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 adolescence, 35(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.