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.
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.