Real, Accessible Learning

Riddle: what's big, blue, free, involves every subject, and keeps your kids self-managing for weeks to months at a time?

The title sounds pretentious, but that's the way it is. If your children are around middle-school age or above and are learning at home, is giving them individual activities piece by piece really optimal for their learning lives?

The Myths About Learning series denotes some assumptions people often have that certain things are compulsory for learning at home. But these things often conflict with a cohesive effort at learning. If we really have a choice to turn our children into voracious learners, will we make good on it?

If you get down to the hard tax on what learning really is about, the answer is not to finish such and such a paper and this or that task. In the long run, what our learning should be about is turning our kids into self-defined people who use judgement to adjust to the world around them. Not people who ask, "what do I do next?" all of the time or have to refer to a published list of lessons for insight about how to conduct their lives. Can you imagine adults pausing indefinitely and waiting for further instructions from their parents before they could simply find some food for themselves?

So then, our ways of learning should holistically give children instrumental involvement in becoming, not obsessing over, "I have to complete this form, paper or whatever". Moving in this type of direction usually gets assigned to a theoretical back-burner. And children repeatedly exhibit the same problems with managing time and tasks because those activities have little or no connection with significant meaning.

Some people assert context into learning through methods like Self Directed Learning and Project Based Learning. These types of ideas work for certain contexts and some personalities. But they can be labor intensive to manage, too unstructured, inadequately defined or dependent on unfamiliar techniques, making them impractical for a lot of parents.

The great news is these issues can be addressed in a practical way that improves your life as well as that of your child.

What is the big blue thing referred to earlier? Well, it may be the answer to the above question. The Big6 may seem underwhelming at first blush, but give it a chance to sink in. A couple of guys got together to examine human activities, basically looking to find out what everyone does in order to accomplish things, read: projects. After analyzing different efforts, they narrowed everything down to six steps. That is, the six steps in which work occurs for everything from building a pyramid to finding a job.

This is the golden process. Unaware of what we are doing, most of us already lead learners step by step through it, digesting it down. Whether using curriculum or not, we take it upon ourselves to look at subjects to be studied, research them and break them down into activities through which the kids are expected to learn. In this way, parents and teachers (as well as curriculum specialists) are frequently the ones who complete the most valuable parts of learning.

So, take it to the next level. Using the Big6 as the framework for our children to follow trains them to know what is coming next. If we show our children how to handle the process, they will naturally deal with the minutiae. As a result, they learn how to address the questions, problems and challenges in life and practice using the skills with which they should already be familiar.

Does this mean you can dump the Big6 on your kids and do housework in uninterrupted bliss? No. Using the Big6 is not an excuse to make children wander about alone. Prior to beginning my illustrious career as a family learner, I taught use of the Big6 and can tell you firsthand that it takes lots of collaborative work. Your time previously spent on lessons, activity sheets, etc. will be greatly repurposed. You may end up with a looser relationship to the content (and possibly a bit of extra time), but focus more effort on skills and consulting.

Following the Big6 will require coaching your child regarding decisions about the topic and scope of projects. This includes maintaining appropriate connections between the project and subjects like math and science. And don't forget quality control-- editing and making sure that project work has its t's crossed and i's dotted will play a critical part in the success of the process. You might even work together with your kids to arrange and conduct interviews with experts in the subjects they are studying.

Big6 support materials are freely available on the website so that learners have something to follow at first. They provide a framework of questions and activities leading through the process, but training learners in the steps of the Big6 will involve knowing and demonstrating skills for each stage. To name a few, this includes techniques for library use, proper Internet search, book/website analysis, note taking, summarizing, interviewing and editing. This is not a cold-turkey kind of development. The change in overall thinking will take adjustment time for all and research for the parent. Kids will need to go through the process at least a couple of times before they start to feel proficient at it.

Once your children do get it, they will be learning powerhouses. Apart from gaining situational awareness, they will grow in abilities to assimilate and analyze information, acquire skills they need to execute plans, relate to knowledge within context and self-critique their work.

The Big6 is a great option for structuring home learning which can balance out the anemia in standard approaches. Though time and commitment are managed quite differently with it, they are used in equal, if not greater quantities. Making the switch would take effort, but the results would be more than worthwhile, getting children truly ready for real world decision making.

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