Is Learning a Product or Process – part 2

27 Feb

Best teacher is the one who makes herself unnecessary by

empowering students to become autonomous learners.

~Nina Smith

When learning is seen as a product, the emphasis of the learning-teaching interaction is in instruction – and the thinking behind comes from the idea of students only learning when the teacher is instructing them, and only what they have been taught.  The reality is different, as any curriculum leader can tell you. At any given moment of time any given classroom has several ongoing curricula: intended, written, taught, actualized, learned, etc., so we cannot simply look at the learning product.  This product may be a paper, worksheet, notes, homework, essay, grade, etc., that we use to measure the results of students’ learning.

Emphasizing learning products makes mistakes very undesirable phenomena in the classroom – after all a perfect product is the goal, right?  And often the grade only reflects the finished learning product, without paying attention to how the student got there.  Maybe s/he already knew the content or had the skill, and didn’t have to study  or practice at all?  If we pay too much attention to the product, we may miss the important part of the learning-teaching interaction: the individual students’ main gain,  her/his increase in knowledge/understanding/skills that has happened as the result of instruction.

Now, very seriously: which one is more important to you? What your students know/can do — or how much they improve in what they know/can do? 

There is a big difference.

Improving what students know/can do inevitably leads to different end results, because each student has her/his own starting point. And this improvement, the increase, of course, IS the result of the individual learning process of each student.  This is also why helping students to become independent learners is so important.

Independent learners tend to automatically (or by learned habits) engage in their own learning process.  While observing these students we can see them intentionally influencing their own learning behaviours, and Bandura  (2006, p.164-165) described the four following components in their engagement: the intentionality of their learning, the forethought of their actions, their self-reactiveness and self-reflectiveness. Of course, to be able to do all this, students must have certain amount of freedom in the classroom, which is why I am so fervently advocating for providing more choices in classrooms. Choosing is a skill that can (and should) be taught and learned, and it only grows when students have ample opportunities to try choosing in an emotionally safe learning environment, where mistakes are not only allowed but celebrated.

Just imagine how much more these students learn! They don’t need the teacher to motivate or engage them, because they are already “in the zone”. In the classroom these components apply straightforwardly to students’ engagement as intentional learning activity, and learning motivation and goal-setting as their forethought. Meta-cognitive knowledge is about knowing and understanding how I learn, knowing what is easy and what is hard for me, and where do I need to put in extra effort in learning. Independent learners, who engage in their own learning process already know these things. Wouldn’t it be important to help every student to possess this knowledge of themselves?

The third component in independent learning, self-reactiveness, relates to the way students control their own learning actions and regulate their own behaviour in classroom. As a teacher it is important for me to ask myself, how can I support my students’ self-regulation and  provide more autonomy for them. When students get to regulate their own learning process (pace, depth, breaks, note-taking, collaboration, additional information, etc) also the learning results, the visible and tangible products of learning, do improve.

Maybe the easiest way to support students’ learning process is to provide accurate and timely feedback. This strengthens the fourth component of independent learning, student self-reflection,  which is too often overlooked.  Feedback has been statistically identified as one of the  important teaching-learning factors (Hattie & Timperley, 2007), because it enhances both the learning process and the product we get as an end result of successful learning. Students self-evaluation is an important classroom practice, because it combines feedback and self-reflection.

To me it seems that too strong focus on the learning product leads to shallow learning (to just get by), and strategic learners  (to just get a good grade) instead of deep learning.  While independent students may have strategies to cope in product centered learning environment, the dependent students may not have a clue what they should do, or how they are supposed to do it – which further decreases their learning motivation.

Focusing on the learning process emphasizes the students’ responsibility in the learning-teaching interaction. It both enables and encourages students to engage in their own learning. This engagement helps both students and teachers to build learning up from standards and to achieve competencies needed in our modern world.

 

 

Bandura, A. (2006). Toward a psychology of human agency. Perspectives on psychological science1(2), 164-180.

Hattie, J., & Timperley, H. (2007). The power of feedback. Review of educational research77(1), 81-112.

Teachers’ learning process has three dimensions

1 Jan

Who dares to teach must never cease to learn.

~John Cotton Dana

The one very important message in all learning and teaching today is about personalization, and how to understand it.  Student-centered learning has proven to be very effective. Students are not clones and should not be treated like ones, so it is important to think how the outdated factory model of education could be improved, and more choices included to students’ everyday learning experiences.

Our world today is very different from the dawn of the industrial world where school systems were created, so the way we prepare students for their unknown future should be changed. Well-rounded contemporary education aims for students to achieve the global competencies: investigate the world, recognize diverse perspectives, effectively communicate ideas and take action to improve conditions.

