As a teacher I am quickly (or is it slowly?) learning that students do not learn the things that I tell them, nor do they learn the things that I show them, but they learn the things that THEY do. As a teacher thinking back to being a student, I am realizing that the things that I learned, the things that actually stuck with me, are the things that the teacher made me do, not the things that told me or showed me, but the experiences that I have had.
Granted I did learn how to add, subtract, multiply and divide, but I also know that until I had to put those things into practice I struggled with them- a lot. I know that my teachers often lectured me on the subjects that they were teaching, but I don't remember anything that they said unless I was being entertained. I remember my US History teacher in 8th grade acting out the Battle of Gettysburg for us and the class laughing hysterically at her acting skills. I remember making chili in my 7th Grade Texas History class, although I'm not sure why. I remember going on Field Trips and actually learning about the things that were there (although at the time, I was more excited about being out of the classroom and getting to hang out with my friends), but each day in the classroom, meh, not much there...other than what notes were being passed around, who I sat next to, and what class I was in (Math/Language/History/Science).
This makes sense, because I don't remember "stuff" anyway. I couldn't begin to tell you what someone has bought me for Christmas or my birthdays, but I do remember who was there, what we ate, the smells, the laughter, the sounds, the things that I EXPERIENCED.
I am not on a daily conquest as to how to get my students to actually learn, what is actually important for them to learn, and what I want them to take away from my class. As an "Elective" teacher, I have a unique opportunity in which, although I have to meet state standards, students are not required to "know" anything from my class to move on to the next grade. Yes, I still want them to learn in my class, and learn from things that they do in class, as well as continue to build upon things that they already know and are doing in other classes...yada yada...I'm sure you all know the foundation, house, roof scenario that I am talking about here...I'm not wanting them not to learn by any means, quite the contrary actually, I am wanting them to learn and thrive. I am wanting to know what is the MOST important thing for them to learn to be successful in the future. (And yes I know that was one of the worst run-on sentences ever, but I'm on a roll so hang in there.)
When I start thinking about this, I have come to the conclusion that the most important thing I can teach them is how to teach themselves, or at least how to find out information for themselves. Additionally, I think that teaching them how to communicate what they have learned, not only verbally or through a test, but to communicate in ways in which others will remember what they have said (to give other people experiences) is going to serve them far better than anything that I could ever teach them about art or technology. Yes, I could explain to them how to properly discuss a painting, but they can figure that out if they ever actually need that skill, they just have to "Google" it. Wouldn't it be better if I taught them HOW to figure out how to talk about a painting help them more?