Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Student or Learner?

When I left my career nine years ago to stay home with Grace I struggled deeply with defining my sense of self.  When I walked out of my classroom and closed the door behind me for the final time, I became “just” a mom.  Where would I find value?  How would others perceive me?  I shied away from parties, especially those me and my husband would go to in Manhattan where his coworkers would ask what I did for a living.  How did I answer that now? am just a mom?  How silly, no how stupid I was.  How could I have thought so little of the role of mother?  Sadly,  it took me about a year to let go of who I was and start to embrace the person I was becoming.  
I see so much of myself in my daughter.  For seven of her ten years she has been in some form of organized school where she has thrived.  She defined herself within the confines of school.  She received positive praise.  She competed successfully for stellar grades.  She was awarded prizes.  She defined herself as a “student”.  Notice, I did not say “learner”.  Nope.  She is a student.
Now removed from school, and the built in systems of rewards, that can range from expected rewards such as an A on a paper, to subtle rewards like extra time on the computer for finishing homework to the overt reward like a pizza party for those few student who worked “extra” hard on the CMT tests, she is lost.  Literally lost.  Since she values herself as a student, these rewards center her.  An A means all is well.  Time on the fence for missing a signature in her assignment pad is bad.  Pizza party is good.  Losing time off recess for talking is bad.  Getting cubes for compliments given by other adults is good.  Principal picking you out of a crowd because you are talking in the cafeteria after the lights are off signaling quiet is bad.  See what I mean?  They direct your sense of worth.  Get good rewards, praise and attention, and your confidence as a student goes up.  Grace got all these things, and more.  
At home I do not have a compliment jar but I do not send them to our fence when they do not complete work assigned.  I do not give standardized tests but I do host pizza parties every now and then!  But to Grace, her sense of self is diminished.  She has no litmus test.  Now she is saying things like I am a bad writer because I told her that she could add details to latest piece of writing.  She now hates math, which was her strongest subject.  She sees her sister reading at the same level as her (which is a perfect level for her) and that must mean she is not a good reader.  I feel like I am starting with a kindergartner, a child who is not sure what to do and where to go.  All because she has come to define herself as a student, not a learner.  
A student gets an A on a test.  A learner realizes even with an A there is still more to absorb.  A student can line up in the hallway and be quiet.  A learner can interview a stranger.  A student remembers her assignment pad.  A learner does not need an assignment pad because the learning never stops.  A student knows test taking strategies.  A learner knows how to read for knowledge.  A student’s day ends at 3:30 or whenever the homework is done.  A learner is always seeking to feed her brain.   
So how do I make the paradigm shift from student to learner?  How do I make her understand that homeschooling is not school?  She is no longer a student.  She is a girl.  She is a sister.  She is a daughter.  She is a granddaughter and niece and a great-niece.  She is an athlete.  She is a musician.  She is a friend.  She is a naturalist.  She is a thinker.  She is a writer.  She is a planner.  She is all these things and more.  She is now a learner.  I want her to feel as confident about that as she is about all the other things that make her who she is.


Karen said...

I love to read your posts. I love the way you want so much what is best for your girls. I love how you are always searching for what they need.

I sent you an email. Hang in there...Hugs.

Stacey said...

You are going to think I stalk you...I really don't! I think we must just be on the same "schedule" for blogging!

Anyway, I find this so interesting because I am teaching a graduate human development class right now. We had this very discussion last night. We read some research about how young children are intrinsically motivated to learn, yet by middle childhood our "system" rewires them to be extrinsically motivated. The authors were suggesting that leads to a decrease in school performance and learning about 4-6 grade. What a mess...not to mention all the pre-teen stuff and hormones...yikes! (And let me be clear...I really think public school teachers do the best they can with what they are given...but most have to resort to the gimics to keep students on track)

I think "students" are extrinsically motivated and "learners" are intrinsically driven/motivated. So, in theory, somehow we've got to get and keep our kids intrinsically motivated (something I struggle with my kids who are young and never been in a public school setting). I see glimpses of motivation, insight, and pure genius. Somehow I have to learn to track what opens those doors and create those opportunities more often.

There's a mystery there that I too am intersted in discovering.

Michelle said...

