How Is It Possible That AP Students Hate Learning?

How Is It Possible That AP Students Hate Learning?


If you don’t know me personally, you might not know: I am insatiably curious.  I love learning. I always have and hope I always will. Imagine my shock and surprise when 3 of my 4 children revealed that they hate learning.  I think appalled better describes the emotion I felt. How is it possible that people in general but more specifically people with my DNA do not like learning?  I turned to my husband with a quizzical if not disgusted look on my face. His nonchalance, and perhaps lack of eye contact, let me know everything I needed to know.  He didn’t like learning either. What?!!?? Say it isn’t so!!!

What does a person do with information like that?  I know my kids are bright. They have all honors and AP courses.  Don’t AP students do so well because they love learning?  Apparently not.  Child #3, my daughter, is the one who told me. Get this…she wants to be a molecular biologist.  What does she have, at least a bachelor’s and master’s degree looking her in the face? How can those two things co-exist?  How can a person hate learning AND want to be a molecular biologist at the same time?

I thought about it for days.  It probably kept me up at least one night trying to work out the logic if any existed.  Here’s what I came up with: my daughter (and 2/3 of my sons) doesn’t like learning things she doesn’t find interesting or important.  That I can accept. That I can work with.  How does she do so well in school?  I don’t know.  Maybe she has a photographic memory; maybe she is really good at memorizing (yes, sadly, many AP courses are 80% memorization); maybe she has figured out the system.  I can’t explain it.  Really, it doesn’t matter.  What matters is that my children are spending at least 60% of their lives doing things they hate.

Reacting Like a Teacher

Now, how does that affect my teaching?  Having children has made me a better teacher than my 29 years in the classroom.  Everything my students couldn’t reveal my children have. My students probably thought it wouldn’t be wise to let me know they didn’t like learning.  What high schooler wants to be honest with a teacher about that? My own children, though, know they can be honest, and I will still love them. Of course I would have still loved my students, but they couldn’t be sure of that.  I get it.

For too many years, I did not realize that who-knows-how-many of my students did not like learning as much as I did.  As an English teacher, I would geek out over clever wording, powerful passages, rhyme and rhythm, plot twists. The list goes on and on.  Thankfully, my students did not deflate me by telling me they hated literature. Maybe they felt sorry for me or didn’t want to hurt my feelings or didn’t care enough to bring it up.  Am I better off knowing it or not knowing it?

Hmmmm.  I don’t know how things would be different had I known.  At that time, I knew that most kids didn’t like literature and writing.  That, I was okay with because I figured I could help them like it because I loved it.  I figured they didn’t like it because they didn’t feel confident at it, or maybe someone had turned off their love for it, and I was the one challenged with turning it back on. Or maybe they couldn’t relate to it, and I could help bridge the divide or connect the dots.  Sure, there were some students who were unreachable. They didn’t bring anything to the table, and we all know the “lead a horse to water” adage. However, I did get some kids to smile and laugh during class. I even heard the holy grail of teaching, “Wow! That class went fast!”

What Would I Change?

If I could do it all over again, would I change anything?  Of course!!! My teaching changed daily based on new findings from that day.  I was the crazy teacher who couldn’t use the same lesson plan twice because I saw flaws in it while teaching it, my students had changed, it was a different time of year, we had covered different texts that applied better in comparison.  You name it, my brain is always churning trying to find a more efficient and more effective way to teach kids. What I wouldn’t change is the believe that everyone has the capacity to love literature and writing.  I would not label anyone with a can’t-do label.

What does all of this boil down to?  Get to know your kids. Assume nobody thinks the way you do or values the things you value.  Don’t let it get you down. Use the information to make yourself a better, more effective, more powerful teacher.  Believe in every kid.  Why? Because the kids deserve it.

You can do it.  Now, go out there, and conquer that classroom!

Cultivating Collaboration in Blended Learning

If you have tried station rotation as a blended learning activity and felt less than impressed by your collaboration station, you are not alone.  Of over 25 K-12 teachers who were exposed to station rotation and tried it out in their classes, only 2 said the collaboration station went well.  Students didn’t know how to talk to one another; they didn’t know how to get started; they didn’t know x… they didn’t know y…they didn’t know z.

What do we do when students don’t know how to do something?  Do we force them into it and let them figure it out?  Of course not.  We give them time to learn it and practice it.  When we are confident they will be able to apply the skill with success, only then should we put students in a situation to apply the skill on their own.

What is Collaborative Learning?

According to the Global Development Research Center,  “Collaborative learning is an educational approach to teaching and learning that involves groups of learners working together to solve a problem, complete a task, or create a product. Collaborative learning is based on the idea that learning is a naturally social act in which the participants talk among themselves. It is through the talk that learning occurs.”

Further, “Collaborative Learning is a relationship among learners that requires positive interdependence (a sense of sink or swim together), individual accountability (each of us has to contribute and learn), interpersonal skills (communication, trust, leadership, decision making, and conflict resolution), face-to-face promotive interaction, and processing (reflecting on how well the team is functioning and how to function even better).”

According to Hari Srinivas, “Collaborative learning is not simply a synonym for students working in groups. A learning exercise only qualifies as Collaborative Learning to the extent that the listed elements (below) are present.”

  • Positive interdependence. Team members are obliged to rely on one another to achieve the goal. If any team members fail to do their part, everyone suffers consequences.
  • Individual accountability. All students in a group are held accountable for doing their share of the work and for mastery of all of the material to be learned.
  • Face-to-face promotive interaction. Although some of the group work may be parcelled out and done individually, some must be done interactively, with group members providing one another with feedback, challenging one another’s conclusions and reasoning, and perhaps most importantly, teaching and encouraging one another.
  • Appropriate use of collaborative skills. Students are encouraged and helped to develop and practice trust-building, leadership, decision-making, communication, and conflict management skills.
  • Group processing. Team members set group goals, periodically assess what they are doing well as a team, and identify changes they will make to function more effectively in the future.

Is a Collaboration Station Necessary?

Ted Panitz lists 44 Benefits of Collaborative Learning.

The collaboration station serves many purposes:

  1. It is more engaging to work with a partner than to work alone,
  2. Technology has dampened social skills and has encouraged people to live alone in their own worlds
  3. Collaboration is one of the top 4 skills employers are looking for.

How To Teach Collaboration

Collaboration is a desired soft skill for good reason.  It is important to real teamwork, powerful discussion, and inclusivity.  Knowing how to disagree with someone without making them feel rejected is a skill that many people don’t have innately.  Sharing new vocabulary, modeling the skill, and practicing the new skill are necessary.

Click here for Hints for Better Learning Groups from the University of Texas, Teaching Resource Center (Srinivas).

Srinivas, Hari. “GDRC | The Global Development Research Center.” GDRC | The Global Development Research Center. Web. 25 May 2017.