Edudemic has a nice visual about the next step (Web 3.0) in education: schools in the minds of students and parents evolving from their “daycare” status to places where we learn, and where knowledge is socially constructed and contextually reinvented.  This increases the purposefulness and meaningfulness of education, but also presents the need for mutual intentionality and accountability – students coming to school with the intention to learn, teachers with the intention to support students’ individual learning. 

In these times information is available everywhere – hand held devices, computers, books – and the teacher cannot be seen as the source of knowledge, but the facilitator for students’ individual learning and the guide for making good choices about how to use the information. Expanding the teaching profession to cover individual learning support must also change the way we think about teacher training and professional development.

Just like their students, teachers have diverse needs for their learning and professional development, and are entitled to their own learner-centered training experiences. Only by strengthening teachers’ learning process we can truly improve their professional competence and ultimately the learning experiences pupils will have.  Standards alone are not the solution – there must be room for personalization for all learners regardless their age or educational level. Engaging in the individual learning process enables both teachers and students to build up from standards and achieve the global competencies to thrive in the modern world.

3d teacher competence

All training and professional development (PD) should include the three dimensions of teachers’ professional competencyteaching and instruction, pedagogical knowledge and global reflection.  All three dimensions are important and contribute to the teaching-learning situations. The colour in the thirds deepens with layers of professionalism, produced by the teachers’ ongoing learning process. You probably notice how the third part, global reflection, seems to be drifting apart from the two others? That is unfortunately happening too often in training and PD. But excluding global reflection makes it significantly harder for teachers to achieve excellent learning facilitation skills and thrive in their profession.  

Too often we stay on the first dimension – the practical and concrete classroom experience –  in training and PD sessions and talk about the curricula or ready assessments without thinking about the pedagogy behind the practices or the decisions for these specific pedagogical choices. How would you incorporate the global competencies into the classroom experience, if everything is designed and scripted by someone else? And how do you think students will learn to investigate, recognize, communicate and act if they are not active participants in their own learning, and just arrive to school to be instructed and assessed instead of engaging in studies with their curiosity? The underlying philosophies and choices are very important for effective learning experiences!

Pedagogical  knowledge is the middle dimension of teachers’ learning process, which means it needs to be visited and revisited all the time in order to tie the rapid instructional decisions to the theoretical background we have about teaching, learning and understanding. According to this infograph at TeachThought blog teachers make 1500 educational decisions each day. Pedagogical knowledge helps us as teachers to become aware about our own choices in classroom practice. With solid knowledge of how learning happens and how it can best be supported we are taking a huge leap towards enabling students to be accountable for their own learning. No classroom or group of students is identical to another, so no practices should be adopted without thinking how well they fit into this particular class or group. 

The third dimension of professionalism – global reflection – combined with the pedagogical knowledge helps teachers to decide what strategies are the best fit in the classroom.  Teaching dispositions, values and  philosophy belong to global reflection, as well as didactic design, even though it is terminology used mostly in Scandinavia. This third dimension in teachers’ learning process and professionalism is s the big picture of teaching and learning. We only see what we are ready to perceive. Awareness is the first step in everything.  For educators it is really important to think about the question “why?”. Changing between the big picture and details helps us analyse teaching and learning, because it relates to the ability of taking different viewpoints to the same issue and trying to see what others see. For teachers this is essential, so that they can offer information in student-sized chunks and relate it to students’ previous knowledge, and thus support students’ learning process.

The three dimensions of teachers’ learning process (concrete instruction, pedagogical knowledge and values – or do, learn, think)  are present in all teaching-learning situations. They can be visible in the choices and interactions, or veiled in hidden expectations.  I want to encourage all teachers and professors to engage in value discussions  and joint reflection with colleagues and students to deepen the global reflection and their own professional competence.

 

This slide show is related to the three dimensions of teachers’ learning and professionalism. It was created for Global Education Conference so it discusses teacher training and PD from the viewpoint of global competencies.

 

 

 

 

 

 

References:

Kansanen, P., Tirri, K., Meri, M., Krokfors, L., Husu, J., & Jyrhämä, R. (2000).Teachers’ pedagogical thinking. P. Lang.

Mansilla, V. B., & Jackson, A. (2011). Educating for global competence: Preparing our youth to engage the world. Asia Society.

