Tag Archives: accountability

Active and meaningful learning

7 Aug

Have you noticed how there are people who seem to “happen to the world” and others who have the “world happen to them”? People who are proactive and engaged, and others who are passive and alienated?

People who happen to the world are the ones who make their own choices about their lives, learning and everything.  Isn’t that how things should be?  People being active and make decisions about their future, and shaping their own thinking. How about people with the passive approach to life, people who let the world happen to them? What is their learning like?

Psychologists use the term “locus of control” to describe whether people believe that they can control the items and actions of their own lives. Intrinsic control means that I am responsible for my own life. Extrinsic control means that someone else decides for me, and I need those others to come and save me from hard situations.

But, it also means that my achievements are controlled by external factors concentrated to explanations like “It’s about luck”, “This is too hard”, and “I don’t know xyz”- the last one being super funny as there is more information at the reach of our fingertips than ever before. And after teaching for a few years you have pretty much heard them all.

My favourite one is: “S/he made me do it”. Really? Did s/he now? And how, exactly?

Why this long intro, you may ask. Well, so much of our academic success depends on what we believe about ourselves and education, and the interactions of the two.  Life and learning cannot (and shouldn’t) be separated from each other. Simply measuring up to a performance standard, or creating a product (essay, project, worksheet, etc.) asked by the teacher shouldn’t be the end result of learning. Outcomes should be seen as a new configuration of students’ own knowledge, instead of superficial external measures.

This is the real problem in education: teaching is so disconnected from learning.  In the U.S. we invest more funds in education per pupil than many other OECD countries, yet the learning results are not improving. In a way it doesn’t surprise me because the fundamental idea of education is not matching reality.  When teaching is seen as is simple as imparting or transmitting teachers’ knowledge into students, or imposing the teachers’ worldview into them, then one could easily argue how creating more standards or paying big money for additional testing is the solution for the underachievement problem.  But information sharing is not teaching!  Learning must be active and meaningful for students!

When learning is understood as students internally constructing their own knowledge and effectively using it in problem solving and to support their learning process, then learning and teaching are certainly something more than just information sharing.

Students’ academic performance derives from their  learning, right?    And students’ learning depends on their academic self-concept, which consists their motivation (intrinsic and/or extrinsic) as well as engagement,  and also their own beliefs about their competence as learners. Understanding how students create their mindsets and beliefs about intelligence is important, and the research shows how ” there is more support for an effect of academic self-concept on achievement than vice versa” .[1]

Please note that I am not talking about boosting anyone’s self-esteem. I am trying to paint a picture of  having realistic self-image as a learner and a human being. Both our knowledge and our beliefs are references to the life we live. Children (students) are no exception from this rule. This is why it is so important, both individually as well as in communities like schools,  to ask questions like:

Do we believe in fixed intelligence as static and unchanging, based on inherited qualities like gift or talent (Mindset concept by Carol Dweck)?

Or,  do we view intelligence with a growth mindset, which understands the developing nature of it, and emphasized how everyone can learn?

Researchers strongly recommend the latter one:  “Encouraging a malleable (growth) mindset helps to sustain children’s intrinsic motivation, thereby enhancing both academic success and life-long learning”[2].  I think it is also very clear that only by empowering students to be active participants in their own learning and providing choices, we can create the culture of being responsible of our own lives and learning.

So, what can we all as adults – parents and teachers – do to foster this academic competence in every student?

 

N3C


[1] Bossaert, G., Doumen, S., Buyse, E. &  Verschueren, K. (2011). Predicting children’s academic achievement after the transition to first grade: A two-year longitudinal study.  Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology. 32, 47-57.

[2] Haimovitz, K., Wormington, S. V., & Corpus, J. H. (2011). Dangerous mindsets: How beliefs about intelligence predict motivational change. Learning and Individual Differences21(6), 747-75

 

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How do YOU want to teach?

27 Apr

Being a teacher makes our core values become visible. All the small (and bigger) choices we make in the classroom talk about our beliefs of good learning and teaching: how we place our students, what kind of questions we ask, what is valued in our class, etc., and they all also contribute to our students’ perception of education. Improving learning and teaching becomes easier when we empower every teacher with the knowledge of choices. Please watch and share:

CHT video

Taking time to think HOW exactly YOU want to teach makes all your choices become more conscious. It is easier to choose wisely when you have better understanding about the consequences of your choices.  Walking the talk of making well-informed choices is important for everyone who wants to teach. Fortunately choosing is a skill that grows with use, just like language fluency.

