creative commons licensed (BY-SA) flickr photo by mrkrndvs:

I had my first day in Year 4 yesterday. I am lucky enough to be in their for a full day on a Friday as the usual teacher runs the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden program. As it is their first week, we were working through a range of activities associated with setting up the classroom environment for learning.

One of the activities that we did was to look at “Why do we come to school?” In order to go deeper with our thinking, we did the ‘five whys’ where students were required to answer the question five times, each time elaborating on the last response. Once they had spent some time coming up with answers, I got each student to share on a sticky note the one response that they felt represented them the most.

As we grouped the different responses, four themes appeared:

  • To gain for knowledge
  • To get a better job
  • To live a better life
  • To develop friendships

Having been reading a lot about heutagogy lately, the practise of self-determined learning, the response that was missing was to ‘learning how to learn’. Although some, such as Stewart Hase, assert that we are heutgogical learners from the start, others, such as Lisa Marie Blaschke, suggest that becoming self-determined learners is better understood as being a part of a  Pedegogical-Andragogy-Heutagogy (PAH) continuum. (For more information, see Experiences in Self-Determined Learning). Interestingly, Blashke suggests that, “if we are to help students become heutagogical learners, we must apply heutagogical practices with younger students early on, while at the same time working toward emancipating those who have become industrialized learners and continue to “learn-to-the-test”. In her chapter, she provides a range of strategies, such as:

  • Let learners choose what they will learn and how they will learn it.
  • Encourage learners to explore
  • Be a guide on the side (or a meddler in the middle)
  • Allow learners to learn from each other
  • Help learners understand the process of how they learn

What I was curious about though was at which point does a student say that they come to school to ‘learn how to learn?’ Robert Schuetz talks about the entrepreneurial mindset as being counter to what Yong Zhao describes as ‘Employment-Orientated Learning’, while in a recent episode of the TER Podcast capturing some presentations from a Teachmeet in Sydney, Jon Andrews shared how he had introduced heutagogical learning across his whole school from P-12. Even though Andrews shared his young daughters understanding of design thinking and how she can use such practises across all her learning, the question that remains is when they become conscious of this. That is, when do students make the metacognitive connection that they do not come to school to learn ideas and information that may not even be relevant in a few years time, but instead come to learn how to learn?

Just wondering. As always, your thoughts are welcomed.

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Why Do You Come to School? by Aaron Davis is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

12 thoughts on “Why Do You Come to School?

  1. Thanks for a great read Aaron. Two things popped into my head as I read the post – one about my own experience today and one pseudo-prediction about the future.

    I’m just scratching the surface of heutagogy as a framework (swimming in the wake of Jon’s progress) but it should be an aim of K-12 schooling to have students equipped to be independent and confident learners (most would have it in their school policies somewhere). We say we do it, but I definitely feel the pressure of the HSC here in NSW and the need to help students ‘perform’ at their best as opposed to ‘learn’ at their best. Sometimes these two things merge nicely but quite often, when time is ticking away, I feel myself taking more and more leadership of learning in the classroom when I should – in theory – be giving more and more away to the students. Especially at that critical time, the 12 months before they leave school to go out into the world.

    Another question I know Dan Haesler asks regularly is not just ‘Why do kids come to school?’ but “Why would they stay?” if they start to see school as lacking the environment and opportunities they need to explore some of those entrepreneurial experiences and independent paths we’re hoping they find. A challenge we’ll face in the next 10 years I’m sure.

    Thanks again for the great read!

    • Thanks for the comment Matt. I think that there is a few of us swimming in Jon’s wake. There are so many pressures and I totally agree about incidentally leading the way in the classroom. I wonder what needs to change? Is it heutagogical understanding? Push from above? Perceptions about what parents want? At the very least, there needs to be a dialogue. Surely that is where all change starts?

  2. Thank you Aaron. Once again, you are making me think, which is a good thing considering learning is our calling. Your question about the relationship between age and metacognition is interesting. Not only because I don’t have a confident answer, but because I would like to minimize the age variable. Age-based education has existed since the days following the one-room school house. But wait, many next-gen educators have made comparisons between learning in the one-room school house, and learning in a web 3.0 world. People of all ages are asking key questions, solving intricate problems, and contributing to the betterment of others by sharing their experiences transparently on the Internet. Maybe, instead of what age, the question could be, “under what conditions do learners learn how to learn?” Thank you for the spark, and for the opportunity to learn with you and our terrific PLN! Bob

    • I agree about the ‘conditions’ and sometimes that is all we can do. Provide the possibility for learners to take the reigns of their own learning. I remember Dave Cormier posing the question as a part of #Rhizo14 about how to ‘enforce independence’ ( This irony has really bugged me since.

  3. I would say that they start asking that question when they are ready to. Or perhaps they never do. Our teaching practice should support development of the answer to the question through scaffolding of learning activities and asking learner to reflect on their learning process.