Student-centered learning and teaching

16 Oct

I was working on one of my assignments for my doctoral studies and searching for a good definition of student-centered learning. Imagine my delight when I realized that APA provides a beautiful and comprehensive definition that is a real joy to read. As many of you already know, Nina’s Notes is dedicated to helping teachers to adopt and use more student-centered practices in their classroom. I just want to group the practices into the 3Cs to have a manageable and functional framework. Yet, what I see below fits perfectly well into my teaching/learning philosophy (emphasis and colouring mine):

 
This definition of learner-centered is based on an understanding of the Learner-Centered Psychological Principles as a representation of the current knowledge base on learners and learning.
The Principles apply to all learners, in and outside of school, young and old.  
Learner-centered is also related to the beliefs, characteristics, dispositions, and practices of teachers – practices primarily created by the teacher.
When teachers and their practices function from an understanding of the knowledge base delineated in the Principles, they
(a) include learners in decisions about how and what they learn and how that learning is assessed
(b) value each learner’s unique perspectives
(c) respect and accommodate individual differences in learners’ backgrounds, interests, abilities, and experiences, and
(d) treat learners as co-creators and partners in the teaching and learning process.
 

What else can I say?

This is exactly how I was taught during my own teacher education in Finland.  The teaching and learning process where teachers are learning facilitators and students intrinsically motivated and accountable for their own learning  should look like this in the classrooms everywhere in the world! And APA even provides more tools for  getting there!

Please read ahead:

COGNITIVE AND METACOGNITIVE FACTORS

Principle 1: Nature of the learning process.
The learning of complex subject matter is most effective when it is an intentional process of constructing meaning from information and experience.
Principle 2: Goals of the learning process. 
The successful learner, over time and with support and instructional guidance, can create meaningful, coherent representations of knowledge.
Principle 3: Construction of knowledge. 
The successful learner can link new information with existing knowledge in meaningful ways.
Principle 4: Strategic thinking
The successful learner can create and use a repertoire of thinking and reasoning strategies to achieve complex learning goals.
Principle 5: Thinking about thinking
Higher order strategies for selecting and monitoring mental operations facilitate creative and critical thinking.
Principle 6: Context of learning
Learning is influenced by environmental factors, including culture, technology, and instructional practices.

 

MOTIVATIONAL AND AFFECTIVE FACTORS

Principle 7: Motivational and emotional influences on learning
What and how much is learned is influenced by the learner’s motivation. Motivation to learn, in turn, is influenced by the individual’s emotional states, beliefs, interests and goals, and habits of thinking.
Principle 8: Intrinsic motivation to learn
The learner’s creativity, higher order thinking, and natural curiosity all contribute to motivation to learn.
Intrinsic motivation is stimulated by tasks of optimal novelty and difficulty, relevant to personal interests, and providing for personal choice and control.
Principle 9: Effects of motivation on effort
Acquisition of complex knowledge and skills requires extended learner effort and guided practice. Without learners’ motivation to learn, the willingness to exert this effort is unlikely without coercion.

 

DEVELOPMENTAL AND SOCIAL FACTORS

Principle 10: Developmental influence on learning
As individuals develop, they encounter different opportunities and experience different constraints for learning. Learning is most effective when differential development within and across physical, intellectual, emotional, and social domains is taken into account.
Principle 11: Social influences on learning 
Learning is influenced by social interactions, interpersonal relations, and communication with others.

 

INDIVIDUAL DIFFERENCES FACTORS

Principle 12: Individual differences in learning
Learners have different strategies, approaches, and capabilities for learning that are a function of prior experience and heredity.
Principle 13: Learning and diversity
Learning is most effective when differences in learners’ linguistic, cultural, and social backgrounds are taken into account.

Principle 14: Standards and assessment
Setting appropriately high and challenging standards and assessing the learner and learning progress-including diagnostic, process, and outcome assessment-are integral parts of the learning process.

 

How can we make this become reality in classrooms?  Please check Nina’s Notes for some tools!  And let’s keep on collaborating in highlighting the importance of student-centered practices!

 

Summarized from the APA Work Group of the Board of Educational Affairs (1997, November). Learner-centered psychological principles: Guidelines for school reform and redesign. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.  http://www.jodypaul.com/lct/lct.psychprinc.html

Also see:  http://www2.ed.gov/rschstat/eval/tech/techconf00/mccombs_paper.html for more information about learner-centered practices and their importance to the field of contemporary education.  

 

3 Core Concepts of Meaningful Learning

15 Sep

Meaningful learning is contextual and situational, and it greatly helps students to be more interested and more successful in their studies. Contemporary educational research recognizes the importance of students’ intrinsic motivation and self-concepts as means for improving their academic performance.  The first premise for any deep learning to occur is to introduce the new information in a way that makes students interested in acquiring it (buy-in from students’ part improves the effect teaching has).

The three core concepts that help making learning more meaningful are:

Cognitive approach - to create the foundation, because students’ thinking needs to change, not just their behaviour.

