The Learning Mind Set

When a child is taught in a traditional way most of the decisions are made for the child.  All the natural power is taken away from him.  The motivation to learn becomes the need to meet the deadline, fulfil the assignment and achieve someone else’s goal for him. 


Force vs Respect

To a teacher this is very much like classroom management.  Teachers who rule by brute force may have very, very quiet classrooms.  But there may not be much learning going on.  And such a teacher will soon learn that they better not turn their back.  The kids are behaving out of fear, not out of ethical conviction of what is right.  The teacher who is able to make the kids realize “why” good behavior and respect is important and useful will have a class that can operate peacefully and often by itself.  And that teacher can turn their backs on the students because the kids have “true” respect for that teacher.  They are behaving because it is the right thing to do. 

The “learning mindset” vs the “programmed mindset”

The same principle works with learning projects.  As long as a child is working “for the teachers goals” she will accomplish the goal but won’t always accomplish the learning.  That is why when a child is told to write a 500 word essay you will often find them counting words without being able to really tell you about what they are writing.  That is what I think of as a “programmed mindset”. 

Contrast that with the “learning mindset”.  To understand the difference just think about a child who is at play with something at any age.  Such a child can go at it for hours without stopping.  That is also true of research scientists, surgeons, woodworkers and writers of blogs.  Those people are doing what they are doing because they are motivated by the joy of what they are doing.  Some call that state of mind flow.  I like to call it the “learning mindset”. 

Strive to establish conditions that lead to the “learning mindset”.  Here are a few ideas that will help do that.

  • Always allow a child choice in what they are going to work on.
  • As far as you can always make the conditions as close to play as possible.
  • Create a problem to solve.  A while back the Harvard Medical School arranged some of its curriculum around the study of real life cases that medical students had to analyze and solve.  Motivation and achievement went way up.
  • Don’t push. Let things develop according to normal human development schedules. Some kids don’t read as soon as others, but they will all be reading at the age of 20.
  • Keep your goals out of it.
  • If something has to be learned, and certain things do, sit down with your child and plan how to accomplish the goal.  Let the child set the schedules and goals. 
  • Let the child determine the way the required material is learned. 
  • Don’t be afraid of using technology to the utmost extent.  Remember these children are natives to technology.  We are the immigrants to technology. 
  • If something doesn’t work, oh well, try it another way.  Never think you or the child has failed because a technique bombed.  Think about how you learn.
  • Above all think about how people learn in the real world.  They learn things when they need to learn them.  That is why so many kids are failing in schools.  They are working on things determined by committee according to some government determined schedule. 
  • Perhaps most important is to remember that we are talking about living, breathing human beings here.  Each one of us learns differently at different rates.  It’s like the old saying of sailors… “don’t spit into the wind”.  Some things just don’t work.  And remember it doesn’t mean anyone has failed.  It just means something didn’t work.

Strive to keep a learning mindset.  Never get too excited about the anxious goals and schedules set by government entities. 

A very interesting take on this concept can be found at  This is a blog called A Penny for My Thoughts and the writer gets it right.

Brian Frank has written another excellent addition to this conversation at

Roger Shank has written a brilliant piece called the “top ten mistakes in education” that is found at  He reminds us that there really is no learning separate from doing. 

He also has a great insight into the uselessness of studying.  

Think for a moment about why medicine is called a “practice”.



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