Situational learning and teaching

12 Mar

Sometimes it seems that we want a magical pill to improve education and learning. This, of course, is not possible, no matter what the advertisements say. We cannot become fluent in a new language in two weeks any more than grow tall trees from saplings in the same amount of time. Learning and growing are both delicate processes where time is one essential component. How we use that time is important. In each unique situation.

I have previously stated that I believe learning happening in interactions. These dialogues are essential for concept development and creating deeper understanding (about anything).  Some interactions happen between the student and the learning materials others are facilitated by teachers and/or parents.  How interactions develop depends entirely on the situation. Some days and times are better than others, but for effective learning facilitation the basic requirement is for the teacher – or the parent – to remain fully present (physically, emotionally and cognitively) in the situation.

What prompted me to blog about this was a small article in the March/April issue of Scientific American.  “The myth of family meal: Eating together might not be as magical as researchers thought.”[1]  Placing value on something like family meal, without transferring the essential content (here: quality interactions) leads to misunderstandings, and emphasizing wrong things.

Gathering around the table for an enjoyable meal with the whole family and having vivid discussions about important issues certainly improves the quality of life and learning. However, if the family meal is used as a rule, thinking how performing this daily ritual improves the education and the future of children, we are misleading ourselves. In this case the family meal has become an empty doctrine. This was also the finding of researchers who followed nearly 18000 adolescents: Beyond indirect benefits via earlier well-being, however, family dinners associations did not persist into adulthood.[2]

I wonder how different the results were if this research had focused on meaningful interactions? I know it is easier to quantify family meals than interactions, and I appreciate the researchers’ efforts, because debunking yet another urban myth about education is good indeed.  Maybe it helps us shift the focus away form prescribed and scripted actions into the importance of situationality in education.

In my family the best discussions often occur in the car, mostly because of the closed space and having time to chat.  (My wish is that this gives hope and confidence to other parents who also at times may feel like running a family taxi service.) Some days nobody feels like talking, other times there are more items to discuss than we have time.  I am not trying to promote quality time over spending bigger quantities of time with children. I am just stating a fact that in my busy life the shared car ride sometimes turns out to be an enjoyable and meaningful conversation. Should it be generalized and stated that spending time in the car with your kids improves their well-being? Absolutely not. Because it depends on the situation.

I am afraid the same mistake of neglecting the true nature of learning is happening with Common Core.  The frames of teaching and rules of instruction are emphasized over the content, which should be learning instead of teaching.  We cannot box learning into a tight and tidy package, because it is situational and depends on dozens of individual factors during any given moment in the classroom.

Why not equip teachers with understanding of learning facilitation instead of providing them with a ready script for every minute spent in the classroom?


[1] Arnold, C. (2013, March/April).  The myth of family meal.  Scientific American Mind 24(1), 8.

[2] Musick, K. and Meier, A. (2012). Assessing Causality and Persistence in Associations Between Family Dinners and Adolescent Well-Being. Journal of Marriage and Family, 74, 476–493.

 

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2 Responses to “Situational learning and teaching”

  1. Matt H March 12, 2013 at 11:32 pm #

    Thought provoking post… I have to say I agree with the point about interactions vs simply going through with the process – having the family meal. I imagine many people agree they had family meals without quality interactions, and, as you noted, had them elsewhere. The activity shouldn’t be the focus but rather the interactions within the activity. I can see an argument that the more family meals we eat with the family the more LIKELY the interactions will occur – but that is simply related to the amount of time together… And honestly depends on the people involved.

    How does this relate to teaching? Thanks… you’ve given me something to reflect on. My first impression is yes… Being careful of falling into the rut of focusing soley on process – and never forgetting to ask ourselves the question “What is the student going to take away today…. Is my focus on that? For me that also always includes “Are they having a positive interaction with the English language today” as in general, the worst thing we could ever do is demotivate somebody about our subject. 🙂

    Anyhow… Thanks for the post and I look forward to checking out the blog in the future!

    • Nina March 13, 2013 at 8:47 am #

      Thank you for your comment, Matt! Positive interactions are so important as they build the overall experience of education and students’ self-image as learners. Making people think (students or readers :D) is is my very favourite thing to do!
      ~Nina

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