Individuals can decide to learn something relatively complicated on their own. And left to their own devices, most folks figure out how to use available resources to make learning a relaxed, fulfilling project. Consider the following examples:
Example A – A four year old watched with envy as his much taller, six-year-old brother rode his new bicycle. One day, dragged along to his mother’s friend’s home, he was invited to go outside and play while the women chatted. Poking about as children will do, he discovered a small bicycle leaning against the family’s garage. He was pleasantly surprised when both of his feet touched the ground when he sat on the seat. Then he began “walking” the bike like a kiddy-car and soon he was extending his strides, lifting his feet briefly and gliding a little, catching himself with his feet if he started to fall.
He rode that diminutive bike around the block several times, slowly figuring out that the key to avoiding a fall was turning the handlebars in the direction he was falling. Pleased with himself, it wasn’t long before he was gliding 20 feet at a time.
Eventually, he put one foot on a pedal keeping the other hovering just above the ground. The added complexity of pedaling took a while to master, but he quickly caught on. By the time his mother called to head back home an hour or so later, he had learned, all on his own, to ride a bicycle.
Example B – A new immigrant woman, well-educated and fluent in her mother tongue, needed to learn to speak English as comfortably as Slovak. However, her English classes, taught in groups, always felt too slow and awkward, so, she came up with a novel plan. She selected a delightful English speaking movie and began to speak along with the characters, using the plot’s social context to enrich her understanding of inflection and fluency.
Robin Williams and the rest of the cast Mrs. Doubtfire became her tutors. She reports that she watched that movie over 100 times, slowly mastering her adopted English. Today, her Slovak-accented English is utterly fluent and she is in graduate school here in Louisville, Kentucky.
Example C – Enjoying the narrated picture books in the Unite for Literacy online picture book library, a preschooler learned quickly to click on the English button for an on-demand read aloud. On his own, he read several books and began to consider how it was that his family always knew to say the same thing when they came to each page. While he typically attended to the pictures, they would often point to the words as they read.
That, added to parents reading him rhyming and alliterative books and poems, he soon recognized the letter sound patterns they pointed out. Then he began to notice he could do the same thing with the book narrations. He progressed to listening to each page’s narration several times. Finally, he began to try to read the pages to himself before he played the narration. Having watched the words as the narration played, he’d then try to read it on his own again. Memorizing each of those books, he even began to get many words of newly selected books on his first try. An avid reader in the making!
Largely alone, unjudged and thus unintimidated, each of these learners took it upon themselves to learn something rather complex. They used available resources to reach for and get what they wanted, when they wanted it. In their own way, in their own time, following their visions of others riding, speaking and reading, they found their hard work of learning to be naturally fulfilling and enjoyable…just as learning should be.
What do you want to learn?