This is one of the most horrifying questions in my career I get almost every day. As a high school teacher, I hear it over and over again. When it is asked, I have visions of me being in a 1920s assembly line factory and I am a manager. A factory worker comes up to me and asks what they want me have them do. I yell at them to put more rivets in and work faster. My vision then snaps forward to the near future when I am a manager of a company and an employee comes to me with the same question. I fire them on the spot and buy a robot with artificial intelligence to take their place. As I come back to reality, I gently tell the student to look for examples, research the assignment, talk to peers, figure it out. I let them know I will check their first attempt if needed.
The last time I heard the question, it was a senior in high school who asked me. The assignment was to create an online portfolio that shows how you learn something you are interested in. I put links to examples of other student portfolios. I asked students to work with each other to find different ways to create the portfolio. I even showed an example of something I personally created for my previous school (video here) as an example. I let the students know the video I created opened doors for me. How I used it in interviews for new positions. How I was invited to speak around the idea that was created. How I was going places because I took initiative to work with others and create. I feel we have lost this skill as people to identify what we are learning and how we can control it ourselves.
In order to combat this challenge, I came up with some solutions you as a parent or teacher can do with your kids.
1. Every day have them keep a journal to identify one thing they learned that day. Start them young! Do this before they get to middle school! It doesn’t have to be in the school day. It can be anytime of the day. Make sure they do this for at least a month. This will help them look for learning moments. Stick with it. They will try to stop after a few days because it will become difficult to them after 5 days or so.
2. Teach them ways to show their learning in creative ways. So many times, students just focus on the grades and tests they miss the most important part of learning. Have them work with Adobe Spark, Weebly, Wix, Youtube, Podcasts, or anything else they can showcase their learning. Have them visually and verbally explain their learning moments. You can find a video example of my son’s learning 3D printing here. This will not only teach them to tell their story, it will also teach them to use technology as a tool.
3. Have students build a running portfolio. Building a portfolio at a young age is important for several reasons. In this day and age, the resume, GPAs, degrees, and SAT scores don’t really reveal what an individual can do. A digital portfolio can. The digital portfolio showing what and how a young person learns becomes their own story. It personalized learning wherever and whenever it happens. When you teach youth to create this portfolio, they learn to identify learning moments and ways to communicate it.
These three things can drastically improve the way your kid learns. I have found that young people who are able to identify their own learning moments and communicate them are more confident. They understand why they are learning things better. They take more initiative in their learning. They own it. Most importantly, they don’t rely on the teacher to have their answer. They learn how to find it themselves. They take ownership to their learning.
They don’t ask “Mr. H, what do you want me to do?”