The Real Reward of Learning

Yesterday I had to lead another workshop about „Learning to learn“ in which I help student mentors to get fit for supporting their younger mentees who are struggling with their school careers.
We talked about procrastination. All students have hands-on experiences with this phenomenon and have to learn to cope with it. Otherwise their academic career would have already ended.
So I asked them about their most successful solutions to their problem of procrastination. And they came up with many variations of carrot-and-stick methods which are mostly the only answer you can get in schools and other learning institutions. They admitted that the problem was persisting despite the deployment of these methods, and an ongoing annoyance. One of them told about procrastinating until the fear of failing becomes so unbearable that she find it better to start at last with learning activities, but even from up there she is only driven by increasing angst. And for another student, procrastination has even let her to quit her studies completely.This (self-) disciplin-focused answer above didn’t solve the problem for generations of students, as it is proved for a long time and recently decribed by Alfi Kohn in his obvioulsy amongst teachers not well known book Punished by Rewards. Yes, I said „recently“, although the book was written in the late nineties of the last century. But considering the idea of learning with Personal Sense and gnostic learning motives was given to the mankind by the research and theoretical work of Leont’ev already 30 to 50 years earlier, „recently“ could be correctly put, as I think.
But what happened next in our workshop?

We found a better solution of dealing with procrastination by listening in detail to some students who told stories about their experiences which we later called stories of happiness. It emerged that learning, working, and eventually every activity, seem to be motivated by a „reward“ which is the feeling of this happiness. We all crave for this feeling. Even those who have trouble to remember a situation in what they really felt it could actually imagine how it could feel like. And we found a cycle – or better a spiral – of states we have to go through to achieve this happiness:

And this is a visualisation how a Spiral of Happiness looks like:

Spiral of Happiness

Asked at what station the students should begin with their spiral, the following sentence popped up. I heard it last week in a discussion, and since then it had been sleeping in my mind, just waiting for its useful deployment in my own working context:


Of course there are „techniques“ like setting goals, making to-do-lists and calenders and helping oneself through hard times by self-motivating methods. But: Techniques only work if they are seen as only a part of the full picture. And if you watch groups of children or youth who are passionately involved in outdoor activities like e.g. skateboarding you are observing that there is a lot of time to be spent with the object (skateboarding). Much time has to be spent for talking about the object and about the feelings of enjoying the object. (This is especially very rarely at school.) And there is a lot of sharing by demonstrating and a lot of collaborative reflecting about how and why things related to the object have to be done in one way or another.

The Circle of Happiness. I think it is better thought of as a spiral, because once it has started with one completed round, it will become a self-reinforcing process.
Some pupils and students are lucky and discover and develop this spiral by chance, or they adopt it from their parents or peers besides or despite the punish-reward-system of the school. Many are not that lucky.

As a teacher I feel that my job has to be at first place to provide lots of opportunities, encouragement and assistance for every student to build his/her own life-long Spiral of Happiness through Learning Activity. But before I ask what I have or have not to do to make this happen, I wonder: Do I possess this Spiral of Happiness myself? How does it look like as my personal developed creation? And can I get it going on purpose whenever I want? And do I get it going every day?

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