State your objectives

I recently stumbled across this article that shares how to best raise smart kids. This article by itself is interesting, but also helped me to better conceptualize my teaching philosophy.

I'm beginning to visualize how best to design curriculum for optimal student learning. First is the motivation for learning. Students must be properly motivated to learn a subject. This motivation is best when internally driven, but can be successfully accomplished through properly setting objectives. I've tried lecturing on why such and such a subject should be learned, but I'm not convinced this is very effective. They really need to be shown or lead there on their own. How best can this be accomplished, through setting of objectives that stretch the students abilities.

Research has shown that it takes approximately 10 years of continuous effort and training before someone reaches the expert level. This is true in chess, athletics, music, academia, programming, or business. Mozart was not a world class composer until after he was 20 years old, more than 17 years after he wrote his first song. Bobby Fisher, the chess whiz kid, took approximately 10 years to become a world class chess player. Michael Jordan became a world class basketball player after more than 10 years of play.

There is one common trait among all of these examples. It wasn't just 10 years of practice. It was 10 years of focused practice. Practice with a goal. Practice designed to increase their skills. They became world class through sustained practice directed by explicit purpose. They didn't see themselves as stagnate or limited. They never accepted that they had nature abilities and that's all they needed. Rather, they constantly tried to improve.

This mentality must be translated into the classroom. This leads to my first question: How does an instructor motivate students into trying to improve themselves, rather than focus on knowledge gained? If class objectives focus primarily on learning some subject area, students can use the intelligence cop out for poor performance. I'll be the first to admit that learning a subject area is essential to performance. I'm not at all denigrating that aspect of learning. Concepts are essential. However, they should not be the primary objective of the class. Instead, it should something more fundamental. The students should be seeking to increase their own abilities at some skill. As Ayn Rand has said (although I can't remember where), learning for learning sake is pure rationalism. Knowledge must serve a purpose. There must be some end for that knowledge. When designing a class curriculum, this must always be kept in mind.

The next question is: How do you encourage students to increase their own abilities? This is the critical question I am currently struggling with answering. In future blogs, I hope to write more about some of my ideas.

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