Learning in the Lower School with Principal Elena Jaime

The faculty at LREI spend a great deal of time thinking about the process of learning: ideal conditions for learning, particular strategies to support a group of diverse learners, ways in which to support student reflection on the learning process. A key aspect of this conversation also focuses on studying different motivations for learning. Why is this important? All learning is motivated, and understanding how a particular kind of motivation impacts the learning process is key in developing meaningful educative experiences.
The first type of motivation is extrinsic. This type of motivation assumes that learning happens when external incentives such as rewards or privileges are used to generate interest in learning about an idea. For example, the process of learning the capitals of the fifty states (an experience many of us may have had as young learners), although important information, when done only to pass a quiz, often leads to very shallow or “surface” learning what allows the learner to commit something to memory only for a short time. 

The second type of motivation is achievement. This type of learner is motivated by a desire to be at the top, and success is felt in comparing themselves with others. As a learning community, we value hard work, persistence and celebrating the achievements that come with engaging in deep thinking about an idea. The danger, however, that comes with focusing solely on achievement as measured in comparison to other learners or to a particular benchmark is that it can often lead to a resistance to stretching oneself for fear of failure, and impacts the ability for collaborative learning to thrive. In other words, the satisfaction comes from achieving the goal and not from the process itself. 

The final type of motivation is intrinsic learning. This motivation for learning stems from a desire to understand a concept and a feeling of satisfaction once true understanding is achieved. This type of learner will persist, investigate and remain unsatisfied until they have fully understood the topic. This process often leads to a new set of questions with the learner eager to continue. Unlike the learner motivated solely by achievement, this type of learner believes that there is always more to uncover and explore. As a community, we have committed ourselves to developing these type of students, and research has shown that this type of learning is not only desirable, but also essential in deepening a learner’s understanding of the world.

Experiences in the lower school. The first grade investigation of bread highlights such a moment. Over the course of a number of days, first graders spent time developing a recipe for bread based on their past cooking experiences, their theories regarding the ingredients in bread, and the testing of different measurement ratios, hypothesizing the impact of different measurements on the taste and texture of the bread. The first graders have repeated this experience many times, persistent in their search for the perfect bread recipe. It is an experience that is intrinsically motivated, and one that will deepen their understanding of the science and the art of bread making, and of the science of baking in general. The same can be said of third graders who are learning about old Lenape traditions of longhouse making as they make their own longhouse in the classroom or the fourth graders who are building their traveling trunks in Woodshop during their immigration study. In each of these cases, the ownership of the learning belongs to the students who are intrinsically motivated to understand the topic of study.

Creativity, one of LREI’s Four C’s, is defined as, “ the following of a path to an answer, undeterred by past experiences, though informed by them and unfettered by the limits of earlier experiences, failures or frustrations. Creativity often leads to a ‘Eureka!’ moment.” In order to follow such a path, students must be supported to develop an intrinsic motivation to learn.
Elena Jaime,
Lower School Principal