Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Maslow and Learning

Every student of a teacher credentialing program has been exposed to the theories of Abraham Maslow (1908-1970) who theorized that a series of specific needs must be met before any child can learn.  

A student who is hungry cannot learn. A student under stress cannot learn. A student placed in an environment absent of care and concern cannot learn.

The brain of a student who experiences emotional or physical threat produces chemicals that actually inhibit the process of learning. Threat or stress places the brain in the mode of “fight or flight” and diminishes higher order thinking skills, and lasting threat or stress lowers the brain's capacity for understanding, meaning, memory, and analytical thinking. Therefore, the most important environmental concern in the classroom, is to ensure that students can maximize their opportunities to learn by creating a safe classroom environment that embraces the learning of each student entrusted to our care.

Teachers must provide an environment that allows a student to acknowledge what they do not know, to take risks, to make mistakes, to rethink what they thought they knew.  Students must be able to experience these uncomfortable - even scary – situations without the fear of feeling unprotected or exposed. 

The basic needs of Maslow’s hierarchy include:
·         Physiological needs: nutrition, sleep, exercise, health;
·         Safety needs: both physical and emotional;
·         Love and belonging needs: affection shown to the child, trust of those around him, someone who listens, daily order, a right to privacy, unconditional love;

A student who is secure in these areas will keep an open mind, will explore new options, will take risks and will accept mistakes as a part of the process or learning. These students are more apt to explore the reasons for a solution rather than the correctness of a solution.  These students share in ways that will enhance the learning process for everyone due to their willingness to hear and be heard.

Teachers in this classroom environment can make a reprimand feel like a hug, and a ‘C’ feel like a certificate of achievement, as students will understand that learning is a process of success and failure, with each success opening a new path, and each failure providing an opportunity to enhance understanding.

In “The Last Lecture”, Randy Pausch speaks of the brick walls in life.  He states that these walls are meant to keep those who do not want something enough from attaining their dreams.  A student who is secure in the safety of their classroom environment, are more likely to search for ways around, over or through those walls. 
Randy Pausch You Tube ot The Last Lecture

Teachers use CHALK
  • Care – this must be authentic, students know the difference
  • Help - provide assistance when they ask or they may not ask again
  • Ask – about their day, their sports, concerts, plays, classes
  • Listen – hear what students share with you, not just what they say but what they mean 
  • Know – your students, their struggles, their areas of discomfort, their strength and limits

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