Treating Subjects, Students & Teachers as Primary Sources for Learning

By J. Waldron

Learning is the crux of what drives me both personally and professionally. I have come to realize that by treating people in my life (students, family, colleagues, and myself) as primary sources, I am naturally curious about understanding and ameliorating the motivators for learning and self-expression, thereby inhibiting the suppressors of the same.

Primary sources are the prize of any and all good research. Although they often take work to find and interpret they are, after all, the ‘real deal’ offering a more authentic view of any subject at hand. If teachers and students thought of subjects, themselves and each other each as primary sources worth discovering, then maybe better thinking and learning would result.

When both teachers and students act as informal researchers within their spheres of influence they are honing their pattern recognition and clue-finding skills and overall critical thinking abilities.

When teaching something new and venturing into uncharted territory, such as a new coding interface or digital storyboard maker, I take the time to remind myself (and my students) that we are all learners, all the time. If I were to let my need for full control and competency overrule my curiosity, I would be less likely to embrace new approaches and resources in my classroom. Instead, I make room for informal research and exploratory play thereby making new challenges less intimidating. I do this while keeping the following in mind;

  • Learning happens in expected and unexpected ways.

  • There is always potential to learn something from any situation or person that we encounter, read about or view online.

  • When we learn new things we grow our minds and our perceptions of people and the larger world.

  • When we actively choose to explore the topics that interest us we are inherently more engaged and motivated.

  • When our intentions are to learn we are simultaneously acknowledging what we don’t know.

  • Learning takes courage and humility. When we model these traits others are more likely to do so the same.

  • When we show the ‘seeking side’ of our curious minds, people’s guards often come down so alliances can be built which leads to more collaboration.

Teachers naturally ask themselves, “How can I improve my lesson based upon student feedback? What caught students’ interest and attention and why? When were they most and least engaged? What is the quality of student work telling me about their motivation, depth of thinking and skill acquisition?”

Students, in turn, may often ask themselves, “How can I share what I have learned in an more interesting or accessible way? How can I learn more about this topic? How do I execute the task at hand more efficiently? How will this learning help me in my life? What have I learned about the world, myself and/or others in the process?”

‘Thinking about thinking’ or metacognition is essentially a form of reflective learning that is more likely to give way to depth, connection and retention. Teachers and students are, therefore, a wealth of information of and unto themselves, sources tapped and untapped. When curiosity leads, great results in learning will surely follow. Primary sources in all ways are, therefore, worth exploring.