The same principles apply to our students:  they need to have opportunities to practice choosing in an emotionally safe learning environment.   The first step is to make students aware that there is a choice. So, how exactly do we help our students to make wise choices? This thinking process led me to write the book:

Nina's book

My own belief, based on experiences, is that independent and autonomous students are also the most successful ones. I think this happens because they have so good control over their own learning processes, and also use several different learning strategies.  Guiding all students towards being self-sufficient and having more successful learning experiences can be done if we let go of some unnecessary control and start providing more choices in the daily classroom situations.

Please note that I am not talking about students running wild in the class. The best environment to improve learning and practice choosing is where we can allow students to make mistakes without penalties. This of course means having informal and non-punitive assessment and self-evaluation systems in place.  Student accountability is built on the foundation of their autonomy. How could you be accountable for something you cannot control?

How can you help students practice choosing and become more independent in their learning?

Reflective practice

13 Oct

It is a fancy name for thinking about your workday, and processing the events in order to make better choices next time. Or, maybe I have a tendency to over-simplify things?

Educators make several instant and instinctive decisions during each and every workday.  Where do these judgments come from? How to be more aware about the reasoning behind these decisions?  Now, this is where the reflective practice steps in.

Reflecting upon choices not only increases the awareness about reasons behind certain decisions, but often also reveals other possible options. Recognizing these possible choices being available arises from the awareness of different practices – and this is exactly why having conferences and workshops, lectures and moocs, books and magazines discussing the best practices is so necessary. Yet, if participating or reading doesn’t transfer to the everyday work and life, one could rightfully ask whether it was time well spent.  Reflecting and implementing extend the benefits of any professional development.

The best and worst of reflective practice deals with emotions. You will explore areas that need improvement and those can invite you grow professionally, but you also will see your strengths and get to celebrate the success. And that actually is the main idea behind the stylish name of learning about your own teaching: being objective and finding out what works and why. Using the functional parts and discarding the unnecessary or harmful (even if it is something you are fond of) helps to improve your teaching practice

Some reflection happens in action while intuitively correcting your responses and “automatically” changing the way to interact with students.  Consciously thinking about the instructional materials and activities while doing the daily teaching, making mental notes about how well they work (or not) and planning for improvements is the foundation of reflective practice. To promote effective and student centered learning you need to think about the students’ point of view about the activities and materials as well.  Deeper reflection, the intentional improvement,  happens after you have done with teaching, and have time to think about your day.

A very simple way to begin your journey to professional reflection is to each day ask yourself these three questions:

1. What went excellently today and why?

2. What could have been better and how?

3. What do I want to change in my teaching?

Processing the events of your workday by writing these three things down either in a notebook or on computer makes it easier to focus on things you choose to improve and not go by the feeling, or become biased by an apparent success or failure. Exploring your own teaching by writing down some thoughts about the day, or at least the week, also creates a journal that reveals your own thinking habits and the way your teaching philosophy and practice have evolved during time. It allows you to get some necessary distance to what happens in the classroom, and see patterns and outlines of your own way of teaching, so that you can improve your practice.

This is the real accountability measure for a teacher, but because it requires ultimate honesty it cannot be implemented by someone else but the teacher herself/himself. Nor can it be forced. But, it can be supported and encouraged – just like learning.

And exactly like learning is a process, not a product, also teaching is a process, because being a teacher also means being a learner.

What happens to learning when school year ends?

10 Jun

In an ideal situation?  Nothing – learning goes on because students are curious about their physical and social environment and want to keep on interacting with it.  Of course we don’t call it formally “learning” when they are exploring the shores, forests, parks, malls or streets of their hometown or holiday destination.  We call it free time or vacation. Yet, if your students have learned how appropriate and important the question Why? is, they will make the most of their free time as well and keep on learning while wondering and reflecting upon the things they notice. (Please, read more about Why? in this excellent post:  http://3diassociates.wordpress.com/2012/06/05/curiosity-questions-and-learning/)

In a less than ideal situation students refuse to wonder or ask questions about anything.  These students are so fed up with school that they try to avoid all learning activities at any cost when they get out of school. Why does education do that?! How does education do that? John Holt (American author and educator  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Holt_(educator)) had fairly strong ideas about how this disconnect happens:

