By: Frederick W. Feldman
Now that many parents have experienced firsthand the joys and challenges of “homeschooling” their children, I’d like to share a tidbit of insight I discovered personally. This comes from my personal study of a great Renaissance scholar, with an impossible-to-pronounce name—Desiderius Erasmus. This prolific fellow had a deep and abiding interest in education throughout his career. Though he spent only a few years as a teacher himself, his literary output included treatises on education. I found myself vigorously agreeing with him. Lest students snub Erasmus as an antiquated fogy, since he came of age in the latter half of the 1400’s, modern-day folks are likely to acknowledge that his insights are timeless and relevant.
In resounding harmony with educational theories today, Erasmus emphasized the necessity of students engaging with their studies for truly productive learning to occur. But how does one bring about this engagement? Well, according to Erasmus, the average scholar isn’t above a bit of bribery! Comparing himself to ancient teachers who used the promise of tasty wafers to motivate young learners, Erasmus admits that he attempts to lure students into learning ponderous subjects like grammar by withholding the difficult books and using more pleasant introductions to learning the Latin language (yup, Latin for schoolkids: this was the Renaissance, remember). I should point out that his method has an advantage over the wafer method, since the extrinsic reward of a mouth-watering wafer is going to be much less effective than making the intrinsic process of learning itself more enjoyable. As he put it: “I cannot tell that anything is learned with greater success than what is learned by playing, and this is in truth a very harmless fraud to trick a person into his own profit.”
As an educator, there are few things more enjoyable than tricking students into their own profit. Children’s memories can be truly impressive when the subject is something they’re fond of—for example, memorizing all the names of several hundred monsters in a certain card game (you know the one I mean, right?). I have used this youthful enthusiasm in lessons. If we need to make spreadsheets to organize data in math lessons, why not compare the respective point values from a student’s trading card collection? Another tutor, with whom I’ve worked at Above-Grade Tutoring, helped a young student struggling with addition and subtraction—to the point of tears—overcome her difficulty by using her treasured rock collection to demonstrate the concepts. I’ve also used this method in instructing high school writing. Pick an engaging topic—TV shows, video games, sports—and the writing process flows more naturally and much, much more easily. Suddenly, you have a student who once would rather clean a bathroom as write a paragraph enjoying the writing process!
Nothing of rigor is lost. Grammar rules, style, critical thinking, and all the important stuff are learned in the course of the writing process. Successfully implementing an approach that incorporates the student’s own interests does not detract from the learning experience, but rather, adds to it. As Erasmus writes: “[L]earning is something that engages the entire person [. . .].” The one-on-one approach of tutoring is certainly helpful in this because a typical classroom setting usually cannot provide the time or opportunity to personalize lessons to an extent that’s ideal.
I’ve found that injecting the student’s personal interests into an assignment makes learning more fun for everyone and yields better results all the way around. To learn new competencies while also enjoying the process—this, indeed, is “a very harmless fraud!”
Author, Fred W. Feldman, is a senior level tutor with Above-Grade Tutoring
– Master’s degree: English
– Senior Medical Editor: Alpha Group Medical Communications
– Copyeditor, proofreader (fact-checking/research), and member of editorial team for award-winning academic journal co-published by Johns Hopkins University and West Chester University
– Copyeditor: Johns Hopkins University Press Journals
– Writer: Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian magazine
– Freelance copywriting and editing
– Independent film screenwriter
– West Chester University’s Excellence in Teaching with Technology Award
– Winner: West Chester University’s Graduate Student Association Award for Excellence in Scholarship
– Developed graduate-level curricular material for West Chester University
– 10+ years teaching/tutoring a variety of subjects to students at every level; experienced in developing course curricula