Getting Things Done: Compliance or Active Learning?

I am often amazed at how the pressure of “getting things done” can prevent one from  meaning-making with others. The inability to take time to be with another can have significant impact on our well-being as parents and teachers.

A colleague and I were driving to do some training at a school. It was early morning, and we had had a late start. Getting back into the car with two cups of coffee for my friend and me, I felt quite relieved, as I had difficulty understanding the coffee attendant, who was speaking with a heavy southern accent.

The Context: Getting Things Done!

The coffee attendant pointed at two different types of coffee, explaining what the difference was. I heard what sounded like a continuous murmur followed by a questioning expression on his face as he waited for my response. As I didn’t want a lengthy exchange so early in the morning, I pointed to filter coffee and indicated that I wanted two cups. In the car I realized, with some shock, that I had gotten coffee with milk in it .  “Why did you get us lattes?” my friend asked with an irritated look on her face. This was not a good start for the day.

How Did This Happen?

I was thinking about how I could have gotten a simple daily activity, like buying coffee, so wrong. Why didn’t I pay more attention to the attendant? How much longer could this have taken—perhaps an additional minute or two or no extra time? Instead, I half-heartedly listened to the attendant, and continued to order two coffees based on inadequate information. This was not, clearly, my proudest moment.

I let it go but realized that I have not unraveled the intricacies of meaning-making in my own life.

Reflection on Learning

This experience made me reflect on the number of times during the day that parents and professionals interact with students without understanding what the children really want. We expect students to comply without helping them go through the steps in an engaged way. How we complete tasks becomes less important than completing the tasks set. Consequently, the knowledge students acquire has little sustainability for long-term use. Our inability to observe where students are at often limits meaning-making between us.

A 2019 research study addresses the long-standing question of why students and teachers remain resistant to active learning. They showed that students who are actively engaged learn more, but they feel like they learn less. The increased cognitive effort from the students contributes to this negative correlation. Students do not seem to recognize their own learning when it is cognitively more challenging. We often under-estimate the importance of student engagement in our rush to get tasks completed.

Strategies for Enhancing Meaning-making with Students

  1. Be attentive: Being present and self-aware forms the basis of being with another. Helping students to learn is about how we pay attention to what and how they are doing.
  2. Be open to listen and observe: Meaning-making with a student develops as we show interest in what s/he has to offer. There is a difference between student compliance and engagement. If your focus is on getting things done, you might get consent from the student; but long-term benefits can be compromised. We need to concede that the quality of our students’ engagement is pertinent for sustained learning.
  3. Students need different ways to learn and interact:  Being with a student means that we move with the student in supporting learning. Implied in this principle is the acceptance that students will differ in how they learn curricular content. Technology can be a useful tool; however, it can also be a dangerous master.
  4. Meaning-making develops as we fine-tune mutual understanding: We need to consistently monitor our own understanding of what the student is communicating and doing. I thought I had ordered black coffee, but I received lattes. Was this really the mistake of the coffee attendant? After all, it is not the time we put in that counts, but what we put into the time….

Any comments, ideas or experiences you want to share?

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