As a student, I always struggled with educational material that I couldn’t use immediately. I was, as many others, a “Hands-on” learner, and if I couldn’t, in some way, manipulate the material immediately, then I struggled to retain and apply it later. The educational system, which had been inflicted on me, was seemingly unaware or unconcerned with my learning issues, so it left me and others like me to flounder throughout my public education. With this stated, I still received a better public education than most children today. I can read, write, analyze and problem solve, and I can be creative. I know where my state is on the map. I know important dates in history and can make educated judgments and decisions, politically. I had some learning disabilities, as a child, which were overlooked, but the teachers at least focused on the process of teaching. My teachers were in charge of their classrooms, not the local school board and government.
During my years of teaching, I found that the process of educating students had become my main concern, because if my process was effective, then the educational outcomes, or product, would take care of themselves. The emphasis on product (Testing, Grades), first and foremost, had hindered my learning, as a student. I was desperately trying to avoid that same educational mistake, because I wanted something better for my students.
It’s during the process of instruction that learning truly occurs. Testing is merely a tool, which should-first-be used to evaluate the educational process of the instructor, and then the product, or measurable results. The product, in the end, should be the student’s ability to not only retain but apply what they’ve learned. The effective and creative execution of curriculum and lesson plans is an educator’s most valuable tool. If the curriculum and lesson plans are good and the instructor is motivated, imaginative and creative, then the students are in an excellent position to be successful learners. By “Successful learners,” I mean students who can use what they have learned to enhance their lives.
Testing-then-becomes an effective and affective tool, because it serves as a means for improving the teaching technique of the instructor, while, at the same time, continuously motivating the student to learn more. In other words, instructors can effectively use their process to lead students to a successful product.
One example of a successful, “Hands-on” process is the Suzuki Method for violin. Young children are taught violin by “rote” in this method. The definition of “rote” is, The mechanical repetition of something so that it is remembered, often without real understanding of its meaning or significance. This rote technique is also referred to as, “Sound, before sight.” These young violinists learn to play-first-by listening to their instructor perform simple melodies, and then playing back what they have just heard. The emphasis is on the process of learning, not the product. Instead of having their little heads filled with a great deal of musical information, which they can’t-yet-understand or apply, these students, from the first day, are simply allowed to make music and have fun. This making of music and having fun (Process), then motivates them to practice and grow, musically (Product). Many of our greatest, young violinists-today-have been graduates of this method. The playing of the violin becomes as natural as breathing for these young performers, just as babies, who have been taught to swim before they can walk, become natural swimmers. This method works, because it doesn’t put the educational cart before the horse. The student is an active participant in the process of learning, from the beginning, and-therefore-experiences an immediate sense of accomplishment, which-then-motivates them to continue and feeds their desire to learn more.