The best way for students to learn is through guided self discovery. Many of us can attest to the fact that we spent years in school, learning in college classrooms, and when we left the classroom to work in the “real world”, the knowledge we gained from our books did not help at all. It gave us a basis to begin and familiarity with certain things, but we truly learned about our careers, our jobs, on the job. We learned through our own self discover. We became proficient at our professions through learning on the job.
Students will have a better learning experience when given the opportunity to learn through experience and through self discovery. Students must be given a variety of opportunities to explore knowledge and to discover on their own. When knowledge is gained in this way, the experience is more meaningful to the student, and will foster a feeling of self-confidence
I worked with a student recently who struggled with all of his core subjects. This young man had the desire to learn but, he was also showing signs of becoming frustrated because of the difficulties he was having. Now, I must mention that this young man had been in a bilingual classroom previously and had been placed in an all English speaking classroom by his parent, who did not speak any English. He also had some medical issues that had delayed him academically, due to time he missed while under medical care. I provided extra tutoring for him, in addition to his receiving extra help from other staff members and he slowly would catch up. New concepts were always difficult for him, due to his limited English. I provided a lot of opportunities for, not just him but, the whole class to have their hands on materials to reinforce and help them to understand the concepts being taught.
The turning point for this young man came by way of the school’s science fair. I required all of my students to participate. Knowing that most of my students would not receive support from home, I informed them that they could work on their projects in class, and I even purchased their display boards for them. Some of the students did receive support from home but, most did not. The young man from my story came to me with some ideas, he found on the internet, for his project. He was interested in water. One of the questions he had asked was if he could get salt water to float on fresh water. He and I talked about what he would need to do the experiment, and I purchased the materials he needed for the project. He would work each day for several weeks, experimenting with water, salt and food dye. I would watch as he worked. He would bring me information he had found but, did not understand, from the internet on his chosen subject. We would read the materials together and I would ask him questions to help him understand the materials he was reading. After several weeks of experimenting, he put his board together, complete with illustrations and a display. His project was chosen to go before the judges as one of the top projects, which meant that he would have to be interviewed by the judges. When he found out that he would have to talk to the judges, he was so excited that he jumped up and down.
On the day of the judging, he asked me every few minutes if it was his turn yet. I told him that they would come to get him when they were ready. When lunch came around, he did not want to go because he was afraid that they would miss him. I assured him that they would not, and he went to lunch. When we returned, he was called out to talk with the judges. I was fortunate to be able to peek out through my classroom door’s window so that I could see him present and what I saw brought tears to my eyes. This young man, who had so much difficulty in school, including speaking due to his limited English Proficiency, was talking to seven men, sitting in a semi-circle around him. He spoke with a smile on his face, about his project. He used his hands to help them understand. They were all leaning in listening intently to what he had to say. He spoke with them for at least 15 minutes and then he returned to class, with a smile on his face. The next day, the students arrived at school. Ribbons had been placed on the projects the evening before, just after the last bus pulled away. My student came into class, and I asked him if he taken a look at his project. He had not looked. I sent him out to glance and when he returned he was beaming. He had won first place in his category.
This was truly the turning point for this child. His mother, who never showed up to school activities, like open houses, came to open house and several other events the rest of the year, because her son insisted she come. His grades improved, and he had a new sense of confidence. Our school offered reading awards for students who earn a specific number of points for books that they have read. Prior to this time, he did not work very hard at earning points but, now he was reading more and earning points daily. He was proud of himself, his mother was elated, and I was so proud of him. Even our campus administrators made an effort to let him know how well he was doing.
This is just one example of how self-discover is a key to educational success. Each person learns differently, and educators must look at students individually in order to understand how each and every student learns. By providing students with plenty of opportunities to connect new information with previously acquired knowledge on their own, students will make better connections and will be on the path to their own self-discovery and a successful future.