Tag Archives: students

Learning dispositions and Real Life

31 Dec

Learning and studying dispositions are the filters we use when facing a learning situation. Sometimes these dispositions are helpful, other times they may hinder the learning process. 

We “inherit” these filters from family and friends – and media, too! – and learn to use the filters during all our learning experiences.  We sort things into important and forgettable “bins”, based on the value we perceive the learning content to have. (Show me a teacher who has never heard a student ask: When will we ever use this?!) 

The connection between learning and Real Life (RL) is important for all students, from kindergarten to higher education. Learning dispositions relate to the RL connection and thus regulate our interests, efforts and motivations to learn.  Growth mindset  is one part of the dispositions, as well as students’ self-efficacy beliefs and academic self-concept. Curiosity is yet another important concept for learning dispositions, because learning starts from wondering.

For some students curiosity or persistence can be enough to make them ready, willing and able to learn. Other times students need additional tools, and providing opportunities for risk-taking, concentration or independence might be necessary.  In this case it is crucial to have a non-punitive assessment method to support the positive outcomes of learning. Rubrics and feedback loops to be used before final evaluation are very necessary to emphasize the benefits of deep engagement, and fostering the development of future learning dispositions. Communication, collaboration and co-regulation are important learning activities for building positive learning dispositions, because sharing one’s own RL with others leads to deeper learning and understanding. 

I’m trying to figure out how to support students in creating a disposition that helps them to enjoy learning. The obvious reason for this is the fact that we engage much deeper in the activities we enjoy. And with deep engagement, we learn more. The information is not forgotten the next day or after the test, because it has some RL personal significance. Deep learning is seen to be more meaningful than reproductive learning (Lonka et al, 2004).

One possible answer for supporting deep learning dispositions is to adopt a teaching disposition that emphasizes authenticity and empowers engagement (Kreber, 2007).  Authentic teaching focuses on the RL connection, helping students to see the importance of learning in everyday life, so that they can engage in deep, personal learning. Authenticity and supporting helpful learning dispositions makes it easier for every student to be successful in their studies – and not only in reaching graduation, but also engaging in life-long learning and building their own knowledge.

Authenticity seems to be one of the main threads in progressive education. I think it is important to remember that students are not learning for school, but for life. Their own personal RL, which is different from the one any of their friends and peers are living, is a major component of the learning disposition. That’s why discussing learning dispositions is so important. Students are making the value judgment of their learning anyway, so we as learning professionals should be helping them to find a helpful disposition. 

We are preparing students for the world that is a complex mixture of cultures and diverse beliefs. Knowledge is so much more than a fixed bunch of facts to be memorized. While memorizing disconnected pieces of information may be a nice trick in trivia game, students need to understand the contexts and connections of that information. Where did it come from, and is it trustworthy?  And an especially important question is: how can we use this information?

Misusing information is easy because it is shallow and has no situationality or contextuality – these are qualities of knowledge, where an individual has constructed an understanding of how given information fits into her/his worldview, beliefs and values. These are the same building blocks learning dispositions are made of. 21st century learning cannot be just memorizing factoids.

Learning disposition can help students find RL connections and to engage in deep learning. But this needs to be communicated clearly to the students. It is insane to imagine that every student would be 100% interested in deep learning every detail of their every schoolday. In some cases it might not be the content to be learned that a student perceives being important, but perhaps learning more about oneself and how to support one’s own learning.  In this case content learning happens as a byproduct. Emphasizing the change, resilience and meaning-making as important parts of learning process leads students towards a discovery of positive learning dispositions and deeper, meaningful learning experiences.

— — —

Kreber, C. (2007). What‘s it really all about? The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning as an Authentic Practice. International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning1(1), 3.

Lonka, K., Olkinuora, E., & Mäkinen, J. (2004). Aspects and prospects of measuring studying and learning in higher education. Educational Psychology Review16(4), 301-323.

Shum, S. B., & Crick, R. D. (2012,April). Learning dispositions and transferable competencies: pedagogy,modelling and learning analytics. In Proceedings of the 2nd International Conference on Learning Analytics and Knowledge (pp. 92-101). ACM.

Volet, S., Vauras, M., & Salonen, P.(2009). Self-and social regulation in learning contexts: An integrative perspective. Educational psychologist44(4),215-226.

If a student learns….

22 May

For the past few weeks I have observed my students to get busier and more stressed.  Most of them are teachers, feeling the strain of the end of the school year, and still trying to engage in their masters studies. While the last days of school before summer are bittersweet: it is wonderful to see students graduate and move on, yet we will miss them after they have gone (or, sometimes let out a sigh of relief – just trying to be realistic here, because I hear those stories, too), the path of getting to summer vacations is lined with testing.  And, some more testing, and frantically documenting the learning that has occurred during the year.

Meeting learning goals and objectives is important for accountability.  But, I find it funny that all too often we are talking about learning goals when we actually mean teaching goals.  The objective and subjective realities of teaching and learning get mixed together.  Each student has a different subjective experience of the learning that happened in the class during the school year.  Teacher has her/his own experience, too.  So, which one is true?

