When I was a kid, I didn’t like to read. It wasn’t that I couldn’t read, I just didn’t enjoy it. I distinctly remember being assigned a book to read and feeling the tedious and emotional angst as I slowly went page by page just trying to finish the task. I was a deliberate and methodical reader as a child. I didn’t want to miss a word. If there was something I didn’t understand, I would go back and reread. While these are good reading strategies that helped with my comprehension, I approached it from a very task-oriented mindset and it was not enjoyable.
People who know me today may find themselves quite surprised by this. Today, it would not be uncommon to find my nose deep in a book or actively seeking out someone with whom I can talk to process something I am reading. As I have mentioned before, I commonly have four to five books that I am reading at the same time simply because I will find myself reading one thing and then drawn to another out of sheer curiosity. I just can’t help myself!
So how did this transformation happen?
How did I go from a child (and even a college student) who put effort into avoiding reading to one who is so passionate about it? As I have thought about this, I realized that my passion and interest grew when I began to have genuine personal questions I wanted answers to and realized that there was a wealth of literature out there that could feed my inquisitiveness. Reading became meaningful and as I gained answers to the questions I was exploring, the learning then became fun.
As humans, we are born to learn. The learning process begins the moment we enter the world and continues until the second we leave it. Learning shapes us into the people we are. It molds our thinking and constructs our opinions. It modifies our biases and challenges our assumptions. It confirms fact. The individuals we are and the societies we create together are deeply influenced by the ideas shared and the things we learn through reading.
In an article published by Kites in the Classroom, the author explores the relationship between the science connected to the neurological function of your brain and the learning process. There we learn that “dopamine is a neurotransmitter – a chemical messenger that helps the transmission of signals in the brain. It affects brain processes that control movement, emotions, and the ability to experience pleasure and pain. But to teachers, dopamine is the brain’s reward mechanism. It is released in a student’s brain when they experience something they enjoy…
“Why should we care about dopamine? Because our brains are wired to find learning fun! Think about it: Every time we’re interested and engaged in a subject, our brains get a shot of dopamine. The feelings of pleasure that follow make us want to keep learning, exploring and pushing ourselves to find out more… But what’s more, dopamine not only motivates us to learn, but it also helps us retain that new information… The more interested we are in an activity, the more dopamine is released and the better we remember it.”
This resonates with me and the personal experience I have had. It seems to be true for so many of the students and teachers I have authentically engaged with in the learning process over the years. As teachers, we have the chance to give our students the gift of learning. By getting to know them and the authentic interests and questions they have, we can design learning experiences that tap into their curiosity and make learning not only meaningful, but also fun! What could be better than mastering new concepts and skills all while enjoying the process.
The holiday season is about generosity and service. Thank you for the service you provide to your students. Teaching them to love learning is one of the most valuable gifts you can give. And the incredible thing about it is that it is one that will keep on giving for decades to come.
DR. STEVEN WURTZ
Chief Academic Officer