Learning to Learn

The focus at The Village School is on building the skills and mindsets of a self-directed learner. 

The first year or so at TVS involve a young person learning how to learn.  For each studio, these starting points look different. In Spark Studio, it starts with learning how to do something as simple as staying focused for 10 minutes on a task or participating during circle time. In Discovery Studio, it looks like learning how to set smart goals consistently, or how to navigate the systems in a learner-centered studio.  In Adventure Studio, it looks like learning how to manage your time, or learning how to give and receive meaningful feedback. 

These are the things a young person is learning in their first two years in a self-directed learning community such as ours: 

  • Developing a growth mindset/(vs fixed mindset)
  • Learning how to respond to failure/mistakes 
  • Learning to take responsibility for their choices 
  • Learning to give and receive feedback from peers
  • Learning how to hold their peers accountable
  • Learning how to participate in discussions productively
  • Learning to work well with peers on group learning activities 
  • Learning to regulate emotions
  • Learning to advocate for themselves and others
  • Learning to set goals for a day, then a week, then a session
  • Learning to organize their belongings and their work
  • Learning to track their work accurately
  • Learning which systems to use when
  • Learning to operate a laptop
  • Learning to navigate their learning without it being micromanaged by a teacher

These are real-world skills that take a lot of real-world experience to master. 

But in order to learn these skills, they have to take a lot of missteps. These “missteps” can look like avoiding work, distracting others, or searching out loopholes. This is the “pushback” phase. Which boundaries can I push? How much freedom do I actually have? What will happen when I use my freedoms irresponsibly? Exploring and experimenting with these questions is a natural part of learning how to learn. It’s an essential component of truly seeing and understanding the connection between your freedom and your responsibility, which is critical to taking the reigns as a self-directed learner. 

As a community in our fifth year, I can quite clearly see the trajectory of a young person’s learning journey at The Village School- especially at this time of year. Learners are more comfortable with each other. The studio environment and its rhythm are familiar and predictable. Everyone knows what to expect and can easily navigate the studio systems. 

Look closely and you can see two distinct groups of learners at work in the studio. You can see the group of returning learners who have been through that pushback phase. They have failed, missed deadlines, and experienced the natural and logical consequences of their choices. They see the throughline between their freedom and their responsibilities. They are (for the most part) focused, intentional and disciplined, setting and achieving the goals they set for themselves, contributing to studio life, and kindly and firmly holding themselves and others accountable to their studio promises. 

You can see another group of learners, many of whom are in their first or second year at The Village School, who have not yet been through this phase. They have diligently followed the studio promises. They have tried their best to please the guide, their parents, or other more seasoned learners in the studio. Up until now, they have spent their time getting comfortable in a learner-centered environment. And now that they are in fact comfortable, they are ready to explore the limits of their freedom. These learners are often distracted and bold, or silly and unfocused, pushing back on some of the promises they made in September and seeing what happens. 

It’s important not to miss this part. This is the good part. Each learner will make choices and experience the natural or logical consequences. Some of them will feel good,  (Yay, I earned a badge!) and some of them will feel not so good (Ugh, I kept talking and had to leave the discussion circle). Through experience and reflection, every choice is an opportunity for learning how to learn. It’s what our learning environment is designed for. This is the foundation that will allow them to thrive as self-directed learners in our community and beyond when they set out to navigate the new world we now live in.

These are the skills of a life-long learner. They don’t develop overnight- nothing important really does.

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