Constructive tools  – to focus on supporting students’ learning process and create the real-life connections

Cooperative tools  – to guide the classroom management decision and help students engage int heir learning goals

Learning new things in a way that makes them useful in the future, and also seeing that connection while learning occurs, makes acquiring new information more interesting.  When new information is added to our existing knowledge it needs to have as many connections as possible to ensure fast and easy retrieval from memory.

The more retrieval paths we create and use while learning, the deeper the new knowledge becomes (this is one part explaining why multilingual students can learn more easily), and the more confidence we have about our own learning competence.  It is really hard to find something that forces us to struggle  every day to be meaningful and interesting to do.

As teaching and learning are two very different phenomena that occur in the same physical space, I want to discuss the 3Cs first from the students’ point of view and then form the teachers’ point of view.

The Three Cs for Students

Cognitive learning (developing knowledge) means that the student is an active participant in the learning process, and focuses on understanding concepts, not just remembering facts. Cognitive learning is also is about using reasoning skills and finding logical solutions for problems, as well as about the student knowing how s/he learns, and being confident that s/he has an effect on how her/his learning happens (self-efficacy).

Constructive learning (integrating knowledge) is about building on previous experiences and using time spent in the classroom in a productive manner, so that students don’t engage with busywork, but get to learn on their own level (regardless being above of below the standards).  Constructive learning is not shallow or superficial, but creates meaningful experiences that help students become successful in life.

Cooperative learning (externalizing knowledge) makes learning a pleasant journey shared with friends. It is about getting and giving help, and being collaborative instead of competitive. Classroom organization and behavior management also fall under the label of cooperative learning, because it is important to accommodate everyone’s needs equally. This builds an emotionally safe learning environment where everyone feels accepted. In such environments, students won’t hesitate to ask for help from the teacher or from each other if they don’t understand something.

 

The Three Cs for Teachers

Cognitive teaching means catering to students’ intellectual needs and providing opportunities for students to process what they have learned and negotiate meanings (i.e. have them get answers to a common question: “what’s in it for me?”), but it is also tightly bound to increasing understanding of individual learning and the capability for learning. Learning motivation carries the baggage of beliefs about personal learning competence and also the family’s beliefs about being able to learn. These are often called to “causal attributions”, the most common of which is the theory of learned helplessness, the belief that individuals have no control over events that have an effect on them.

Constructive teaching means handing the tools of learning over to the student. In the classroom, this is visible in the form of students being provided with choices. Having choices strengthens students’ executive functions, as they are able to plan for their actions and carry out their plans with the teacher’s support. When used in conjunction, constructive and cognitive teaching emphasize the process of learning and guide the individual learning process.

Cooperative teaching means that the teacher doesn’t want to use unnecessary power over students, but strives to create a solid structure in the classroom so that everybody knows what to do and how to behave. Rules should be created in cooperation with students, because following rules that you have helped create is much easier than following externally imposed rules. Cooperative teaching also means that students are held accountable for their own learning, and the teacher is there to help students achieve their individual learning goals.

Makes sense, anyone?

Education changes the life of our students, so in a way it is always transformative.  In the worst case student drops out of the educational system believing that s/he is a failure, that s/he cannot learn. Choosing to teach in a way that enhances meaningful learning helps every student towards the positive transformation. Our knowledge and beliefs are references to the life we live, so living and learning cannot be separated from each other, no matter how old or young  the students are.

 

Green, J., Liem, G. A. D., Martin, A. J., Colmar, S., Marsh, H. W., & McInerney, D. (2012). Academic motivation, self-concept, engagement, and performance in high school: Key processes from a longitudinal perspective.Journal of adolescence35(5), 1111-1122.

Veermans, M., & Tapola, A. (2004). Primary school students’ motivational profiles in longitudinal settings. Scandinavian journal of educational research,48(4), 373-395.

Great teachers

25 Aug

Good teachers have strong organizational skills. Good teachers have solid decision-making skills. Good teachers get important things done.

Exceptional teachers do all of the above–and more. Sure, they care about their school and students, their principals and administrators. But most importantly, they care to an exceptional degree about the people who work for them, their students.

That’s why extraordinary teachers give every student:

1. Autonomy and independence

Great organizations are built on optimizing processes and procedures. Still, every task doesn’t deserve a best practice or a micro-managed approach. Engagement and satisfaction are largely based on autonomy and independence. I care when it’s “mine.” I care when I’m in charge and feel empowered to do what’s right.

Plus, freedom breeds innovation: Even heavily product-oriented assignments have room for different approaches.

Whenever possible, give your students the autonomy and independence to work the way they work best. When you do, they almost always find ways to do their jobs better than you imagined possible.

