Why Learn?

Posted in Blog, News by EE Team with No Comments

Mar2012 13

When I was in Year 7 at school, we had to memorise the dates of all English monarchs’ reigns since 1066.  I remember this (not the names) because even at the time as a wide eyed, un-cynical twelve year old child, it seemed arbitrary and pointless.  Nowadays, when I learn something, it’s because I want to or because it will be immediately useful to me.  If we want students to be engaged in learning and to do well, it’s not enough to tell them that if they don’t they won’t get good grades.  This might get them doing enough to pass an exam, but it won’t make them genuinely interested. So the question is: how do you engage students in learning?

At Enabling Enterprise, we find that young people learn most effectively when they are working on something they really care about.  This might sound obvious: students care about passing their exams, so there is an incentive.  But the incentive comes from the consequence of the work, not the work itself.  And what about before year 11?  I hardly remember any of the work I did for my GCSEs; what sticks more is the fear of not getting good enough grades.  However, I do remember working all night on a painting for my GCSE Art project; not because I was worried about the grade I’d get, but because I’d put so much thought and so much of myself into that project, I wanted to make sure I did it justice.  I cared about the work itself.  When students care about their work and want to do well for themselves, rather than for their parents or the exam board, learning comes naturally.

At Enabling Enterprise, the way that we harness this is by developing programmes which engage students in project-based learning.  Students work in small teams on projects that they manage themselves.  They generate the ideas, develop a plan and lead their extended project as a team.  As one year 9 student put it, ‘I enjoy the freedom we have during our lessons. We are able to create real-life projects”.

Staff at Curwen Primary School in Newham wanted to find an engaging way of teaching their year 5 and 6 students PSHE, which would also address their wider needs, including improving speaking and listening.  The students, involved in our Trash to Treasure module, were challenged to design and produce an environmentally friendly toy, made from recycled materials.  Working on their projects each week meant that they were fully immersed in the challenge; working collaboratively, being creative and developing something tangible that was their own.   Because the project was theirs, the students cared about making their toys as imaginative and high quality as possible.  Presenting their work at the end of the module enhanced their speaking and listening skills and gave them valuable experience of presenting in front of a room full of people from a young age.  The sense of confidence and achievement they felt afterwards was palpable.  The fact that the winning teams were invited to spend the day at top London business Oliver Wyman, learning about how to market their toys and develop their ideas, added a further real-life element to the project.

This philosophy works as well in secondary schools as it does in primary.  Year 9 students at Greenford High School have incorporated project based learning into their English lessons, through Enabling Enterprise.  Throughout this academic year, they have been working in teams to create their own student magazines.  Whether writing about music, sport or issues affecting young people, teams are dedicated to contributing regularly and making articles as compelling as possible, because the project is theirs and leaves a lasting legacy.  April Jones who teaches the class said “they want to make sure there are no mistakes in the magazine so they spell correctly.  If it’s just a spelling test there’s not the same impetus”.  Students make sure they spell correctly and write persuasively not because it will tick off a learning objective, but because they have pride over their magazine and want people to read it.

By engaging in projects, they not only develop soft skills like teamwork, creativity and leadership; they gain the knowledge they need to pass exams as well.  Through project-based learning, students gain skills and knowledge because they have a genuine interest and reason to, as they want their projects to succeed.  As an adult, I recently learnt how to create a database because it made my life easier and is genuinely useful, not because I can put it on my CV as something I know how to do.

We shouldn’t have to trick young people into learning; we should be finding ways of making them want to learn.  By making learning relevant through projects they own and care about, knowledge and skills come naturally.

Written by Anna Chojnicka

Enabling Enterprise is currently recruiting a new Education Associate.  For information on the role, click here.

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