There is an old philosophical thought experiment that has attributed to philosopher George Berkeley: If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”  

Our subjective realities are references to the lives we live.  We see and hear things based on our preferences and expectations.

Every teacher knows how hard it is to help students to learn new concepts, if they have very strong misconceptions about the topic.  Similarly, our own observations may be clouded by preconceived ideas, and we sometimes forget how much students learn  while they are not taught. Or, sometimes even in spite of the teacher (this was a common joke among the faculty in the school I taught in Finland, and I still think how a good dose of self-irony sometimes saves the day ).

In education a common misconception is to believe that significant learning only happens when students are taught.  In reality students are born learning machines, they learn all the time, everywhere. But teachers are needed to enhance those individual learning experiences and help students to dive deeper into the subject or the area of their interest. Documenting and testing should not be the primary focus of teaching.

Yet, in today’s world we are very busy in documenting all kind of things: taking pictures and videos of events to make memories, and sharing them in social media.  A common joke is to question whether a *thing* really happened, if nobody posted it into social media. This may be the modern version of the falling tree thought experiment.

But how about teaching and learning?

I sure hope nobody is seriously asking this:

If learn

Student-centered learning and teaching

16 Oct

I was working on one of my assignments for my doctoral studies and searching for a good definition of student-centered learning. Imagine my delight when I realized that APA provides a beautiful and comprehensive definition that is a real joy to read. As many of you already know, Nina’s Notes is dedicated to helping teachers to adopt and use more student-centered practices in their classroom. I just want to group the practices into the 3Cs to have a manageable and functional framework. Yet, what I see below fits perfectly well into my teaching/learning philosophy (emphasis and colouring mine):

 
This definition of learner-centered is based on an understanding of the Learner-Centered Psychological Principles as a representation of the current knowledge base on learners and learning.
The Principles apply to all learners, in and outside of school, young and old.  
Learner-centered is also related to the beliefs, characteristics, dispositions, and practices of teachers – practices primarily created by the teacher.
When teachers and their practices function from an understanding of the knowledge base delineated in the Principles, they
(a) include learners in decisions about how and what they learn and how that learning is assessed
(b) value each learner’s unique perspectives
(c) respect and accommodate individual differences in learners’ backgrounds, interests, abilities, and experiences, and
(d) treat learners as co-creators and partners in the teaching and learning process.
 

What else can I say?

This is exactly how I was taught during my own teacher education in Finland.  The teaching and learning process where teachers are learning facilitators and students intrinsically motivated and accountable for their own learning  should look like this in the classrooms everywhere in the world! And APA even provides more tools for  getting there!

Please read ahead:

COGNITIVE AND METACOGNITIVE FACTORS

Principle 1: Nature of the learning process.
The learning of complex subject matter is most effective when it is an intentional process of constructing meaning from information and experience.
Principle 2: Goals of the learning process. 
The successful learner, over time and with support and instructional guidance, can create meaningful, coherent representations of knowledge.
Principle 3: Construction of knowledge. 
The successful learner can link new information with existing knowledge in meaningful ways.
Principle 4: Strategic thinking
The successful learner can create and use a repertoire of thinking and reasoning strategies to achieve complex learning goals.
Principle 5: Thinking about thinking
Higher order strategies for selecting and monitoring mental operations facilitate creative and critical thinking.
Principle 6: Context of learning
Learning is influenced by environmental factors, including culture, technology, and instructional practices.

 

MOTIVATIONAL AND AFFECTIVE FACTORS

Principle 7: Motivational and emotional influences on learning
What and how much is learned is influenced by the learner’s motivation. Motivation to learn, in turn, is influenced by the individual’s emotional states, beliefs, interests and goals, and habits of thinking.
Principle 8: Intrinsic motivation to learn
The learner’s creativity, higher order thinking, and natural curiosity all contribute to motivation to learn.
Intrinsic motivation is stimulated by tasks of optimal novelty and difficulty, relevant to personal interests, and providing for personal choice and control.
Principle 9: Effects of motivation on effort
Acquisition of complex knowledge and skills requires extended learner effort and guided practice. Without learners’ motivation to learn, the willingness to exert this effort is unlikely without coercion.

 

DEVELOPMENTAL AND SOCIAL FACTORS

Principle 10: Developmental influence on learning
As individuals develop, they encounter different opportunities and experience different constraints for learning. Learning is most effective when differential development within and across physical, intellectual, emotional, and social domains is taken into account.
Principle 11: Social influences on learning 
Learning is influenced by social interactions, interpersonal relations, and communication with others.

 

INDIVIDUAL DIFFERENCES FACTORS

Principle 12: Individual differences in learning
Learners have different strategies, approaches, and capabilities for learning that are a function of prior experience and heredity.
Principle 13: Learning and diversity
Learning is most effective when differences in learners’ linguistic, cultural, and social backgrounds are taken into account.