2. Clear expectations

While every assignment should include some degree of independence, every assignment does also need basic expectations for how specific situations should be handled.

Criticize a student for writing an opinion today even though yesterday that was standard practice and you make that student’s learning impossible.  Few things are more stressful than not knowing what is expected from one day to the next.

When an exceptional teacher changes a standard or guideline, s/hes  communicates those changes first–and when that is not possible, s/he takes the time to explain why s/he made the decision s/he made, and what she expects in the future.

3. Meaningful objectives

Almost everyone is competitive; often the best students are extremely competitive–especially with themselves. Meaningful targets can create a sense of purpose and add a little meaning to even the most repetitive tasks.

Plus, goals are fun. Without a meaningful goal to shoot for, studying is just work.

No one likes work.

4. A true sense of purpose

Everyone likes to feel a part of something bigger. Everyone loves to feel that sense of teamwork and esprit de corps that turns a group of individuals into a real team.

The best courses involve making a real impact on the lives of the students you teach. Let students know what you want to achieve for your class, for your school, and even your community. And if you can, let them create a few lessons of their own.

Feeling a true purpose starts with knowing what to care about and, more importantly, why to care.

5. Opportunities to provide significant input

Engaged students have ideas; take away opportunities for them to make suggestions, or instantly disregard their ideas without consideration, and they immediately disengage.

That’s why exceptional teachers make it incredibly easy for students to offer suggestions. They ask leading questions. They probe gently. They help students feel comfortable proposing new ways to get things done. When an idea isn’t feasible, they always take the time to explain why.

Great teachers know that students who make suggestions care about their learning, so they ensure those students know their input is valued–and appreciated.

6. A real sense of connection

Every student works for a grade (otherwise they would bring you more of their work than just assignments), but every student wants to work for more than a grade: They want to study with and for people they respect and admire–and with and for people who respect and admire them.

That’s why a kind word, a quick discussion about family, an informal conversation to ask if an student needs any help–those moments are much more important than group meetings or formal evaluations.

A true sense of connection is personal. That’s why exceptional teachers show they see and appreciate the person, not just the student.

7. Reliable consistency

Most people don’t mind a teacher who is strict, demanding, and quick to offer (not always positive) feedback, as long as s/he treats every student fairly.

(Great teachers treat each student differently but they also treat every student fairly. There’s a big difference.)

Exceptional teachers know the key to showing students they are consistent and fair is communication: The more students understand why a decision was made, the less likely they are to assume unfair treatment or favoritism.

8. Private criticism

No student is perfect. Every student needs constructive feedback. Every student deserves constructive feedback. Good teachers give that feedback.  Great teachers always do it in private.

9. Public praise

Every student–even a relatively poor performer–does something well. Every student deserves appreciation. It’s easy to recognize some of your best students because they’re consistently doing awesome things.  (Maybe consistent recognition is a reason they’re your best students? Something to think about.)

You might have to work hard to find reasons to recognize a student who simply (or barely) meets standards, but that’s okay: A few words of recognition–especially public recognition–may be the nudge an average performer needs to start becoming a great performer.

10. A chance for a meaningful future.

Every course should have the potential to lead to greater things. Exceptional teachers take the time to develop students for the course they someday hope to take, even if that course is in another school.

How can you know what a student hopes to do someday? Ask.

Students will only care about your course after you first show you care about them. One of the best ways is to show that while you certainly have hopes for your school’s future, you also have hopes for your students’ futures.

 

Good advice, isn’t it?  Let me confess: these are not my words.

I owe this article to Jeff Haden, who published it in Inc. under the title of extraordinary bosses.  I just couldn’t pass the uncanny resemblance between being an awesome boss and being an awesome teacher. So, what I did was just to change words like boss, company, customer and employee to teacher, school and student.  With small adaptation it would fit well as a parenting advice, too. It made me think about the best places where I have worked and felt like a valued member of the team.

We have all this good knowledge about leadership (which resembles teaching much more than management does), and how to put it into practice.

Imagine how different education would look like if we treated our students like best companies treat their employees?

Or,

better yet,

if we treated students like valued customers??

 

Active and meaningful learning

7 Aug

Have you noticed how there are people who seem to “happen to the world” and others who have the “world happen to them”? People who are proactive and engaged, and others who are passive and alienated?

People who happen to the world are the ones who make their own choices about their lives, learning and everything.  Isn’t that how things should be?  People being active and make decisions about their future, and shaping their own thinking. How about people with the passive approach to life, people who let the world happen to them? What is their learning like?

Psychologists use the term “locus of control” to describe whether people believe that they can control the items and actions of their own lives. Intrinsic control means that I am responsible for my own life. Extrinsic control means that someone else decides for me, and I need those others to come and save me from hard situations.