I think time and patience are the answer. It took (insert number of years in school here) years for her to become a will take time for her to learn to become a learner. Maybe a period of unschooling is necessary? Maybe she just needs to learn how to be a daughter, sister and friend for now? Don't know if any of this helps but my strongest impression while reading your post is that she needs time. Also, thanks for allowing your daughter to comment on my daughter's blog (Unicorn Tales)! She loved getting a comment from another homeschooled "kid"! Best wishes!

Jessica said...

Thank you all for your comments and support. Some de-schooling is definitely in order! I am trying to keep things as laid back and relaxed as possible. Yet because she indicated she may only come home for one year I need her to keep up with studies in case she does in fact return for 6th grade. Part of the struggle, is by the time she is adjusted, if in fact it takes about 5-6 months, spring will be here and she will be getting focused on returning to school. That is frustrating for me. I hope she can look back on this experience and remember the things she loves about it like the Audubon classes she is taking, the time we spend skating and playing with her new friends, history lessons and Girl Scouts. Only time will tell if she will acclimate to this lifestyle and if she will want to continue on in it. I will know in my heart that I gave her every opportunity I could and at least gave her a year off from testing, the test pressures and the social pressures of school.

Theresa said...

I gave you the versatile blogger award today! Please go to my blog to check it out!!

Deb said...

I linked over here from Our Life in Words and love this post! I just finished reading Dumbing Us Down by John Taylor Gatto, and there is a passage in there that really struck me -

"The lesson of report cards, grades, and tests is that children should not trust themselves or their parents but should instead rely on the evaluation of certified officials. People need to be told what they are worth."

My kids have never gone to a traditional school, so while I knew I wanted to avoid raising them to only seek the approval of others, I never thought about what it would be like to overcome that sort of training. I've added you to my reader, and am interested to follow your journey.

See Jamie blog said...

Hang in there! I do think time will make a huge difference. Allow her time to adjust to a totally new way of doing school. And find as much "fun" as you can, all those things that make homeschooling so much more flexible and enjoyable than public school -- once they are used to it.

Another idea is to list all the reasons you are homeschooling your children. You could even write it in the form of a letter to your children, though you won't give it to them until years from now. It is a great way to remind yourself why you are doing it, even when it seems like it isn't working (yet).

mamak said...

I think she may be wanting to read this:

or for you to read passages from this:

Jessica said...

Thank you all so much. Deb welcome. I look forward to linking to your blog. I love Theresa's blog also!

Jamie - I am going to keep reading my earlier posts, especially the ones I wrote when both girls were in school. I am not questioning my resolve or the reasons that we chose this path. I just struggle with her being unhappy. I wish the transition was not so hard but most lessons are.

MamaK - as always, I value your wisdom. I am getting both these books asap!

musicalmary said...

I feel like I could have written this post (although not nearly as beautifully as you did) because this is my life... I am a former teacher who stayed at home with children - my oldest is nine and has been home for a year. She is transitioning from student to learner, and struggling with comparing herself to her younger sibling. I believe it gets better with time and God's gracious blessings. Thank you for a great post!

Nadene said...

What a thought-provoking post! I have also found my eldest (who spent 3 years in school and the last 6 years at homeschool) lost some of her confidence when she came to homeschool. She also went through puberty and a year with no fixed address while we relocated, and lost the sense of herself.

In the past 2 years we have befriended 1 other like-valued homeschool family and they have helped her re-discover herself. Somehow, what mom says doesn't ring true and it must be tested against others. Maybe this is just what adolescents do?

I agree with the need for de-schooling and finding some homeschooling that is not like the 'system'; a craft/ hobby/ activity that is hers. A co-op group or church youth group may fulfill that need for evaluation against others her age.

Ultimately though, it is only the Lord who gives us our real value - Himself in us! Pray. Pray for her and with her and trust that she will come to know how perfectly precious and valuable she is in Him. No other titles needed.

Nancy said...

The behaviorism in our schools, public and private, is so rampant. It's also running around homeschools and churches. It's so very sad. I love the way you define student and learner and couldn't agree more. You might find this video enlightening, even though it's talking about businesses. It's fascinating to hear about the research that they did:

"RSA Animate - Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us"

Thanks for such a great, thought provoking post.


Jessica said...

I love hearing that I am not alone in this journey towards discovery. I have seen a definite improvement in the last week. I have let go of some things that felt too much like school and my daughter is starting to understand that there is a difference between home learning and school. Thank you for taking the time to reply and I look forward to watching the youtube video.

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