Whether it’s going to graduate school, taking up a new hobby or simply picking up a book, life is filled with opportunities to keep learning. As teachers, we’re passionate about the process and benefits that continued education provides. And it’s important that we help our students develop their own passion for learning.
To help your students become lifelong learners, here’s how to promote more problem solving, excitement and independence in classrooms of any grade.
Understanding Lifelong Learners
The first step in promoting lifelong learners is to understand the traits lifelong learners possess. That way, teachers can focus on helping students cultivate this particular skill set.
According to The American Board, lifelong learners possess four core skills:
- The ability to conduct research.
- The ability to evaluate information.
- The ability to synthesize that information.
- The ability to effectively communicate what has been learned.
Lifelong learners are independent people, so it’s important for teachers to go beyond teaching and serve as mentor. When you support exploration and encourage curiosity, rather than always providing answers and giving instruction, students learn to become more independent.
Sebastien Turbot, curator and director of global programs at Qatar Foundation’s World Innovation Summit for Education, says that instead of spoon-feeding information, teachers should serve as a guide, helping students find their own paths. This includes always being present and providing feedback when needed but maintaining a certain distance from the tasks at hand.
Real World Problems
Lifelong learners also possess the ability to engage with and tackle real world problems. From volunteering at a nonprofit to participating in fundraisers for charity, lifelong learners are people who want to make their mark on the world.
To develop these skills in children, presenting them with real world challenges in the classroom is good place to start. Education and career strategist Candace Alstad-Davies suggests discussing current events and issues across the globe. Bringing in guest speakers and going on field trips can further elevate the impact of current events lessons, challenging students to explore new opinions and mindsets beyond the ones they or their families may have.
Another approach to solving real world problems involves planning and creating something tangible. Specifically, Learning for a Sustainable Future recommends incorporating lessons that involve creating something useful and familiar. Think of lessons like making yogurt in Chemistry class or learning how to grow plants in Biology. These kinds of lessons elevate learning beyond the classroom and help students understand the excitement and importance of learning.
You can also give students freedom to evaluate one another’s participation in a group project. Middle school teacher Lisa Spangler says that in her class, students are given a rubric for their group grade, with a total number of points. The students are then asked to divvy up their total grade based on each student’s participation. If there’s debate about a group member’s level of participation, students are invited to engage in healthy conversation. This helps all students, regardless of how much they participated, take responsibility for their work.
Promote Learning Ownership
Lifelong learners are also proud owners of their ability to think about and solve problems independently. When you can promote learning ownership in the classroom, you cultivate the confidence needed to continue learning from both failures and successes throughout life. The easiest way to do this is to provide choices in the classroom.
MiddleWeb explains that students should have a choice about how they demonstrate their understanding of a text or lesson. After reading a book, for example, students can have the choice to complete a book report, a poster, a diorama or another creative work. MIT’s Teaching + Learning Lab says that this also helps students learn how they like to express their knowledge best. When students learn about things in a context that makes sense to them, they can better articulate it in their own words. In turn, this gives them a chance to feel proud of their work.
The flipped classroom model, where students learn outside the classroom via video and complete homework within it, also helps promote these skills. A key aspect of flipped learning that promotes lifelong learning is self-grading. When students grade and evaluate their own work, they’re much more closely tied to their personal performance. Kim Haynes at Teach Hub writes that when students ask themselves questions like, “what did I learn today?” and “what am I still curious about?” they become more responsible for their own learning.
Emphasize Active Learning over Grading
We’ve talked before about how many teachers are straying away from traditional grading. But could grading also be detrimental to lifelong learning? Mark Enser, head of geography at Heathfield Community College in the UK, explains the role of grading in lifelong learning. He says that with so much pressure to achieve high marks and reach certain benchmarks, learning becomes more of a chore that is less enjoyable.
When a culture shifts from a focus on data and grading to a focus on excellence, students have more freedom to engage with their work in their own way and collaborate with others.
This process of learning is what architect Philip Riedel, a principal at NAC Architecture, calls active learning: “involving students in doing things and thinking about the things they are doing.” Active learning promotes collaboration and creative learning between students, helping them develop teamwork and communication skills. And when students are given time and space to solve problems on their own, they’ll be more likely to tackle problems throughout life. In turn, this will make them more engaged in learning new things and taking risks, even when it’s scary and unknown.
Project-based learning is a kind of active learning that helps students collaborate through hands-on challenges. According to The Smart Fox by Method Schools, project-based learning presents students with multi-step problems that slowly increase in complexity, requiring more collaboration as the project progresses.
As a result, students learn how to research, master trial and error and practice deductive reasoning. These are all skills that lifelong learners possess, and adding more project-based lessons to your classroom can help these skills become second nature.
Show Positive Examples
Students also develop a passion for lifelong learning from seeing positive examples displayed by adults other than teachers. Meadville-Tribune reporter Lori Drumm tells the story of a 98-year-old who reads to children at school. By learning from a much older person, the students see first-hand that engaging in discussions and reading books is something that people of all ages do. They learn to admire a zest for learning and intellectualism at any age.
Turn Mistakes into Opportunities
When it comes to taking risks, lifelong learners aren’t afraid to fail. Lee Watanabe Crockett, the creative force behind the Solution Fluency Activity Planner, a tool for educators, says teachers should view student mistakes as opportunities.
When you see a student make a mistake, your reaction should not be disciplinary. Ask questions and get the student to ponder why that outcome happened, and what might come of another approach. Ask students questions about your own mistakes too, setting a positive example of what lifelong learning looks like. When students have the freedom to fail, they’ll be more likely to try new things and learn from them; it’s a skill that will serve them throughout their lives.