Learning By Heart

I spent some time reading the book ‘Learning by Heart’ by Roland S. Barth over the Summer.  The experience began with a certain amount of confusion as I came to realize that this book wasn’t by the more famous French Roland Barthes who I studied quite a bit in University Communications courses.  Nope, this was Roland S. Barth, a Harvard Professor and famous educator, NOT the world’s most famous semiotician.  I will admit I was a bit disappointed that I wasn’t embarking on some radical and hyper complex read, but in the end I learned quite a bit anyway.

As I read the book I felt a lot of pride in knowing that the OJCS is travelling full tilt in the direction that Barth outlines.  Some examples that spring to mind are teachers taking the role of school leaders in a variety of areas, from student life to creating exciting prototype projects that will change the culture of the school in a really positive way.  One that I am personally involved in right now is creating outlets in the school for students to share their voices.  That is something Barth cites as critical to transforming a school culture for the better.

Another big one area that the OJCS is succeeding in is that staff and teachers have been offered more and more outlets to share ‘craft knowledge’ with one another, that is, our experiences of exciting classroom projects or ways to engage students, as well as things that don’t work or haven’t worked.

What really stood out for me in this book however, was the idea that the old-fashioned transmission-of-knowledge model, what Barth refers to as “Sit n’ Git” i.e. students sitting quietly while teachers lecture, doesn’t work.  Information retention was seen to be extremely low when anything is taught this way.  He suggests the ratio should look more like 15% teacher talk and 85% something else.  That something else is elaborated upon in subsequent chapters on Experiential Learning.  Barth states;

“I believe it is possible to create a school culture that is hospitable to human learning if we turn the tuning knob to stations that invite students and adults to take risks with a safety net, engage in novel and surprising experiences, enjoy a sense of adventure and purposefulness, share leadership with others, pose and solve problems for themselves, find the joy and freedom that comes with hard work, assume responsibility not only for their own lives but for the lives of others, and make a contribution to others.”

Whew, a tall order!  But one that I would love to fill as I approach the 2018/2019 school year.  This year I will be leading students in every grade through workshops on research skills and media literacy.  Sometimes students walk through the library door for a Research Skills workshop and have already decided that it will be a snoozefest just based on the topic.  It is my responsibility to ensure that the kind of work we’ll be doing in the library this year is deserving of eagerness and anticipation.

I will be sharing lots of pictures and videos here this year about the work we do in these workshops so keep checking in to see how we put into practice the excellent advice of the famous EDUCATOR Mr. Roland Barth.

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