Resolving to Learn

The new year has been upon us for just about two weeks. For those who made resolutions, many of them have already gone by the wayside. A USA Today online article stated that less than 10% of resolutions are achieved. Even if we have not resolved to do it, many of us consistently are working on improvement. One way of doing this is spending time in the “Learning Zone.”

Eduardo Briceno explains the learning zone in the TED Talk How to Get Better at the Things You Care About (https://www.ted.com/talks/eduardo_briceno_how_to_get_better_at_the_things_you_care_about). Despite our hard work, we are often stagnated and not improving. In life, we spend our time either in the learning zone or the performance zone, and need to create a balance between operating in both zones. The learning zone is a time to focus on skills we haven’t mastered, and expect to make many mistakes for growth. Whereas the performance zone is a time when we are executing what we have mastered to our best ability. In our learning zone we are not only reading or researching how to improve, but practicing and soliciting feedback. The skill is broken down into components so during repeated practice adjustments can be made. Being in the performance zone is not only where we get things done, but also provides a focus for the next cycle of the learning zone to make our performance even better.

Typically, the performance zone happens in a high-stakes environment whereas the learning zone only occurs in a low-stakes setting (because mistakes are part of the process). Constantly being in a high-stakes setting does not allow for us to exit the performance zone. What I found interesting about his talk is when asked, most students feel that all of school, not just standardized testing, is high-stakes because mistakes are not valued. Students feel if they make mistakes that others will think less of them.

As educators and parents, how can we change this? First, we embrace the learning by giving credit to mistakes. Thomas Edison failed over a thousand times before inventing the lightbulb. Penicillin was created via an experiment gone wrong. Next, we provide feedback and coaching. When a child makes a mistake, talk about what went wrong and what can be done differently for a better outcome. Let the child explain his/her idea and give it a try, even if we know it is not going to be successful. Not only is the child learning more, but when a successful outcome is achieved the child will own it. Give children ample time to practice before the expectation of mastery. Finally, we model our own learning. Children need to see that our worlds are not perfect and the steps we take to learn a new skill.

So, as we progress into 2018, I challenge you to resolve to learn. Give yourself time to step back and reflect, celebrate what was successful as well as focus on one area to improve. Then, share your learning journey with another.

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