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You Can’t Teach Anyone Anything…You Can Only Motivate!

By Debra Bell | June 13, 2013 | by Debra Bell, The Science of Learning

I generated quite a bit of discussion on my Facebook page last week when I posted this provocative statement: You can’t teach anyone anything, you can only motivate someone to engage in learning. What do you think? Is that true?

My point is this: If your child doesn’t choose to turn on her brain, focus her attention on the topic at hand and think about what you are presenting, it doesn’t matter how well organized or compelling your lesson is. You might be teaching, but the child isn’t learning. She has to flip on that light switch inside first.

We learn what we think about, and the learner is always in control of just what that is going to be. You might be doing a tap dance and a jig at the front of the room, and your son might be staring right at you, but his mind could be a thousand different places.

So, is there anything we can do about this? You bet: We can motivate. First, God has given your kids the gift of curiosity. Use that to your advantage.  One way to grab their attention is to pique their interest. You can do this by asking a provocative question (like I did in the first paragraph.) Another way is to show them something unusual or new. We are easily bored and lose interest in the familiar.  Or use the element of suprise. Break the routine. Announce a mystery guest or an unplanned field trip.

One quick don’t. Don’t insist a child pay attention or use negative consequences and threats. I know this statement is controversial. We tend to view a lack of attention as a character weakness. And maybe it is sometimes. But here’s the rub: Our ability to learn is reduced when we feel upset, threatened or stressed. Any source of negativity decreases our ability to engage in learning. Think about yourself in a similar situation. Can you process a lot of information when you are upset? Can you give your full attention to reading a book or exploring new terrain if something stressful has just happened? That’s my point. We actually learn more when we are happy and relaxed. Laughter is even better — so start the day with a belly full of giggles as a warm-up exercise for the brains in your house.

I see this process as God-designed. He wants us to view our ability to learn as a blessing and a source of enjoyment. That’s why He’s hard-wired us to learn, and lifelong learning is the secret to healthy brains and a satisfying life. Curiosity is the fuel that keeps our minds active — so leverage that the next time you call your kids to class.

Are your children motivated to learn? What do you do when they aren’t?

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