As a teacher, this has been most instructive for me in so many ways. While I do like to learn really weird things for no reason at all, learning is actually easier when I do have a reason. When I know — when I really, really know — that something is going to be useful, not only the sitting down and putting myself to the task of learning is easier, but the learning itself comes more quickly.
Teaching students that they are “going to use this one day” is a perpetual challenge. When you are 14, you don’t know the sorts of things you are going to need to know when you are 24 or 34. Heck, when I was 40, I didn’t know the sort of things I need to know at 50. Our crystal balls just aren’t that good. A “good student” will go through the motions just to make the teacher happy and they will learn a lot, don’t get me wrong.
But when you’ve stood in a pharmacy and have mimed to a pharmacist that you have bronchitis, it has an effect on you. When you go to a fancy restaurant and order a mixed grill and they bring you blood sausage, tripe, and bull-testicles, you remember. It is truly motivational.
I guess what I am trying to say is that experience can be an excellent foundation for learning.
Not only does experience provide motivation, it provides context. It’s one thing to read in a book or see on a computer screen that a “parada” is a taxi stand, it’s another to read the word above the taxi stand, see the taxis, hear the traffic, and smell the exhaust.
This is true beyond the learning language. The more we as teachers can connect what is in the book to things students can touch with their hands, that they can taste, feel, and smell, the better they can learn. Having received that reinforcement can help them realize that learning, even for its own sake, is a good thing.
(Bobby Winters, a native of Harden City, Oklahoma, is Associate Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and Professor of Mathematics at Pittsburg State University. He blogs at redneckmath.blogspot.com and okieinexile.blogspot.com. You may contact him at email@example.com. We invite you to “like” the National Association of Lawn Mowers on Facebook.)