Principle 14: Standards and assessment
Setting appropriately high and challenging standards and assessing the learner and learning progress-including diagnostic, process, and outcome assessment-are integral parts of the learning process.

 

How can we make this become reality in classrooms?  Please check Nina’s Notes for some tools!  And let’s keep on collaborating in highlighting the importance of student-centered practices!

 

Summarized from the APA Work Group of the Board of Educational Affairs (1997, November). Learner-centered psychological principles: Guidelines for school reform and redesign. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.  http://www.jodypaul.com/lct/lct.psychprinc.html

Also see:  http://www2.ed.gov/rschstat/eval/tech/techconf00/mccombs_paper.html for more information about learner-centered practices and their importance to the field of contemporary education.  

 

Choose your focus

14 Mar

Anything you pay attention to in your classroom will inevitably increase. It truly is as simple as that. The human perception focuses on things we expect. This is why verbalizing your positive expectations in the classroom will make a difference.

As a teacher you are externalizing your values and beliefs while you teach, i.e. communicate with your students.  So, if you expect students to hate learning…. well… that is what you will get.  And vice versa, if you expect every student being capable for learning and submitting good quality work, that is what you will get (sooner or later- be patient).

Focusing your communication on what you want to happen in your classroom creates the expectation for students. I am talking about the subtexts of the classrooms anywhere, on any level of education.  There are ancient and new studies about this issue, one of my favourites being the Pygmalion Effect, of course. And I know already visited this issue in the post about Hidden Expectations, but  I wanted to focus more on communication here, and emphasize its effects on learning. Or, not learning.

Every teacher knows how it is not only important what you say, but also how you say it and the non-verbal communication accompanying your message. These three are commonly referred to as verbal, paraverbal and non-verbal messages, and the emphasis of each of them changes a bit depending on the age of your students. The younger the student, the more emphasis you need to put on the para-and non-verbal messages. Often this is expressed with a triangle showing a small portion on the tip being the verbal communication, and the other two being the  over 90% majority of what children actually receive. For more mature students the verbal message is stronger, but the other two parts of your message still remain important.

But there is actually more to that. Your classroom practices must match with your communication. If your words (and expressions) are being positive but the undertone strongly negative, students will be following the latter. Having practices that promote initiative, autonomy and student accountability strengthen your positive messages in the classroom, and also strengthen students’ understanding about their own learning process – which of course makes giving positive feedback even easier.

Creating positive spirals in classroom is easy! It is also a choice each and every teacher has to make. It starts from stating positive expectations to your students, and then making sure your classroom practices match with your words.

What do you want your focus to be?

The Learning Path

2 Mar

The Path of All Learning – How we move from Observation to Action.

Such a nice way of visualizing how learning happens! The amount of information (or the data) around us is bigger than ever, and the internet provides us with more and more data all the time. One important role for an effective teacher is to help students make good choices while searching data (and information). It may not be obvious for students what a reliable source looks like, so it is essential to teach about source criticism. I would also communicate early and often the fact that the knowledge two students construct from the same piece of information is different.

Your knowledge is different from mine, and that is exactly how it should be, because learning is highly individual (as opposite from teaching that can be done even with mass media). I know this does not exactly fit into the current testing culture, but let’s be realistic: students are learning for life, not for school. (At least that was the basic idea of public education when it was founded: to help students become ready for their lives.)

How could we lead more students to the path of learning?

Teaching How to Choose

20 Jan

Making good choices seems to come naturally for some students while others need some coaching  in order to become successful learners and be able to navigate with more ease within the educational systems. By allowing choices we also communicate our confidence in our students as learners – it is about letting them know we believe they can do it, without necessarily saying it aloud.

There are things in the classroom that must be done without getting into negotiations about how and why, and we truly cannot let students rule and do whatever they please in the classroom. However, allowing certain amount of choosing makes it emotionally easier for students to agree with the mandatory things. But this is not the only benefit of teaching how to choose. Only through our own choices we create accountability for our own learning and also train our executive functioning. Learning to make good choices is a skill to learn and it highly contributes to our higher level thinking.  We should not deny that opportunity from our students by having too rigid rules that allow no choices.

How to add more choices into your classroom?  During a regular day we have many opportunities to allow choices, starting from choosing whom to work with. By asking students to choose a partner who can help them in this assignment you are also encouraging students to recognize the good study habits of others.  Giving younger students a package of content to be learned by the end of this week communicates your trust in their ability to choose the best pace for their own learning, and providing a timeline about how big fraction of the content should be finished by each day helps them understand the percentages, too. By letting students choose which assignment they want to start with helps them understand their personal preferences.  Also, having a strong structure in the assignments allows the content to be more individualized. I think the ways of introducing more choices in learning environments are virtually infinite, if there is the will to make the change to happen.

My personal credo about best teacher being the one who makes herself unnecessary by empowering students become autonomous learners carries my values within it.  I believe, that only by allowing students practice making good choices in an emotionally safe learning environment where their opinions or beliefs are never ridiculed, we can help the next generation reach their full potential and become critical thinkers. There is no shortcut to wisdom.

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!