So, my grandson came over the other day. He brought along the "Skylanders" video game he had received as a Christmas gift. It is a fairly complex game with many different characters, skill levels, and options that allow the players to improve their characters' skills. As he was playing, we noticed that he had chosen one specific level. It was one that we had seen him play before. When we asked, "Why are you playing here?” his response was, "I like this one. I have played all the levels already. Now I choose the ones that are fun and I play them." He is 6 1/2 years old. He had never played this game before the morning of December 25, 2012.
He has never read an instruction manual. He has conducted no search on the Internet to find hints about how to overcome obstacles. He did not ask his parents or his grandparents for help (he knew better than to ask old people about new things). Yet, he has mastered the game... learned what to do and how to do it proficiently... in a surprisingly short time. How did he learn so quickly? How did he become so proficient so fast?
My first realization was that he was completely engaged while playing the game. The characters, the settings, the colors, and the action all focused his full attention on what he was doing. This is amazing. His teacher comments regularly on his lack of focus and attention, and, yet, while playing the game, Grandpa has to turn the machine off to break his focus and get him to come to dinner!
My next insight was that he had gathered useful information as he worked through the levels. He attempted methods to overcome challenges and used them until they no longer worked. He then asked, "What might work here?" and experimented with different answers until he found the method that allowed him to defeat the challenge. Then, he moved on. He didn't stop playing. He didn't stop and ask an adult to tell him what to do. He kept experimenting until he discovered the solution to his problem on his own! He learned how to succeed by asking questions (experimenting) over and over.
Lastly, I realized that he was not afraid to fail. His success was built upon repeated failures. He learned by making mistakes. The more mistakes he made, the more proficient he became.
The more proficient he became, the greater was his success. His greatest rewards came from getting the wrong answers.
Engagement - Self-directed Inquiry - Experimentation - Failure - that was the educational process that led to proficiency so quickly. Is that your approach?