This article on the perils of grade 9 was a wake-up call to me. The goal isn’t to just get Haroun reading, but to build him up as student who can traverse high school and get into university. The more I thought about it, the bigger the challenge became.
A non-reader quickly acquires behaviors to protect his self-esteem, for example not asking questions to avoid looking stupid. Haroun is a perfect example, I cannot remember him ever asking me a question, expressing a preference or interest. I have to discover which words he doesn’t understand, what expressions don’t make sense to him, even when he is too tired to continue.
And we’re starting at a low level. Haroun has very little knowledge or understanding of the world around him. As a non-reader, he is ignorant of history, geography, civics, science, and most arts. He doesn’t know words like ‘conspire’ or ‘slither’. His universe is vanishingly small, and he hasn’t noticed.
Lack of curiosity was way down on my list of worries but has bubbled up as I think about what is required to survive grade 9. Most kids don’t seem to be curious, at least about academics, and they do alright. But Haroun will be starting far back. He needs to become an active thinker, observant and primed to explore new ideas. He needs to see learning as fun.
I went to read up on non-cognitive ‘love of learning’ skills that I could work on with Haroun, and many psychologists and coaches call for “The Three C’s”. The first two are ‘Curiosity’ and ‘Creativity’, but there is no agreement on the third – variously it is ‘Comfort’, ‘Courtesy’ ,’Commitment’, ‘Challenge’, ‘Courage’, ‘Confidence’, ‘Connection’, ‘Child-led’, and other formulations. So let’s stick with just the two.
Curiosity and Creativity seem to be linked. So I spent about half our lesson time today exploring creativity with Haroun.
- I asked my wife to show her painting studio, she pulled out some paints and gave an impromptu lesson on how to give objects a 3-dimensional feel, why colours are ‘light’ or ‘dark’, and the use of a colour wheel.
- We watched a Youtube tutorial building a 3D computer model of a coffee mug in a few minutes using Blender, and then another on how to animate a 3D clock. Here’s an example of what Blender can do.
- We watched an introduction video for a university-level Python programming course on Coursera. We talked about the steps required for making a movie, starting with the story line. The garden designer who laid out our property happened by, and we talked with her about horticulture. We talked about writing small video games, and building robots and I will show him some examples and an Arduino kit tomorrow.
In each case, we talked about the amount of effort required to master a discipline. Haroun thought it might take 2-3 months to become as good as the 3D modeller, I corrected that it was more like 10 years of intensive work, and his learning was still continuing. My wife claimed that after 8 years of art classes she was still a beginner. I have been studying research on reading for about 8 years. Our garden friend told us she felt skilled after 10 years, but now after 25 years she was still learning how much she didn’t know.
We talked about how serious learning is mostly done independently, but taking classes helps, and so does collaborating with people of similar interests. We talked about informal communities of learners (this Facebook group is a good example). We talked about the learning mindset – where the key thing isn’t to focus on how much we know or don’t know, but simply to strive to know more than we did yesterday.
I have invited Haroun to think about a skill that he wants to start learning independently and unrelated to school (excluding video games). It would have to be AFTER our reading lessons. I would be willing to learn alongside him, but expect him to gain mastery faster than I will in most fields.
This is bigger than just reading, you can see where I’m going. There are several obstacles: Haroun might not have much interest in anything, or he may simply be tapped out with learning to read. He wants to attend camp and play with his friends in the afternoons, and this would interfere.
I will follow up after our discussions tomorrow.