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ARE HUMANS MORE FINICKY THAN TIGERS?

Effective tiger training is all about observing the things tigers like to do and providing inducements for them to do those things on your schedule.  At the time I noted that story, I added, "The highest form of teaching people, by contrast, is in equipping people with a larger set of activities they can do of their own volition, and withdrawing your inducements."  That is not, however, the direction education is heading.  There's more fretting about apathetic students.  (At least apathetic tigers can be given the incentive to sit on their haunches on their stools.)
In classrooms all over the country, the teacher cares more about her students’ grades, learning and futures than they do.

Teachers are expected to combat apathy by continually finding new and innovative ways to reach students – through multimedia lessons, group work, games, alternative assessments or whatever it takes. To ensure student engagement and skill acquisition, we must teach to the individual learning styles, interests and abilities of each of our students. If a student can’t learn the way we teach, we must teach the way he learns – times infinity.
To some extent, that is the same approach the competent tiger trainer use, observing the things the tigers wish to do and designing a training routine and an act around it.  But nobody expects a tiger to chart a course to Mars or find a cure for the common cold.  Some humans aspire to more, and the article suggests there are depressingly many students who aspire to very little.
The real danger is that this way of thinking has shifted the responsibility of learning, and of caring about learning, from the student to the teacher. Because it isn’t just administrators and parents who believe that it is a teacher’s job to make learning fun. Kids believe it, too. As a result we have a generation of students who think that if a lesson or an assignment or a class is not interesting, if it isn’t engaging and fun and inspiring, then it simply isn’t worth caring about. They are not obligated to care about it. It’s a teacher’s job to make all learning exciting. If the teacher hasn’t lived up to her responsibility, why should the child?

In a workshop I recently attended, teachers were told that kids are so attracted to video games because of the constant feedback – the progress, praise and prizes. We were encouraged to design our instruction more like a video game. How else can we expect to hold their attention?

That is a frightening mentality because it has created a generation of consumer learners. Many students don’t see education as a privilege. They see it as a product. And if they don’t like the salesperson, if they aren’t impressed with how it’s packaged, they aren’t buying. But our kids have to learn to be self-motivated because at some point in every person’s life, either at school or in a job or in a marriage, he or she will have to buck up and say, “This is hard. This is boring. I don’t want to do this. But I’m doing it anyway. And I’ll do my best.”
Apparently, working with disengaged humans is, at first, a lot like working with finicky tigers.  But the secret (no surprise, dear reader) is that instilling discipline and persistence, a little bit at a time, gets the job done, where the faddish methods and video game envy do not.
Unfortunately in a consumer-oriented educational system, words such as habit and discipline have all but gone by the wayside. We emphasize concepts like differentiation, higher-order thinking, cooperative learning and data-driven instruction over student responsibilities like organization, perseverance and hard work.

The good news (at least for kids) is that the best hope for developing any habit is to start small – especially when good habits need to replace bad ones.
The rest is a matter of technique.

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