Learning to Fish with the Net


Dialoging (a polite term here at best) with my 17-year-old about her approach to one of her summer homework assignments, she turned what was going to be my argument on its heels. Instead, she reinforced much of what I’ve been advocating for professionally, and she illustrated more than ever the need for a more pragmatic approach to learning at all stages across the educational continuum.

My initial query into her approach centered on how closely she had read the assigned material for a particular class. The assignment consisted of reading the assigned book and locating at least five sources to substantiate responses to a number of questions on key points of the book. Some potential resources were recommended for the outside sources but not much else in the way of methodology or support for completing the assignment.

In the process of completing the assignment, she came to me with certain questions about the topics covered, and also ran draft responses to certain questions by me for feedback. When I inquired as to how closely she had read the text, she admitted to having skipped certain sections, explaining to me how irrelevant they were to the assignment, and bringing on all the teenage indignation appropriate to my questioning her process. On closer examination (and further dialog), she detailed to me the contents of some of these sections, clarified that most were detailed histories and streams of data not appropriate to the main subject matter, and revised her description of her own process from “skipping” to “scanning.”

I then asked her about the outside sources she selected, whether they were ones of her own choosing or ones that had been shared by friends. Some were provided by friends (there is much ad hoc team work that goes on that one wonders why team-based projects still create so much angst) and others she found herself, several simply in the process of trying to understand the content of the assigned source itself.

You of all people should understand why I work like that,” she declared, and I knew that she was paving her own way through the process of learning, albeit with some peer support and some increasingly adept, self-taught research skills.

Two articles from August’s issue of T&D highlight the need to develop more independent learners from a corporate perspective. In “Teaching Learners to Fish,” Allyce Barron outlines an approach for placing “learners in an active role inside the training room, and out on the job after the training session is over.” In “Partnering to Improve Time to Competency and Efficiency,” Emily Dunn and Adam Krob provide an overview of and case for Knowledge Management and Knowledge-Centered Support in the workplace. Both pieces extol the long-term benefits for companies of teaching employees how to more effectively control their own learning and to become more efficient seekers of knowledge.

This is something we can and should start teaching earlier on. Just as corporations and universities are including the role of “curator” into their learning teams to help learners sift through the noise of available resources, so should K-12 schools support their student performance through the carefully guided acquisition of knowledge management skills and practices.

What's your take on it?

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