Archive | December, 2011


31 Dec

You know how we don’t see things as they are, but how we are?  And sometimes we have hard time understanding, because the new information doesn’t seem to fit in? The same goes with your students, of course, and even more so because they have not yet learned to recognize their own filters.

Being able to help students create their own worldview is quite amazing. We as teachers are trusted with great responsibility! Being significant adults in our students’ lives we are also co-creators of their futures, and that makes me feel very humble and honoured, indeed.

One essential thing to teach your students as an all round survival skill is the ability to choose some of your own filters.

My current chosen filter is the 3C – approach for learning and teaching. It stands for cognitive, constructive and cooperative learning, and it empowers students to become autonomous learners. It places the student into the nexus of learning and helps them understand what and why they learn and become accountable for their own learning.

I strongly believe that these three components are also essential for good quality teaching.

Without cognitive part your students will never become critical thinkers – because there is nothing for them to think about, they are just asked to pass and perform.

Without constructive part students will never understand their own learning and become active learners – because knowledge is imparted to them, and someone else decides about the truth.

Without co-operational part students will never find learning meaningful and important – because they are objects in their own learning, performing learning tasks dictated by others.

Looking forward into the future (on this last day of 2011), and wondering what today’s students will grow into.  But that is the teacher’s job always: prepare students for the unknown future.

How do you want to equip your students for their journey?

Emotionally Safe Learning Environment

28 Dec

Student centered and emotionally safe pedagogy is an attitude.  It is not a handbook of tips and tricks, to help us survive our days.  It is being physically and emotionally present when the student needs us. It is also thinking more about the process than the product. And in these classrooms the focus is in creating, not copying, no matter what the task is – this applies art as well as note taking!

Emotionally safe classrooms are flexible by their nature and they have rules that are consistent and justified. Ordering other people arbitrarily around is only a way to show your power over them.  Being considerate is generally understood as a virtue, and showing the same politeness to children does not go without rewards. Treating students as individual human beings sounds like basic courtesy to me.

The central values of safety, co-operation, individuality, responsibility and building of realistic self image together create the foundation for an emotionally safe learning environment.  Most often these values are expressed in the classrooms and discussed with the students.  Ideally the wording of the rules is co-operationally created, and confirmed with the signatures of the teacher and students, and then posted on the wall for further reference.

Stress-free atmosphere is the first principle for creating an emotionally safe growing and learning environment. Creating the feeling of having enough time enables students to focus on their own learning instead of external factors that might disturb their concentration.  Knowing that their thoughts and ideas are valued helps students think and express their thoughts more freely. More thinking equals more learning.

The one situation when most of us feel threatened or unsafe is while we are receiving feedback.  In an emotionally safe classroom the feedback becomes a natural part of the learning process, and thus stops being scary.  While utilizing students’ daily self-evaluation and teacher’s verbal comments, the feedback system actually becomes a tool for the students to control their own learning.  This system also automatically holds students accountable for their own learning and helps them realize how much they already have learned.

Finding the Balance for More Effective Teaching

28 Dec

Imagine a wheel, like a bicycle wheel. What would the ride feel like if there were bumps on the wheel? Yet that is how we tend to emphasize only one aspect of learning and teaching in our classrooms.

Finding a balance is not always easy. After all, we have so very many details to include to our daily classroom teaching that it is sometimes hard to keep our thoughts straight. Here is a very simple 1-2-3 tool for checking the balance. It covers the most important areas of classroom teaching, no matter what level or grade you are working with.

1. Co-operate. Provide emotional support in the classroom. It helps your students learn, because they feel safe and more comfortable (read Mazlow if you don’t believe just my words). Be aware of learning problems, as well as the social ones, and address them in timely manner. Emotionally safe learning environment is the first premise for good quality teaching.

2. Be constructive. Create or adapt a classroom management system which is compatible with your own values and ideas about good teaching. Having extremely clear expectations for students cuts down the need of behaviour management – when student know what they are supposed to be doing creates lots of opportunities for the teacher to compliment them for their dedication and participation. Maximize the learning time by providing autonomous learning choices after finishing a task.

3. Strengthen the cognitive learning. Cater for concept development by asking lots of open ended questions and teaching your students ask those questions, too. Make sure to stop to listen to the answers. Provide feedback during the learning process instead of evaluating only the end result. This is the most important single thing enhancing their learning. Only those mistakes that are allowed to be corrected can help students learn more.

These steps also empower your students to move towards autonomous learning, because they focus more on learning than on teaching. And that is how it should be. After all, we are in the classroom to help our students learn, are we not? And one part of helping could be providing them a bit smoother ride.

Meaningful Learning and Effective Teaching

27 Dec

Teaching is such a wonderful profession!

We are trusted with great responsibility. Teachers all want to positively affect the lives of the students they teach.  However, being a teacher is not always easy.

Learning and teaching are two different things. They are two different processes that are often put into the same frame of reference (education) and sometimes even happen in the same physical space (classroom).

If learning is seen as an in-built force within your students, the teacher’s job just became much easier in an instant. By remaining as a facilitator for learning and letting the students build their own knowledge, the teacher has taken a huge step towards utilizing the learner’s autonomy.

Students are led into the learning process and given freedom to choose (within pedagogically appropriate boundaries) how to construct their own knowledge and which learning activities to use in order to reach the mutually discussed learning goals (of the day or week – teacher should take responsibility for the larger goals). Ideally students are also allowed to choose the evaluation methods they feel being most suitable for their needs, but the teacher should lead the students utilize wide selection of assessment.

In the previously described learning environment learning is authentic, builds on higher level of thinking skills, new information becomes part of the students thinking process and the learning objective is comprehended as a part belonging to a bigger entity.

Thinking from the viewpoint of teaching things appears to be very different. It seems inevitable that the teacher must somehow capture and keep the attention of the students. So, in order to get and keep the attention the teacher must motivate the students to learn and probably even entertain them so that they will want to continue learning. Small rewards (and penalties) are utilized to focus students’ concentration into the desired learning objective, and students are led through a teaching procedure with the hope that it would change also there thinking and not just their behavior.

I can help teachers achieve high academic standards and provide tools for you to make learning and teaching more effective and enjoyable.  Send Nina a message and learn more. And click here to find Nina’s Notes about teaching and learning. I hope you enjoy!


The One Key for Being a Good Teacher

27 Dec

The key is teacher’s desire to empower her/his students to learn autonomously. Ultimately this makes the teacher become unnecessary. Of course, first you must convince your students that you are not a threat to them, but an ally.

Empowerment makes students want to learn. You can call it reverse psychology, or just avoiding the reactions of students when they are told to do things they might prefer not doing. Ultimately it is about teaching accountability, and doing things because they need to be done, not because someone tells me to.

The way empowerment is visible in the classrooms lies in the cooperative way of learning and teaching. We have a common goal. We work together towards reaching it. (This is so simple that I almost feel silly typing it down! – Yet, it still is too seldom practiced in our classrooms! Too many teachers engage in unnecessary power struggles every day.)

There is also a cognitive aspect in empowerment: unleashing your students intellectual curiosity. Helping and guiding students in their learning process is a non-threatening way to assess their learning, too. We all have different approaches to learning, and evaluating the process rather than the product gives much more information about how your students are advancing.

The constructive part of empowerment is helping your students make well informed choices every day. Small and big choices, but both equally justified – because it helps us understand why we do certain things. The important thing is to reflect back to previous experiences and build on the understanding we gained there. After all, we all helping our students to construct their own view of the world we live in.

Your life – your world – your choices.

I wish all students were empowered to know that!