Merely to absorb facts is of only slight value in the present, and usually of even less value in the future.  Learning how to learn is the element that is always of value, now and in the future.“     —Carl Rogers

“Control of your own attention is the ultimate individual power.“ —David Brooks

Consider a classic scene, repeated countless times every night: A student has lugged home a backpack loaded with five or six heavy textbooks.  She opens one up.  Her assignment is to read fifteen pages and answer a set of questions at the end of the chapter. 

Maybe she skims through the pages, or maybe she turns directly to the questions at the end.  She reads the first one, looks back through the chapter to find the answer, and dutifully writes it down.  She repeats this for the rest of the questions, closes the book with relief, and turns to the next subject’s homework.  Tomorrow she will turn the homework in, the teacher will acknowledge that she did it—probably by rewarding her with some points—and the class will go over the answers together.  Tomorrow night she will repeat the process.

Perhaps this student has learned something, but that isn’t really the goal for her.  Completing her homework is an essential part of earning good grades.  She is successfully doing school.  What she has completed is a simulation of learning.  It only looks like the real thing.

Fortunately, there is another model for us to consider.  It is possible for students to perceive the work they do in class and at home as both meaningful and useful—as a powerful tool in the learning process.  It is possible for students to work less, but much more effectively.  But to accomplish that, we must reconsider the very purpose of the work students do.