Learning by Discovery and Discussion

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By Liese Carberry; Mother of four and homeschooler for 17 years- Denver
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I’ve been reading Mortimer Adlers’ book How To Think About the Great Ideas and I’ve come across some validating information. In chapter 22 he writes about how to talk and how to learn. There are many ways to learn and to teach, but it often boils down to 3 or 4 learning styles and the same in the ways to teach to those styles. But, there is a division between the ways that we can learn, one is by discovery and the other by discussion. Let’s investigate those two and how they can be incorporated into homeschooling.

Learning by discovery can happen with or without teachers. Children start to learn on their own by discovering their surroundings. If you leave books within reach they will open them and look at them, if you leave blocks lying around, they will explore them and build - this is learning. An example of discovery learning would be to go on a hike with your child and let them show you leaves and rocks, without telling them - this is an oak leaf, this is a sedimentary rock. There is joy in simple exploration. The other part of discovery learning is facilitated, you are helping your child learn. In this case you might provide a microscope and ask your child to look at a slide of a bee wing and a butterfly wing and note the differences. They are still learning by discovery, they are just being guided in a direction by you. Self-discovery in our home is called rabbit trails. When a child is interested in something, they often go off and discover more about the subject on their own. We have rabbit trails all over the place right now: helping the homeless, whales, marine biology field science, art, Greece, fractals, and many more. The best thing about this is that there is so much learning and remembering going on, more than if you tried to rote teach it.

The other way that learning can happen is by discussion, this can be by instruction or conversation. There are three ways that you can teach by speaking. One is by indoctrination, the worst way to teach. This is where you stuff your child full of information in order to get them to pass a test or give the answer back to you (or show off to relatives.) The second way is by lecturing, which is the way most teachers teach (and unfortunately not the way that most kids learn.) In this case you are at least teaching for understanding and the child is allowed to ask questions to pursue that end. The third way to instruct is the best way and this is to use discussion to teach. In this method the teacher is asking questions, sometimes this is called investigative learning. You ask a question and your child investigates to find the answer, you provide the stimulus that activates the learner’s mind. A great conversation can even happen in your own mind. When you read a book you can ask yourself questions of it or the author, but they aren’t going to speak back to you. By asking questions you are invigorating your mind to try to find the answers. Remember that a good discussion entails speaking to learn, to engage, to listen and speaking to the other person, not just at them.

All types of learning can be enhanced by asking good questions. Don’t feel embarrassed if your children ask you a question that you can’t answer. Homeschooling is not all about, ‘I know more than you and I will teach you to know the same.’ Side by side learning is helpful for both the teacher and the student. Sometimes questions bring about a greater understanding or show that your child is not quite grasping what is being taught. In this day and age information is readily available, but be cautious - not everything on the Internet is true! If you feel out of your league with a certain subject, find a tutor, find someone in your homeschool group who can teach it, look at programs at the library or colleges or sit down and learn it with your child. No matter what your learning or teaching style is, using discovery and discussion to teach can be helpful and effective ways to make true learning happen in your house.