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Accidental Learning

I've been thinking a lot recently about what makes learning enjoyable. There have always been elements of my education that I have enjoyed, but equally there have always been things I should have enjoyed but didn't. The more I mull it over, it has become clear that anything I had to do under pressure - such as read three books by a favourite author in order to write an essay about them that was due in two days time - was difficult to enjoy. Also, tasks that I felt were forced upon me by teachers and lecturers who didn't think much of the subject matter either, or that we seemed to be learning just to tick an exam shaped box. 

More recently, I have become keenly aware of just how much I enjoy learning new things but with no formal studying to be done, I have no doubt that this is partially because I am in control of my own learning. If I want to find out more about something I stumble across, I can. If I want to visit a new place or speak to a new person, I do. If one thing leads me to another that forces me outside of my comfort zone, I let it. And one of the most exciting by-products of this is that I find myself enjoying things that I might previously have felt were an obligation because I am choosing to do them and I am inspired. 

Undoubtedly, inspiration is something teachers seek to provide in the classroom, but it's not always easy, especially when choice is limited. I once had the choice of which Shakespeare text to teach a year 10 class; everyone else in the department was teaching 'Macbeth', mostly because there were lots of resources available. I decided to teach 'Twelfth Night'. It wasn't the standard choice, but I was struggling with the class and I knew that I might very well lose them completely if I forced my way through a text that I wasn't very interested in (at the time!). So I chose something I enjoyed. I chose something I was passionate about. I chose to inspire them, and I found that rather than dreading my Wednesday period 5 lesson with them every week, I was looking forward to it. Choice and inspiration work both ways!

In the last week I have enjoyed some accidental learning, hidden behind the guise of socialising: 

  • Last Sunday I went to watch 'Mary Queen of Scots' at the cinema. It was an excellent film and when I was teaching a session about 'Macbeth' and context, I recognised for the first time some of the similarities between the plot of the play and Mary Queen of Scots' reign.
  • On Monday, a student taught me how to multiply using a box method.
  • Tuesday taught me a new route to a place I have visited countless times in my life, and made me aware of a building that I must have passed hundreds of times but have never seen. Also, this route allowed me to make the connection between landmarks and street names.
  • I revised alpha, beta and gamma rays on Wednesday because I happened to be covering a physics lesson.
  • Yesterday I visited a small town and wondered how a small shop on the High Street could be profitable, before realising that just behind it was a large shopping centre that would no doubt create a very high foot fall (a nice bit of accidental human geography!).
  • And finally, today I went to Bristol Old Vic to watch 'Wise Children' with one of my closest friends. The tickets were a Christmas present to her, and in preparation for our visit I finally decided to start reading the novel this week. Although I've not yet finished reading it, I was comparing the stage production and novel all of the way through, as well as developing a stronger understanding of Angela Carter's writing style and themes that are prominent in her writing, and observing the work of drama on stage (music, physical theatre, costume changes backstage, choral speaking, etc.).

What a wonderful week of accidental learning it has been, and I'm looking forward to the next one!