Last week, I hit the peak of my young 21 years on this earth when a student decided to let me in on what they truly thought of me:
“Ms. Regan? You kind of remind me of a grandma. I mean, you dress like a grandma and use big words… but, like, it works.”
You guys. I have done it. My dreams have been realized. Finally, the pinnacle has been reached. You see, that statement to me wasn’t an insult or a way to point out the ever-sprouting gray hairs on my head (they’ve done that too though, don’t worry); instead, it was a reminder that I am on the right track to becoming the teacher I’ve always wanted to be, cardigans and all.
Though this student in particular was referencing my wardrobe and overuse of the word “precious,” his statement warmed my heart for another reason. I believe wholeheartedly in using the grandma style “teaching” method. Sugata Mitra referenced this style in his TED Talk titled “The Child-Driven Education” and argues for its integration into education everywhere. The basis of the grandma method is this: be present, but let the children guide themselves. Your job is not to tell students what they need to learn, but to instead question and pry to see what they are truly interested in learning. In this model, teachers are called to stand behind children and the material while asking lots of questions and praising the efforts being made. If students are encouraged to think for themselves and lead their own education, they will be more engaged and truly learning.
I can hear the cries of outrage already; how can teachers possibly buy into this? How can we expect students of all people to want to learn and feel the internal drive to do so? What about rewards and punishment? We feel the need to control pulling so hard that sometimes it’s easy to give in; even as I write what I know is true, I can still feel my past traditional education whispering that there is no way this will work. However, it’s nice to have some science behind me. Mitra’s TED Talk focused on the grandma method, but Daniel Pink’s “The Puzzle of Motivation” hit home when discussing extrinsic vs. intrinsic motivation. Do rewards even work? No, he argues, stating that there is a massive mismatch between what science knows and what businesses (and, I would argue, schools) do. The system of reward and punishment doesn’t work and can instead lead to harm. What we function in now, according to Pink, is trying to convince students to work in a system of compliance and expect them to be excited about it:
Traditional notions of management are great if you want compliance. But if you want engagement, self direction works better.
Isn’t that true for you? For me, I know it is. I am more excited and willing to go the extra mile for things that I love instead of things I am told to do. Pink states many studies in which higher incentives led to worse performances, so why do we continue to believe the false notion that kids must be extrinsically motivated when we all have drive and ambition within us?
Mitra says “if children have interest, then education happens.” Why, then, do we continue to shut the door on their interests and push our own agenda? If we want students to be thinkers and learners, we must open our eyes to the truth and allow them to explore their own intrinsic motivation. Step aside and let the information find its way into the minds of your students.
Embrace your inner grandma. Wear those cardigans and pleated skirts with pride. After all, “like, it works.”