Discovery Learning

Reading, Writing and Arithmetic.  

Once upon a time, and for a long time, these were the tenets upon which educational philosophy resided – three pillars that bestowed young learners with all the skills they’d need for a successful future. Memorization and repetition were the presumed methods of learning.  Understanding hard and fast rules for grammar and mathematics was complemented with a vocabulary that expanded with words deemed important by a spelling book. Students were empty vessels, ready for knowledge to be poured in, set as concrete and never altered thereafter.

I’m happy to inform you – (and here I am speaking to the curious and unsatisfied learners of the 21st century) –  that these “Pillars of Rote Learning” continue to crumble with increasing fervor in today’s educational community.  In their place reigns “discovery learning” – an approach to education that guides and motivates learners to explore new concepts and ideas on on their own through problem-solving, simulation, new experiences and inquiry.  Students “discover” knowledge, rather than receive it. Discovery learning is active, and the focus is on the student learning, rather than the instructor teaching.

How can discovery learning help me master a new language?

In the world of language acquisition, discovery learning has become synonymous with communicative language teaching (CLT). The goal of CLT is for students to learn how to use a new language in a variety of scenarios, in everyday life. Vocabulary lists and verb conjugations, which have long been mainstays of classroom language learning, have been replaced.  In their absence, students learn a new language by conversing with native speakers – simulating organic experiences like ordering at a restaurant, asking directions or interviewing for a job.

The theory is one that emphasizes practical use of new skills rather than conceptual understanding of them.  Repetition plays a big role here. The more often a student speaks, hears and comprehends a new language, the more quickly it will become innate.  Additionally, the CLT method strives for students being more intrinsically motivated to learn a new language, which will be more likely if they perceive it as a meaningful, useful enterprise.  

How discovery learning is used in other subjects.

  • Biology students dissect an organism, then describe in original language the cellular structures they identify without a teacher lecturing them beforehand.
  • Literature students read the second half of a novel before the first and are charged with re-writing the beginning.
  • A History class independently researches various Enlightenment philosophers, then portraying their favorite theories in a simulation of the French salon.
  • Novice geometry students hunt for geometric shapes throughout the school, and apply various new formulas to them.

Discovery learning does not have to be hindered by language barriers.  It is a style of education steeped in creativity and imagination that gives students ownership of their own learning.  To the many international students working to master a new language, or perfect skills and knowledge in other subjects, we encourage you to embrace the experience of discovery and investigation.