    By the way, I actually agree with Stewart that all learners are heutagogical from the start. However, our school systems tend to support development of passive learners who follow the PAH continuum. Understanding the continuum can help us help them break out if it. If schools allowed for heutagogical learning from the start (such as at Jon’s school) — Wow, that would be transformation!

    Great post, Aaron. Thank you!

    • You’ve reminded me of a moment, that I reflected upon a few months back, where a student thanked me for something that happened several years back. It took time for her to realise that she had a voice. I had endeavoured to get the class to think beyond the traditional concept of the essay and to think about what and why they were actually saying it. Most just wanted me to tell them how to write the essay.

      In regards to schools allowing heutagogical learning from K to 12, that would be something. Moonshot thinking?

      • Aaron,
        It may be moonshot thinking, but I believe we need to take those shots whenever we can. Many teachers are amazed when they see learners actually take control of their learning — an ability that some would dismiss as not a reasonable expectation to have for young learners. Jon’s experiences at St. Paul’s School in Queensland, Australia are a fabulous example of what can be achieved in the K-12 sector (he writes about it in the new book on heutagogy and self-determined learning). St. Paul’s School will also be the site of the next heutagogy conference.
        I say, keep taking those moonshots! 🙂

  4. Hey Aaron

    Firstly, thank you for writing such a thoughtful piece. I really enjoyed it and have enjoyed reading how Matt and Lisa have engaged with the topic in the comments.

    I guess where I want to start is with something you said, ironically not in the post, but in the comments – about parents. In my chapter in the book, I stressed that places who want to tread this path and venture into heutagogy should really take a look at how the cultural landscape lies at school. Unlike further and tertiary and postgrad environments, what schools have to deal with are the semi-visible tensions of parent-teacher perceptions, teachers perceptions of leadership and the permissions to innovate/culture to risk-take and explore new territory and the organisational attitude to students in the driving seat (which is often driven by results/league tables/parents perceptions/leadership perceptions … blah, blah, blah – depressing 🙁

    However, I would challenge this notion. How well do schools REALLY know of these tensions? Are they real or ‘supposed’? Schools (I am speaking generally now) are notoriously conservative (because of the afore-mentioned reasons) and intentionally (or sometimes not) inoculate themselves against innovation, change and doing things differently. Why? Some schools work feverishly to justify every teaching and learning policy, mandate, decision, strategy, pedagogy on ‘research’, ‘evidence’, ‘effect size’ etc. I am NOT saying here that this is wrong – I am a HUGE fan of research (especially practitioner-led), but clinging to it for bitter life to push back against innovations (which sadly some call irresponsible or uncalculated because it doesn’t appear in a list of high/low effects, or because some RCT or controls have been played out) is depressing. High student outcomes have existed for time-immemorial, way before meta-analysis and best-evidence synthesis.

    Where am I going with this – well, to crack the back of heutagogy adoption in a school-based setting, we need to accurately and reliably diagnose how the land lies culturally and organisationally. Invariably schools are full of those who are innovation hungry, prepared to do their research, conduct reflective processes and take the plunge. The shift from pedagogy to heutagogy (as we can attest to) is daunting. Teachers, students and really importantly parents, require the full support and very clear communication of leadership. In addition, there is a lot to be said (we have found) in engaging parents at the very beginning and unpacking what this is all about. What are the marginal and significant gains to be made from self-determined learning? What will the role of a teacher look like? What kind of conversations/emotions can parents expect from their children? How will we tackle challenges? How can we reassure them that curriculum coverage and knowledge development will accrue and support each and every student? How can we guarantee similar or enhanced outcomes? How do we expect to see a step beyond engagement to empowerment/agency? What about skill development? And for those who are not social or collaborative learners? Big questions – big responsibility.

    All this being said, our story is just one of maybe a few who are prepared to tread this path. The feedback from parents about the transformative nature in the Junior years is heartening. We now have teachers (not all – although we are pressing ahead) who are overtly forming self-determined PLC’s, networking their research, sharing stories, bridging the knowing-doing gap. Most importantly, the ongoing support, trust and planning/reflecting and coaching systems are in place. It is an investment we do not regret. What we have to keep reminding ourselves though, and I would encourage schools to think about is this: How do we sustain the cultural shift? How do we remain compliant for the ‘must-do’ state and national mandates – but create the space/traction/culture required for take-off? Then, what are the diffusion strategies (story-telling, collaborating, family partnerships and reflection) to encourage further growth and authenticate the shift.

    We are not there 100% by any stretch. But we are inspired and will keep chipping away at it. One teacher said to me recently – in my new role, I walk a blurry line between feeling I am ‘working hard and hardly working!’

    Thank you for nudging my thinking. Lisa is a fantastic connection and such a support to my thinking and visioning, as is Bob. So pleased you and Matt are wading in!

    • Thanks for your great response Jon. I feel that sometimes it is one of those things that it is easy to make a million excuses as to why it is not possible. I guess if we are approaching it from this perspective we are already up against it. Slowly, but surely. Celebrate the small wins. Reminded of the site 1st Follower

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