But, it also means that my achievements are controlled by external factors concentrated to explanations like “It’s about luck”, “This is too hard”, and “I don’t know xyz”- the last one being super funny as there is more information at the reach of our fingertips than ever before. And after teaching for a few years you have pretty much heard them all.

My favourite one is: “S/he made me do it”. Really? Did s/he now? And how, exactly?

Why this long intro, you may ask. Well, so much of our academic success depends on what we believe about ourselves and education, and the interactions of the two.  Life and learning cannot (and shouldn’t) be separated from each other. Simply measuring up to a performance standard, or creating a product (essay, project, worksheet, etc.) asked by the teacher shouldn’t be the end result of learning. Outcomes should be seen as a new configuration of students’ own knowledge, instead of superficial external measures.

This is the real problem in education: teaching is so disconnected from learning.  In the U.S. we invest more funds in education per pupil than many other OECD countries, yet the learning results are not improving. In a way it doesn’t surprise me because the fundamental idea of education is not matching reality.  When teaching is seen as is simple as imparting or transmitting teachers’ knowledge into students, or imposing the teachers’ worldview into them, then one could easily argue how creating more standards or paying big money for additional testing is the solution for the underachievement problem.  But information sharing is not teaching!  Learning must be active and meaningful for students!

When learning is understood as students internally constructing their own knowledge and effectively using it in problem solving and to support their learning process, then learning and teaching are certainly something more than just information sharing.

Students’ academic performance derives from their  learning, right?    And students’ learning depends on their academic self-concept, which consists their motivation (intrinsic and/or extrinsic) as well as engagement,  and also their own beliefs about their competence as learners. Understanding how students create their mindsets and beliefs about intelligence is important, and the research shows how ” there is more support for an effect of academic self-concept on achievement than vice versa” .[1]

Please note that I am not talking about boosting anyone’s self-esteem. I am trying to paint a picture of  having realistic self-image as a learner and a human being. Both our knowledge and our beliefs are references to the life we live. Children (students) are no exception from this rule. This is why it is so important, both individually as well as in communities like schools,  to ask questions like:

Do we believe in fixed intelligence as static and unchanging, based on inherited qualities like gift or talent (Mindset concept by Carol Dweck)?

Or,  do we view intelligence with a growth mindset, which understands the developing nature of it, and emphasized how everyone can learn?

Researchers strongly recommend the latter one:  “Encouraging a malleable (growth) mindset helps to sustain children’s intrinsic motivation, thereby enhancing both academic success and life-long learning”[2].  I think it is also very clear that only by empowering students to be active participants in their own learning and providing choices, we can create the culture of being responsible of our own lives and learning.

So, what can we all as adults – parents and teachers – do to foster this academic competence in every student?

 

N3C


[1] Bossaert, G., Doumen, S., Buyse, E. &  Verschueren, K. (2011). Predicting children’s academic achievement after the transition to first grade: A two-year longitudinal study.  Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology. 32, 47-57.

[2] Haimovitz, K., Wormington, S. V., & Corpus, J. H. (2011). Dangerous mindsets: How beliefs about intelligence predict motivational change. Learning and Individual Differences21(6), 747-75

 

Quality of learning, process vs. product

19 Jul

There are processes without defined products, play being probably the best example of it. Art and music don’t have a clear definitions of quality either, but we do recognize a masterpiece when we experience it. Learning works the same way. Each student has a unique learning experience, due to their diverse abilities and expectations, so the end result of learning must be open-ended, too. When students are forced into one definite learning outcome, i.e. product (think of 27 nearly identical pieces of “art work” on the classroom wall, copies of a model/template, provided by the teacher), something important of the learning quality is lost.

We already know how important play is for learning, as numerous studies show the positive effects of engaging in free play. One important part must be how play employs our creativity and curiosity. While guided play is sometimes important for concept development, it is necessary for anyone working with early childhood age students to be able to follow the child’s lead and verbally add new dimensions or elements to the play. Sitting the child down to perform a task an adult has planned has less effective learning components than enhancing the free play. Just because we will never create the same competence while  following the thinking of someone else, as we do while thinking  things through on  our own. Playing is the visual part of children’s thinking!  Helping students to engage with their own thoughts is a huge accomplishment.

There is also evidence about how social-emotional choices made during free play, like negotiating about taking turns, actually strengthen the same processes we need in scientific problem solving.  This makes me think how important it is to share our knowledge of learning and how it actually happens with students, so that they can be empowered to engage with their own learning process. Meaningfulness defines the quality of the play, as there is not an objective criteria for children how to conduct “good play”.  This is equally true with learning process, too, where meaningfulness perceived by the students drives their curiosity and engagement in class.

