Success in any field of endeavour requires focus. Practice and repetition build confidence. The ability to find joy in being still in concentration is a significant aspect to building a lifelong love of learning.
Modern education is built on a suite of complementary elements: the need for deep knowledge and understanding, the capacity to think critically and make informed judgements, the ability to work collaboratively and also independently, the capacity for creative thinking, the ability to communicate in appropriate media and forms.
However, most coaching is focused on the rather narrow acquisition of facts. I characterise the focus on more knowledge as akin to the collection of five-cent pieces. Whilst each bit of additional knowledge is of some value, it is simultaneously practically worthless. Authentic tutoring does not give students a mountain of facts to read – in a move designed to overwhelm the student and impress parents. Authentic tutoring places the needs of the student foremost and manages the emotional factors that can significantly impact on, and undermine, learning.
A robust and authentic education values application of knowledge over recall of facts. It values the capacity to inquire and critique. This includes the capacity to critique what is being taught and why.
Critical thinking does not just happen by virtue of the passing of time. There are plenty of examples of people in leadership positions in society who seem to have little capacity to reflect on their decision-making. A deep understanding of cause and effect and the implications of decisions is a necessary consequence of deep thinking. Tutoring should be built around the need to develop critical thinking skills, as one element of a robust program. This includes the capacity to see what would happen if a particular line of thinking is extended.
In order to learn to think deeply, students must be taught how to focus without distraction. Concentration of mind is particularly difficult in age where distraction is the new affirmation. Social media affects adults and children alike, and the discipline to focus is an intrinsic feature of a thoughtful approach to tutoring.
Collaboration assists students to understand that learning is not a selfish pursuit. We do not lose something through sharing, but rather gain important insights and understandings from others. The development of empathy begins with understanding others’ perspectives. The notion of ranking students is anathema to the idea of collaboration. A robust education builds on the trust and peer relationships between students, rather than pitting them against one another.
Many students fear creative thinking because the outcomes are not pre-determined. They seek definitive answers rather than the speculation of uncertainty. Interviewing pre-med students is interesting because most characterise English as the “hardest” subject they ever had to do. When asked why they almost universally respond, “because there is more than one correct response”. When creative thinking tasks are being done, students who are afraid of “being wrong” often baulk or hesitate. Education should build resilience and the capacity to take an academic risk to try even if it means not being “right”.
Resilience is evidenced in the focus and attention students bring to tasks. This focus is sometimes characterised as “effort”. Certainly, concentration of mind is a significant element of successful learning.
The purpose of study is not simply to perform well on exams or assessment tasks. Rather, study that builds the ability to focus, to think critically, work collaboratively and engage in creative problem solving will provide the student a love of learning for life.
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