Written by Clare Caro
When we set up the environment for ‘authentic learning’, we start seeing certain skills and qualities in the learner. These skills are skills for life. Not only do they serve the child in childhood, but also many adults seek these skills in adulthood. They are skills that bring us closer to our ‘authentic self’.
Authentic learning environments work for learners of all ages, from young babies and toddlers, to preschool and throughout the later school years. They are also beneficial to adults. When a child develops in an authentic learning environment we get the Active Learner.
The Active Learner
What is an Active Learner?
Active Learners are self-motivated and display the kind of motivation which comes from within, often referred to as internal or intrinsic motivation. Self-motivated people know what they would like to do and so they do it. They are not dependent on being given content or on activities being provided. The ability for self-motivation eliminates the uncomfortable state of ‘not knowing what to do’ - also known as boredom which many content-provided learners find themselves in. Inspiration comes from their own creative ideas or is inspired by the world around them.
To develop this skill, learners need environments that promote choice, decision-making and creativity. Learners choose to do what they are interested in and their interests push their progress at the correct pace for them. Self-direction and creativity develop when we stop having ideas for them, such as when setting up activities and directing them.
Active Learners are confident to try new things - sharing and expressing ideas, plans, problems - without the fear of being ‘wrong’. We live in a culture riddled with self-doubt and fear that confidence can make us arrogant, yet we all know that healthy self-confidence is an extremely important skill to have. We want our children to be confident in the world. True confidence shrinks self-doubt and avoids arrogance.
Confidence gives us the foundations to not only follow our interests and tackle the unknown; healthy confidence allows us to be ourselves.
To develop this skill, learners need environments, which are accepting and free from judgment, yet also provide the tools to work within a judgmental environment. Self-confidence and self-motivation cannot develop when we prompt learners into being ready.
How we supply the raw material also offers learning; laying it out for them or storing it in an access-all-areas environment can develop either dependency or independency.
Active Learners find solutions - with their ability to assess risk, overcome challenges and ultimately solve problems – without it being a ‘problem’. Active Learners can develop the skills to approach and solve any challenges they may face. While this is an internal skill, something we do ourselves, it also includes knowing when and how to ask for help.
Whether we are problem solving alone, in a group, or facilitating someone in their problem solving, we require the same tool kit of lenses, vocabulary and the ability to unpack situations from all angles.
To develop this skill, we offer the level of help which allows the learner to do it themselves. When we solve and fix everything for a learner, we rob them of the time and opportunity to develop themselves. We are aware that ‘help’ is about choices, dependency and power dynamics, and promote an environment where all Learners are empowered to accept or decline help without judgment.
Active Learners have skills of leadership, and, just as importantly, know how to be part of a team. These are social skills or ‘soft skills’, central to how well we get along with others and are part of a community. Leadership is founded on our ability to lead ourselves; developing our own motivation, confidence, and problem solving.
There are many ways leadership can present itself in our world; authoritarian, passive and partnership, are the three key styles we see most often. We promote first-hand experiences of partnership group dynamics, where everyone has a voice, can hear others and work to a shared vision which the Learner will be able to transfer into group settings.
These skills, along with influences from leadership and group dynamics we have experienced first-hand are where leaders pick up leadership skills. Leadership skills cannot develop when we get too involved in their work and are constantly looking for ‘teaching moments’.
We do this by providing time, a safe space and place, and reducing adults’ direct involvement. The simple way to see it: if everything is done for us, we can miss developing those skills ourselves.
Lengthy attention spans cannot develop when we interrupt with our questions, praise, frequent warnings and entertainment.
Creative and Imaginative
Active Learners are creative; they can come up with their own ideas and make them into something.
There is a third element we cater for in the creative process, and that is to develop the skills to view ideas in different contexts to examine how they impact each other, where they support or inhibit a system, but also evaluate how to affect change. Running creative ideas though bigger-picture thinking helps to birth safe and fully considered ideas into the world.
Creativity is a skill that is sensitive to its environment and can be reduced or suppressed if now fostered carefully and compassionately.
To develop this skill we provide environments which support the initial image-building ability (imagination) along with the space for ideas and the transition from idea to making; the creation with our own hands.
Every child is capable of being the Active Learner. The journey of childhood starts with fully dependent babies, finishing as fully independent adults. As the child grows, their capability grows. The support we provide on this road directly affects well-being in childhood and in life as an adult.
Active Learners work within their capabilities, they assess risk and self-manage. The more they develop this skill, the more capable they become in recognizing their limitations, in managing their own physical and mental health, the more competent they become in relationships with others, their community and environment.
The skill of being capable can evolve into responding (instead of reacting), functioning even when on adrenaline, and remaining ‘on-line’ (considered and productive) in the face of emergencies and crisis. Working within one’s own capabilities is impossible when there are ‘helping hands’ managing learners beyond their own capabilities.
Self-regulation allows a person to check-in with themselves, be attuned to others and their wider environment and to function with opposing ideas in mind at the same time, to recognise when they are stressed and know what to do with that stress.
To develop self-regulation, the authentic learning environment is designed to support the developing nervous system, the social-emotional brain, and executive brain function in the developing child.
This requires practitioners that are highly skilled at co-regulation, which is the ability to regulate themselves as well as facilitating the development of self-regulation in the learner. The environment we create also holds the rhythm that mimics the rhythm of the self-regulation. Self-regulation cannot develop when the adults surrounding a learner are not able to self-regulate, or the environment has no rhythm-like structure.
How do we teach learners these skills?
We can’t. These are skills that the learners acquire themselves.
Our role is not to 'teach', instead it is to set up the environment that allows the child/learner the time, and the space and a place, held by nurturing adults and a regulated rhythm. An environment where learners have enough freedom and availability, access all areas and furnished with raw materials. It is the environment where they develop and acquire these skills.
COMING SOON THE ACTIVE LEARNER / PART 2