Thursday, January 5, 2012

What Kids Need to Be Able to Learn

We prepare to teach--the bulletin board is up with cheerful posters and encouraging signs; desks set in kid-friendly teams; and the crucial No. 2 pencils stand at attention, sharpened in the new super-duper Xacto 1900 Pencil Sharpener. But what really comes first for kids to be able to learn?

This statement may seem way too simple--but our basic needs must be met before we can struggle with new information, concepts, or skills. We cannot even ask a question if having our most important needs met is the big question.

Psychologist Abraham Maslov created a neat graphic organizer with his Hierarchy of Human Needs pyramid http://psychology.about.com/od/theoriesofpersonality/a/hierarchyneeds.htm  The first level is physiological (hungry? ill? enough rest?) The second level involves security (safety at home and neighborhood? money for basic needs?) The third level involves social needs (no feelings of belonging? enduring abuse?) The two remaining levels involve self-esteem enhancement and self-actualization, which are past the basic need levels. I bring this up because kids can be distracted from learning because they aren't feeling well, are hungry, or are facing emotional turmoil at home or school. So what's a teacher to do?

Young children, primary grades and below, frequently blurt out what's bothering them. Upper elementary and secondary students may require some interaction for teacher to recognize why learning isn't happening. That's where the teacher, even if the teacher is family, must play the nurse, the counselor, the social worker. Low test scores, uncompleted assignments, lethargy, defiance--why is this happening? Identify the basic need that requires filling and learning can start.






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