A tutor or teacher or parent speaking to a child: “Well what is it with fractions you’re having trouble with? Is it multiplying them? Simplifying them?”
We've all been there. We put it up to kids being non-verbal. That they don’t possess the vocabulary to accurately explain themselves. Setting aside that as a part of class we almost always teach the vocabulary needed to explain, it’s not necessary to even have specific vocabulary to explain most things. A child may not know the word luminescent, but they can explain what glow in the dark is and what it is like to experience it.
You’ve shown your father how to send a photo in a text message many times. When you stop by to visit with the family he is always excited to take a group photo, and after he does:
“How do I send this to Aunt Fanny?”
Of course you explain and help. You’ve by now even left written instructions for him and mom to use. But it won’t be long until your phone will vibrate and beep and:
...and so it goes.
Your son who is struggling with fractions. The teacher has explained it several times in class in many different ways. Reviewed it with him after school as has the tutor you hired. Repeatedly. But still when the fractions homework comes home:
“I don’t get it.”
“What don’t you understand? How to multiply them? How to simplify them?”
What’s going wrong? The boy isn’t defective anymore than your father is. Both are quite motivated to learn. What if it’s that the instructions aren’t sticking because there’s nothing to stick to?
The great majority of the human race, in order to learn things, needs to first learn the concept of it (we also refer to this sometimes as the jist, or a big idea). It’s been suggested that this may explain the popularity of shows like Jeopardy--we may be fascinated by people that can retain that much trivia successfully because they are true outliers in the same way professional athletes are.
Schools often try to accomplish this by introducing units of study with “Big Essential Questions,” or by questioning students on real world situations that will be relatable down the road. But we just don’t work that way. These questions just become an extension of the instructions because later part of the instructions will be to draw connections between the unit and the starting activities.
We need to be able to build our own understandings of the world for them to stay with us.
This is one very important thing the Self-Organized Learning Environment can offer. The very structure of it puts children in a position where they build their own understanding of the subject. Once a child has that understanding, as they are presented with more information about the subject their understanding will grow and change largely because now there is something there for the information to stick to. A foundation to build upon.