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What does learning look like?

Ragged School Doll

Well, it can look like anything I suppose. Do we know it when we see it? Well, we often think we do. I have been given cause to reflect on this over the last few days and what I have realised is that as a culture, as a society, we are conditioned to recognise learning when it is attached to external achievement, not intrinsic reward. A sort of buying into the talent myth, where we celebrate reaching certain recognisable points in prescribed learning (SATS, GCSEs, A levels, Degrees etc.), not the effort that was put in to get there. And as for learning that happens outside the education ‘system’ – where do we see the value in that?

The last part could lead me into another post where I wrote about the learning that might have the most impact on people’s lives is valued the least and therefore funded, if at all, on a shoestring, but that is not quite the point of this post, so I’ll leave that bone half-excavated, for now…

For me the effort is the thing. We systematically measure the achievement (arrival at a destination) but I think we should be measuring the effort involved to get there.

Effortless learning is an ideal and sometimes it happens, we serenely take in the thing, almost by osmosis. It’s what we do as babies. We learn: we learn to speak and to listen, and sometimes it’s in the listening that the problems begin… And after a while the learning doesn’t look like what babies do, that fascination with learning to interact with the world, to make their own meaning of things. People grow and, for some, their learning might start to look like something else altogether.

It looks like not coming to class regularly, if at all. It looks like being late, it looks like making mistakes and getting frustrated and angry. It looks like cursing and chucking things, clashing with the teacher or the others in class. It looks like distraction replacing interaction. It looks like getting up and storming out.

And which learner are we, as a culture, more likely to reward? Reward with opportunity, options, status and the experience of success? And which learners are most likely to find themselves outside, looking in, watching the land of opportunity through a misted glass wall?

This week is about standing up for those challenging learners; the people for whom learning is an ongoing battle. A battle they sometimes win, sometimes lose, but who keep going in the face of endless conflict. The inner conflict where the story in their head, the stories others have given them is about failure and difficulty and limitation.

This post is about myself, and others like me. It’s about including the people who make your life the hardest. Transformative learning can be a low-down, difficult, dirty business and, it turns out, it’s the passion of my life.