is a lifelong fascination of mine, not so much because I'm interested in high performance as it's conventionally defined, but because the learning attributes of extremely engaged, muscular, entrepreneurial learners have seeds of wisdom, based in practical experience and a lot of road miles, that would be helpful for everyone.

In my research over the past decade, documenting the learning biographies of hundreds of people ages 11 to 67--I've learned first and perhaps most important, that many great learners--research scientists, national - level marketing directors, social media entrepreneurs, writers, professors, community activists--were not necessarily conventionally successful in school. Many impassioned, creative learners said school actually hampered their desire to learn, and that they did a lot of their really animated learning far from school grounds and away from the probing eyes of teachers. As one said, "I might be reading about astrophysics online at home, but forget to turn in my science homework and fail the course." This is heartening to many of my struggling students. I often tell them that some of the best learners I know were complete screwups in high school.

In the face of setback after setback, how did these great learners keep going in school? In the 1980s and early '90s, we used to believe that resilience (Bernard, 2004) and resilience for learners (Benson, 2006; Levine, 1994) was only for the lucky few, that it was some kind of intangible magic that couldn't really be defined, and that it was fixed and inborn.

Now, we're beginning to understand that learning resilience has some very basic, identifiable components and habits of mind. There are ways of thinking about setbacks and failures that tend to power individuals through hard times and keep them interested in themselves as creative thinkers and explorers even when much of the feedback they're getting about their performance is very negative and globalized. ("Don't even try to learn math," one young black man was told by his math teacher. "You'll be flipping burgers for the rest of your life." He's now a junior in colleg e on a merit scholarship.)

Based on my interviews with hundreds of learners over the past decade, we know that great learners tend to have seven traits and characteristics, learning "habits" that keep them interested and engaged in some of the pleasurable aspects of thinking and creating, even as they experience parts of school as grinding and uninteresting. They've developed a kind of "visioning," often unconsciously, that makes them very "gritty" (Duckworth, Peterson, Matthews, & Kelly, 2007) and persistent while they're learning new things.

7 critical orientations toward learning

1. Great learners see learning as pleasurable and value and cherish this pleasure.

Although a lot of school learning isn't intriguing or powerful, resilient learners seem to stubbornly create opportunities to experience the joy of learning, of being in flow (Csikszentmihalyi, 2008), even when it gets them in trouble. Driven by curiosity or a sense of play, they stubbornly find opportunities to learn (practicing basketball for hours, collecting bootleg recordings of a favorite band, or pursuing their writing), even when it doesn't accrue to academic performance. …

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