Reflecting quietly on the events of the weekend as I scooted in to work this morning, I returned to the idea of ego and learning. When typing the title into blogger it transpired I had written on the subject before, which only goes to show that I probably only have about seven ideas in total. Scanning my RSS Feeds once at work, I came across a nice piece by Lucy Kellaway on work at school vs work at work which added to the thought.
Yesterday I was helping my niece with her revision whilst she bounced on the trampoline with my daughter. Inadvertently we may have stumbled upon a nice way to reinforce learning. She was having fun, as was my daughter and the revision didn't seem to hurt too much. She was suitably distracted but not preoccupied.
My niece is spectacularly intelligent but also spectacularly and perversely lazy . She will devote superhuman effort into avoiding having to exert herself or actually think. This is always amusing to me as I resolutely resist telling her the answer until I believe she has really searched hard for it.
Her first approach to any homework task will always be ask you to tell her the answer, which she then immediately forgets as in her head the task is finished (the converse to the Zeigarnik effect). If you don't tell her, she will guess rather than think and try to read your reaction to see if she is right (in the interests of fairness my four year old daughter does this too as do most children). Again if you concur she will immediately forget. It is interesting that when she guesses she is quite happy to be wrong and will simply guess again.
I often deploy the Chris Tarrant defence to this strategy and ask for her "final answer". She will then vacillate and beg for the answer. Then and only then will she think. When she has given an answer to the question and it transpires that she was wrong, she will immediately say, "I knew that" when she clearly didn't.
I find it interesting that multiple guessing and being wrong doesn't affect her self image or ego at all. She doesn't feel at all bad about it or try to justify when wrong because it cost her nothing. But when she has put some effort into the task and still gets it wrong she feels the need to reshape and justify.
All this makes me think more about testing and how children acquire their reactions to tests which are often set for a lifetime thereby inhibiting future learning. I would like to know more about this...