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Lifelong Learning

May 21, 2015

Food for thought

Screen Shot 2015-05-17 at 7.49.39 PMSince I started working at the Maine Arts Commission almost 2 years ago I find myself thinking about learning, and the ages of learners, differently. My notion of learners has gone from PK-12 to from birth to death. This post has some of my thinking, the questions I ask myself, and the wonderings that I have especially when I am driving around Maine visiting arts education programs and educators.

There is so much research about the importance of parents as the child’s first teacher. How do we insure that all babies and pre-school age children have ongoing opportunities to learn in an informal way and experience the joy of learning through creative play? How do we keep the magic of learning alive for elementary students when the day is dominated by focusing on reading and math? We know that learning takes place when young people are allowed to make mistakes but the high-stake testing is about right and wrong answers. Is this sending young people a double message? What happens at middle school when we focus on students’ cognitive-intellectual needs only and don’t address their social-emotional, physical, psychological, and moral developmental needs? And, how do we prevent students from going on to high school and becoming (if not already) disinterested in learning and are waiting until they are 17 so they can drop-out?

Screen Shot 2015-05-17 at 7.49.27 PMI just painted a pretty glum picture, I know. This is the case in some, perhaps many, birth to grade 12 learning situations. The fact is that the high school drop-out rate (defined as 16-24) has decreased. In 2012 it was 7% for males and 6% for females (about a 6% drop). This is good news.

So, what if we shifted the paradigm so that rate went to 1% or how about 0? What if all schools had qualified teachers who worked collaboratively and focused on the needs of individual students? What if all teachers believed that all kids could learn? What if all parents were required to prove that they had the skills to be a parent when it comes to being their child’s first teacher? What if the learning environment focused on learning and not on the learning of math, reading, etc. only? What if learning was promoted for LIFE-LONG?

images-1What if all schools were truly standards-based/student-centered? A common statement I hear from visual and performing arts teachers is “we’ve always been standards-based”. Perhaps, that is true, but what about student-centered? Do we even know what that means? If schools were truly standards-based/student-centered, students would own their learning and would have the drive to excel. They would take the assessment to see how much they know, not what they don’t know. What if we did away with competition? What if all kids who wanted to participate could, on the platform of their passion and willingness to work hard to grow and learn and achieve?

Screen Shot 2015-05-17 at 7.49.51 PMAnd, what is the place of the visual and performing arts in a standards-based/student-centered learning environment? Would we need grade levels? How many high school classes presently have a combination of students in grades 9-12? How many arts teachers figure in behavior as part of a student grade? Are you determining the student status on their behavior? The grade on the report system represents student progress which includes behavior? What about the development of skills, understanding of the concept/subject being tackled in the creation of the artwork?  What about their creativity, problem-solving, use of medium? What about growing and learning and personal achievement?

About the older learners… what if when people got older they continued to learn? Here is that life-long learning piece. People are living much longer than they used to so we can not have the same expectations that were in place 50 years ago. The average person lives 8 more years than they did in 1970. The generation being born now are expected to live 20 years longer than their grandparents. How many older people shut down when they begin losing their memory? Is that necessary? The TimeSlips program that I wrote about in a blog post on May 1, 2015 is an amazing program that is designed for people with dementia.  Storytelling is at the heart of the program.

Screen Shot 2015-05-17 at 7.48.57 PMThis winter I saw the movie Alive Inside about how one man is introducing music to older adults using ipods. It is amazing to watch the impact the music has on these folks who react so positively because music is important to them in holding onto memories that some have put out of their minds. The trailer for Alive Inside is located at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IaB5Egej0TQ.

And, Henry is one of the characters in the movie (who is himself). Watch what happens in this youtube video when Henry is given earphones. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8HLEr-zP3fc.

Think about what might happen if we take action and approach life a little differently.

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