Make it Stick: Learning to teach and teaching to learn

In his book, The Barcelona Way, Professor Damian Hughes promotes The Mad Men Method (named after the show of the same name) as a way to improve our working lives. The basic premise is to stop and think about what we are doing (or not doing) now that our grandchildren will find ridiculous fifty years from now.

This is what Hughes stopped and thought about:

I think our grandchildren will look back and say, back in 2018, when leaders wanted their people to learn how to change, they didn’t bother teaching them the most important part: how the learning machine actually works. What the heck were those people thinking?

Right now, leaders in our society focus their attention on teaching the material, getting through the curriculum. This is the equivalent of trying to train athletes without informing them that muscles exist. It’s like teaching nutrition without mentioning vegetables or vitamins. We feverishly cram our classrooms with whiz-bang technology, but fail to teach the kids how their own internal circuitry is built to operate.

It’s all completely understandable, of course. Our parenting and teaching practices evolved in an industrial age, when we presumed potential was innate. Brains were fixed. It’s another assumption we should have moved past – as we have with smoking being healthy and three-martini lunches being normal – but haven’t. In fact, you could argue that teaching a child how their brain works is not just an educational strategy – it’s closer to a human right.

Through the work of Carol Dweck and others, I believe we have moved past the assumption that potential is innate. The many teachers that I admire certainly have. However, if our vision is to develop lifelong learners, it is our students that need to understand how their brains work and the science behind successful learning. Isn’t it ridiculous that our students could spend well over a decade in formal learning without being let in on the ‘secrets’ of how they learn best!?

This year the teaching faculty at The International School of Yangon (ISY) will be reading Make it Stick. It is not a particularly new book and the science and ideas in it are not particularly new either. But old ideas are not necessarily bad ideas. And new ideas are not necessarily good ideas. Schools must keep abreast of new ideas but they must put their energy and resources into those that are proven to work for the students that they teach. This is what ISY intends to do in relation to the science of successful learning.

Reading Make it Stick will make us better teachers. It will provide us with a common understanding and conversation builder around the science of successful learning. But it won’t be until we share this understanding with our students that we will be teaching them how to learn.

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