This post was inspired by a recent tweet from Lilia Mantai:
My (almost) 3.5yr old sees a pen on the dining table & goes: Who’s drawing Mummy?
Me: Me, Mummy’s been writing.
Me: Mummy writes down ideas.
Me: That’s Mummy’s job, she thinks, she writes and …
He: Yesterday, I saw a lion, and he didn’t bite me.
— Lilia Mantai (@LiliaMantai) October 13, 2018
When I was studying a Masters in Higher Education, I used an interview-style conversation with my daughter at almost four years of age as part of a reflective learning activity. This is how it went:
Q: What is a teacher?
A: Well … a grown up who teaches kids how to spell their names. Like this [spells out name]. And they give them a stamp.
Q: What is learning?
A: Well … I learn about dragons. You teach them how to fly … Like that [points to words I am writing] says ‘dragon’ and ‘fly’.
Q: What else have you learnt about?
A: Books. My animal books. I’ll show you [brings over ‘The Human Body’]. Here’s a heavy book about bones. The book teaches blood cells how to go ‘beep beep’ and fight something if you are hurt by ants or sick or when you bump yourself. I learn how to eat and talk and how to make my bones walk when I am going home … [When I was a baby] I cannot walk. I need to learn how to read. I could rip things. But I have big bones now. I learned about sniffing flowers. I learned not to rip things. I learned not to be a baby. If I play, it makes me happy.
Q: What did mummy and daddy teach you?
A: Mummy and Daddy taught me how to walk and smell things and listen and sit in my own chair. And about my different bones.
Q: Who else teaches you?
A: My teachers [at preschool]. Sometimes I say, ‘I need to go to the toilet’ to my teachers. They teach me how to do that. And I learnt to say to dragons, ‘Don’t eat me, don’t eat me’.
Q: What do you still need to learn?
A: I need to learn how to eat tomatoes. I don’t eat them now.
I attempted to have a similar conversation with my son at the same age, but he refused to answer any of my questions.
Here are some possible lessons for adult learners based on my daughter’s answers:
- Avoid teachers who present themselves as those with absolute knowledge or books that claim to be repositories of absolute knowledge (Richardson, 2000) e.g. The book teaches blood cells.
- Focus on how your knowledge has grown and look to the future and anticipate lifelong learning (Tennant, 2008) e.g. I need to learn how to eat tomatoes (she still hasn’t).
- Situate learning in your own lived experience, however limited this reservoir might be; demonstrate the immediate applications of knowledge by applying it to problems; and use your imagination and curiosity for divergent thinking (based on Knowles, 1984) e.g. Don’t eat me, don’t eat me.
Depending on your preferences, here’s an alternative reading list, based on my son’s bookshelf of hand-me-downs from his sister:
She is still learning about dragons, as shown by this gift she made me last year:
My daughter made me a pencil case for work with coloured pencils, little gifts & note ‘Keep calm and be a dragon’ pic.twitter.com/RSpeI9Piig
— Agnes Bosanquet (@AgnesBosanquet) February 22, 2017
And she is still teaching me the wonder of divergent thinking.
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