experiential learning

Squandered Moments

by Trudy on April 29, 2011

I had the awesome opportunity to go on a field trip recently with a group of grade 4 students. Many would not be excited by this prospect, but I truly was.

The reason is, after all of PROVOKE’s work within the education sector (it is one of our core areas of focus and expertise), I was eager to see experiential learning at its best. We have learned repeatedly that this is one of the most coveted, magical moments of learning, when the hands on experience of diving deep into a topic live, ignites engagement, enthusiasm and quality learning.

We arrived at our destination, students vibrating with enthusiasm. (Okay maybe because they were out of their classroom for the day, but nonetheless they were excited to be there regardless of the motivation.) And I observed eagerly, ready to take in the moments of learning.

All I can say is, what a bust. A waste of an opportunity. Harsh perhaps, but let me share with you what I saw.

The students arrived and walked past some awesome and exciting artifacts, but were told to walk past quickly and sit down. (Interesting as this venue was a client and I know how hard they planned and worked to make the exhibits draw people in and engage. They did a great job, but the leaders of the day had an agenda and that did not include allowing the force of the exhibit to work.) The students did as they were told, with their curious eyes darting at the exhibits to take in as much as they could on their way through.

They then sat down and were lectured at by the leader for a solid 10 minutes. Really, 10 minutes. What was the lecture about? The “rules” of how to behave. And, it was delivered in a condescending, simpleton, I-know-you-are-here-to-create-havoc manor, so the students were basically told to sit down, be quiet and listen. (Ummm, not seeing much opportunity for magical moments of engagement here.) I could not help myself when asked if there were any questions. I promptly raised my hand and asked how the students would have fun. The response was, “If they listen they will have fun.” Okey dokey. (I was starting to get worried now.)

The program had some teaching (still in the charming “you must all be idiots” tone he began with – can you hear my teeth gnashing?). The moments of “experience” came in the form of laminated 8×10 photographs, and allowing for some questions to be asked. (Don’t forget that they were sitting in the middle of real examples all around them, but what was offered may as well have been a text book in a class room). Yikers!

Next we moved into a room of artifacts where the students got to do some independent discovery (phew, finally), make presentations of what they learned and to debate about the merits of one choice over another. They were finally getting into it. They were engaged, excited, the energy was ripping through the room. The hands were popping into the air to contribute, the magical moment started to appear and I was getting excited watching them.

Then, boom, down came the oppressive hand. “Be quiet, settle down,” order in the court (oops, make that room). Just when the students were in the moment they were whacked out of it. Sigh, now I am really worried.

Anyway, they had an afternoon program that pretty much mirrored that experience, and we all walked away disappointed. Okay, as you can tell from this blog, I was well beyond disappointed. I was shocked that such a wonderful opportunity had been squandered in the name of “control”. Number one objective for this place was to keep the kids under control. I am so saddened when people lose sight of their objective. Engaging students in moments of learning may not always be best facilitated by shushing and reprimanding.

Do not get me wrong, I am not saying wild mayhem should ensue, but certainly there is a happy medium that allows the enthusiasm for learning to come out. One of the major issues education has is not being able to sustain engagement with students. Hmmm, when we consider the prime objective of “maintaining control” do we really have to wonder why? (I actually once had a teacher say to me that if a student is too insistent in raising a hand to answer questions, the teacher ignores the child! Huh?!). Most kids and youth rise to what is expected of them (frankly adults too!). Look at what we are expecting of them, it is a pretty low marker generally speaking.

Let’s remember what the end goal is in all of our actions, and let’s try to expect quality engagement from those around us. This seems way more fun than ripping the snot out of enthusiasm, doesn’t it?