Measuring quality in education is hard, partly because there is not one universal definition what good quality learning looks like. People have different connotations about educational quality, and the cultural perceptions are also very diverse.  Learning, like play, is individual and very situational and contextual.

One way of approaching educational quality[1] is to see it as perfection of the learning process, where everybody involved is required to contribute to the quality of outcome, and can be held accountable for her/his own part. Isn’t this what we want for our students? For every student to be successful in their studies, and also have ownership over their achievements?

I bet every teacher knows about “teachable moments”, and those are the key components of a good quality learning process: to receive the information and inspiration at the right time, so that learning is perceived to be meaningful by the student. Learning quality in those moments is very high, due to engagement and ownership student experiences. These experiences are more likely to be saved in long term memory, because the ownership of learning process makes the transfer of learning to happen almost automatically.

In the classroom it looks pretty much as the following: We plan for optimal instruction, but students’ learning is something more than perfectly written, measurable performance objectives. Involving students in their own learning process helps them to become more accountable for their own learning. Teachers cater for students’ individual needs and preferences to make learning more meaningful for them.

Excellent educational quality emphasizes the transformative learning process that involves both cognitive and personal growth of students. It is learning for life, not just for school. This transformational type of learning happens in individual interactions. Teachers have very big role in supporting these interactions: the younger the student the more important it is to have a teacher as a trusted adult to facilitate these interactions between students and their learning environment and resources.

 


[1] Wittek, L., & Kvernbekk, T. (2011). On the Problems of Asking for a Definition of Quality in Education. Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research55(6), 671-684.

 

Learning as unending process

25 Jun

While thinking of all my students – current, past and those in the future – there is one single wish I have for them all: to become a lifelong learner. Learning is an unending process that starts before we are born, and with the growth mindset it continues through our lives. Supporting that process is how I define my work, and I like to think that I contribute to my students’ academic learning as well as their growth as learners.

Our students arrive to our classrooms with diverse skills and backgrounds, but they all have also common needs. We all  benefit from having someone to facilitate our learning, someone to help us reflect what we have learned and thus guide the learning so that it becomes deeper. The simple word “learn” has very many connotations, so I want to define here that I am talking about transformational learning, and of that in the sense the learning being meaningful and relevant to the student.

Learning is a multidimensional phenomenon, which makes it even harder to define. Learning is highly individual, situational (time wise) and context dependent. Of course all these components also interact – so every teaching-learning situation is unique. This presents the requirement for open and honest communication in learning situations, and makes learning facilitation a superior tool as compared to the traditional view of teaching as information sharing activity.

Sincere communication is the foundation of excellent learning-teaching relationships. Asking open-ended questions is much more effective than being insincere and just pretending to ask genuine questions.  Students do know the difference between a (fake) question we ask to test their knowledge and a (real) question we ask to hear their thoughts. We even listen differently to the answers to genuine questions (think of the difference between listening and hearing).  Pretending to ask a genuine question when we already know the answer quickly erodes the trust and uniqueness of learning situation (I know this may be against some “questioning techniques” commonly taught during teacher training, but please bear with me), and when the deep connections have gone only shallow learning remains.

In addition to questioning, insincere communication often aims to use unnecessary power over students (for example portraying learning as an external product instead of internal process, using extrinsic motivators, not sharing learning goal/objectives) and thus prevents the learning process from being as effective as it could be.   True enough, in formal education learning is sometimes seen as a secondary goal, and performing (i.e. passing exams, getting good grades etc) as a primary goal, which of course shifts the focus from process to performance, and thus externalizes learning.

Without actively listening to our students’ needs, we easily forget how important part the learning process plays in permanent learning, and resort to cohort thinking and try to teach everyone at once with the one-size-fits-all approach.  Nganga (2011, p. 248) talks about teaching strategies and methodology:

“When successful teaching and learning is reduced to technical assessment rather than a critical and emancipatory dialogue, teachers continue to serve institutional organizational structures that maintain the status quo rather than educating to transform the lives of students.”

Teaching can be based on products, as we want to know that students have learned the bare minimum (usually defined as a learning objective/standards) and can also demonstrate it in exit assessment, but transformative learning –  if we are lucky – continues long time after the student has left the classroom. This is why we should recognize how teaching/instruction is just one part of the learning process, and the other parts (goals/motivation,  environment, prior knowledge, aptitude and readiness) need to be acknowledged with equal emphasis.

