Successful learning experiences

24 Nov

Defining success is not easy, and sometimes we get tangled in details and want to define students’ success as mastery of a single subject or unit, or course. Often applying unnecessary power over students is also disguised as success – but do students really need to perform according to minor details, or should we emphasize understanding the concepts and entities, so that the learned skill is transferable? In contemporary education negotiating meaning is more important than ever before, just to be sure that we are talking about the same concept/word/idea – and the word “success” certainly has several different connotations.

To me student success means simply making myself unnecessary as a teacher by empowering my students become autonomous learners, who can work independently and who know where to find the information and guidance they need. This requires handing over the tools for learning to students, and trusting in their motivation and drive to get their learning done, but having open and honest interactions with students to be able to help if needed.

Many schools aspire to empower their students to become life-long learners, and that is great! This is the true paradigm shift we need in education! But, it is not enough if we say this aloud (or write it on the visions and missions of school, or publish it on the school website), this goal must be integrated into everyday teaching practices as well as to the assessments.  Students’ perception matters. We need open and honest communication to remain believable so that our students understand and feel their success and learning being important for us.

Students’ perception creates the emotional learning environment of the classroom or the entire school. Please note, though, that I am not talking about entertaining students. My intention is to describe a learning environment where students cooperate and are accountable for their own learning.  In Finland one measurement for successful education is “kouluviihtyvyys”, which approximately translates to school enjoyment, or school satisfaction, but actually has some deeper connotations[1]. School satisfaction is seen to be built of several components where  school conditions create one part, social relationships another part and means for self-fulfillment in school the third crucial part – following the categories of having, loving, being by Erik Allardt[2]. I cannot but see the equivalence to the 3Cs: constructive tools used in cooperative way to provide cognitive connections.

Classroom management and curricular choices belong to having/school conditions, and often are the most emphasized component in student success. However, no matter how constructively you build the conditions, the two other components must be present to complete the picture of successful learning experiences.

Cooperation falls into social relationships/loving – part of school enjoyment, and it covers school climate, teacher-student relationships and all interactions – also those with students’ homes and family members. Cooperation increases students’ success in all levels starting from informal peer tutoring among classmates, covering anything and everything that happens during a school day, but also reaching to professional collaboration between education professionals (yes, I am against to Race to the Top or any other competitive attempts to improve education). Loving is a strong word for me to use about social relationships at school, but I do see how well it fits here.

Being/the means of self-fulfillment cover many important areas: value of work (no busywork!), creativity (students and teachers are so much more than parts in a machine), encouragement (feedback about learning process), and having opportunities to practice making good choices. Knowing how I learn is essential for becoming a good learner, and this is why metacognitive tools should be an essential part of each and every teacher’s toolbox. This is also why I am so sceptical about standards – when learning is an individual process, how could it be measured with standardized testing?

To me well-being in schools as defined above is an essential measure of providing students with successful learning experiences. What do you think? And how can you increase student success by improving having, loving or being in your school?

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8 Responses to “Successful learning experiences”

  1. Christine Noble November 24, 2012 at 5:42 pm #

    Amazing! I was lucky enough to have two teachers like this in an American city school. Ms. Riley gave me my first microscope. I never did go on to a career in the hard sciences like I wanted to as a kid, but along with my parents and Ms. Perlo she instilled in me a lifelong love of learning.

    • Nina November 24, 2012 at 5:49 pm #

      Thank you Christine :) I am very glad to hear you had two wonderful teachers! I have met very many awesome teachers, and they all have had parts of having, loving and being in their practices.

  2. kenthinksaloud November 25, 2012 at 10:47 am #

    “To me student success means simply making myself unnecessary as a teacher by empowering my students become autonomous learners, who can work independently and who know where to find the information and guidance they need. This requires handing over the tools for learning to students, and trusting in their motivation and drive to get their learning done, but having open and honest interactions with students to be able to help if needed.”

    110% agree! I call it “doing myself out of a job” and think it is such a vital part of teaching when done right. Great post – thank you.

    • Nina November 25, 2012 at 12:37 pm #

      Thank you, Ken! Of course the job never ends as there will always be students to empower as learners, but I like your wording. :)

  3. patbuoncristiani November 25, 2012 at 11:14 am #

    Policy makers who tightly define curriculum and then test it with ‘laser’ specificity – the goal of many school systems – make this view of education virtually impossible. As long as there is a high stakes standardized test at the conclusion of a unit of work or a year’s schooling, teachers will be unable to let go and give students responsibility for how and what they learn. That is why things such as NCLB, RTTT and NAPLAN are doing more harm than good.

    • Nina November 25, 2012 at 1:58 pm #

      Pat, you are so right! High stakes testing is really the worst thing ever happened to education. However, I am still hoping for every teacher to know they can allow choices for students during schooldays, no matter what the system is. Introducing meaningfulness provides students with an experience of successful learning. And we cannot afford losing the current student generation for meaningless while waiting for policymakers to realize the truth.

  4. Monique November 28, 2012 at 10:38 am #

    Definitely something to think about! It seems that with the emphasis of standards and criteria to be met, those who are not in the classroom are quick to define success as having met those standards. Teachers realize, however, that this is not the case. So many students are able to grow leaps and bounds throughout the year and make a significant improvement. For others, it may be a small improvement. For me, that is student success. Standards don’t consider the growth made between the starting point and the time of assessment. I think that this is important to remember. Every improvement and “success”, no matter how small, is worth celebrating!

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Ingredients of effective teaching « NotesFromNina - February 7, 2013

    [...] The concept of effectiveness is hard to define. Maybe we should pay more attention to the quality of interactions, and see how they contribute to successful learning experiences? [...]

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