“We destroy the love of learning in children, which is so strong when they are small, by encouraging and compelling them to work for petty and contemptible rewards, gold stars, or papers marked 100 and tacked to the wall, or A’s on report cards, or honor rolls, or dean’s lists, or Phi Beta Kappa keys, in short, for the ignoble satisfaction of feeling that they are better than someone else.”  — John Holt

Killing the intrinsic curiosity children are born with is the worst side effect of an educational system.  This is no news, scientists and educators have known that for decades. Learning starts from wondering.  Science is all about wondering, and asking questions why and how.  As long as you know how to wonder, you are also learning as you go.

“Every kid starts out as a natural-born scientist, and then we beat it out of them. A few trickle through the system with their wonder and enthusiasm for science intact.”  — Carl Sagan

We adults as parents and teachers can prevent the worst from happening by communicating the expectations of education with our students, and also verbalizing how learning does not only happen in school. Every child knows that games have rules, and that the rules must be obeyed so that everybody can play. So, instead of automatically trying to instill into students the idea of school being for fun, we probably should have a very honest talk with kids, and explain how school may not be fun – but how learning certainly is – and help them to understand the difference between learning and  going to school. Learning is what you do for yourself. Graduating is what you do for the society/culture as a part of the game of life.

Detaching learning from going to school and restoring the intrinsic curiosity by encouraging the question Why? is the first step on building autonomy as a learner. This also helps children to take a personal approach to their learning, and also assume more responsibility over it.

The question for you as a parent or teacher is: Do you want your student to be tricked into learning involuntarily (or because of the extrinsic rewards), or do you want them to choose  learning as their own choice?

                                                                                     

Explaining the Finnish Miracle – Part Two

15 Mar

Explaining the Finnish Miracle – Part Two

Excellent multidimensional explanation about Finnish system! Please read!

It also contains the broader view of curriculum being the practical and helpful guiding tool for intentional teaching and learning – yet providing flexibility for individual schools and teachers to make learning happen in an individualized way. It is the true work plan. Not something publishers are selling, but a tool created for your school and your students.

Mentioning the corridors etc. as important places for learning made me miss the days I was teaching elementary in Finland, and often sent students to study in small groups to different places (like corridors) within the school building … sometimes we used stairs or dressing rooms as small group spaces. Students completed their assignments and returned to classroom to ask for more…. 🙂  But nobody was worried about them going missing, as they were highly accountable for their own learning.

Does your classroom have hidden expectations?

18 Feb

Teaching is a funny profession. Everybody has an opinion about it, because they have been involved with it, either as a student, a parent or a teacher. That is why classrooms carry loads of emotional baggage, thus always being a battlefield for different sets of expectations.

Every single person entering a classroom has their own expectations regarding learning, teaching, socializing or just education in general. It might not be a clear expectation, or even something they would have actively been thinking about, nevertheless it creates a filter that “colours” everything this person sees in the classroom. Think of coloured shades: depending of the colour of the lens, the whole classroom looks different. And this expectation makes us see exactly those things we want to see (or what we don’t want – because the focus can be the negative expectation, too).

Students’ expectations for school or learning in general are far from realistic, but this does not diminish the emotional and cognitive effect of them, unfortunately. And these hidden expectations that are never discussed tend to appear as “ghosts” in the classroom: hard to detect and hard to address or handle. But they they have a strong effect on how your students learn.

Have you ever heard about inherited math-phobia? A belief how nobody in a family has ever been good at math. Or how in some other family nobody has ever read well…? Or how a student is highly intelligent in one area, and thus should only concentrate on improving that single skill?  You know what I am talking about, right? These expectations will make learning very hard for students, unless they are addressed in the class.

Learning is a complex process, and we don’t even know all factors contributing to good quality learning. But we have learned about things that make learning harder. One of these things is poor communication, when the message is received in a very different way than it was sent. Hidden expectations are one part explaining why and how this happens.

Utilizing focused and effective feedback in your classroom is one way of addressing these hidden expectations and ensuring that you and your students are talking about the same things. It creates opportunities to understand what your students are thinking, and provides situations for asking those important open-ended questions.

Discussing expectations should be one part of casual communications in education. After all we share the ultimate goal: to see our students succeed in their lives (and studies, too).

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!