Learning Star3

Excellent pedagogical skill is is essential for teachers, because it helps balancing the products with the process. Learning cannot be confined to school or classroom, because the tools for learning are deeply connected to other parts of our lives. Communicating about the importance of continuous learning process empowers students to learn – where ever they might be. This is a known habit of successful students. To help all students achieve better learning results, we should be sure to communicate openly about learning being an intrinsic and internal part of students’ personality – not just something we do at school with the teacher.

Nganga, C.W. (2011). Emerging as a scholar practitioner: A reflective essay review. Mentoring and Tutoring: Partnership in Learning, 19 (2), 239-251.

How to grow learners

30 May

May has been such a busy month. I just realized I haven’t posted any blogposts this month, even though I have had several great discussions about education:  how to make it better, for everyone, everywhere. Those of you who have been reading my previous posts already know that I am a strong advocate for meaningful learning and that I view learning as a process, instead of a product. This distinction results from my personal (and professional) view that learning and teaching are two separate phenomena, even though in everyday language and education policies they appear to be two sides of the same coin.

Now I am vacationing and sitting on our lanai’i, sipping coffee while watching the Ocean and loving the freshness of early morning.  I am also processing all the new things I have seen and encountered – which led me think about the specific mindset of a life-long learner. You see, ever since my masters and enjoying the extensive studies in developmental psychology, I have been wondering how some people seem to learn and grow throughout their lives, while others just to stop learning.  My current conjecture is that these people cease to wonder, and stop asking the important question “why?” and just accept things as they are. From my point of view this seriously limits their creativity and critical thinking skills.

The idea of growth mindset makes very much sense, and we should foster that in our students. Instead of packing everything into a ready format (and label it discovery learning, problem- or inquiry-based learning, etc.), I would want to equip every teacher with the ability to foster curiosity in students.  So, no matter what the curriculum or instructional setting is, the teachers would be able to provide choices that spark the meaningfulness in their students’ learning.

We already know that too many ready (and definite!) answers kill students’ curiosity. There cannot be creativity without curiosity, because they both require interacting with the unknown, either in the level of actions or thoughts. And, quite frankly, the known becomes boring at some point – that is how small children learn: venturing further away from parents, deeper into the unknown, the world – and without people pushing their boundaries, we would not have the inventions of the modern life.

I don’t believe people are supposed to stop learning at any point of their lives. Ever!

This takes me back to think how we could support the intellectual curiosity and growth of every student, anywhere on the globe. We know every child is born as a master learner, and there are many sad-but-funny pictures of educators forcing students into certain molds, like square pegs into round holes. Yet, we can do better, just by choosing to support the individual growth and learning of each student.

Fostering learning is very simple. In addition to open-endedness there are some other qualities in my mind I decided to name as

CAFÉ

Communicate. Have a dialogue with your students, the most effective communication is reciprocal and includes negotiations of meaning.

Acknowledge their competence, and help to add into it. Validate their knowledge and understanding.

Feedback early and often. Provide feedback about the process (think of mapping the ground that lies ahead them, it is easier to steer clear when you know where the pitfalls are).

Encourage and empower. Support their choices. Point out other possible directions (make sure not to choose for students).

And just like coffee, or life in general, also education is best when you enjoy it – not shoved down your throat.

 

Cafe for growing learners

How do YOU want to teach?

27 Apr

Being a teacher makes our core values become visible. All the small (and bigger) choices we make in the classroom talk about our beliefs of good learning and teaching: how we place our students, what kind of questions we ask, what is valued in our class, etc., and they all also contribute to our students’ perception of education. Improving learning and teaching becomes easier when we empower every teacher with the knowledge of choices. Please watch and share:

CHT video

Taking time to think HOW exactly YOU want to teach makes all your choices become more conscious. It is easier to choose wisely when you have better understanding about the consequences of your choices.  Walking the talk of making well-informed choices is important for everyone who wants to teach. Fortunately choosing is a skill that grows with use, just like language fluency.

The same principles apply to our students:  they need to have opportunities to practice choosing in an emotionally safe learning environment.   The first step is to make students aware that there is a choice. So, how exactly do we help our students to make wise choices? This thinking process led me to write the book:

Nina's book

My own belief, based on experiences, is that independent and autonomous students are also the most successful ones. I think this happens because they have so good control over their own learning processes, and also use several different learning strategies.  Guiding all students towards being self-sufficient and having more successful learning experiences can be done if we let go of some unnecessary control and start providing more choices in the daily classroom situations.

Please note that I am not talking about students running wild in the class. The best environment to improve learning and practice choosing is where we can allow students to make mistakes without penalties. This of course means having informal and non-punitive assessment and self-evaluation systems in place.  Student accountability is built on the foundation of their autonomy. How could you be accountable for something you cannot control?

How can you help students practice choosing and become more independent in their learning?

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