Tag Archives: teachers

Meaningful Learning

10 Jan

What makes learning meaningful? And how could we increase the meaningfulness perceived by students?

We already know from research how much easier is to deep learn anything that makes sense and piques interest, so just utilizing that basic understanding about learning fundamentals would help schools achieve better results. Of course it is ridiculous to assume the same things interest all students, so introducing choice would be a good place to start.

Meaningful learning[1] allows students to acquire knowledge in a way that is useful for them. When you can use learned information easily, this often means that you have stored it in several different places in your mind, and you can also access that knowledge in different contexts – this is what we refer as transfer in the teaching jargon, but it actually is the natural or original way of learning.  Several contexts equals multiple connections and these multiple connections mean the objective is deep learned, because it is integrated to everything else we  know, so well that it cannot be separated from them. No learning loss happens to this knowledge – but then again it requires the content to have personal value to the learner, to be meaningful.

Learning is highly individual and takes anything between 2 milliseconds to 25 years to happen, yet in educational systems we often expect students to complete learning tasks within a certain time frame. Why? Wouldn’t it be better to allow some flexibility and let students learn in their own pace? We already have the necessary technology to do provide highly individualized learning, but are still somehow stuck in the cohort mentality. We should more diligently use tools for learning facilitation instead of sticking in traditional teaching and lecturing, because the time needed for learning is different for each student. Acquiring knowledge requires individual amount of interactions between the student and the material to be learned. These interactions can vary from reading to discussions and projects, and from lecturing to engaging students in a learning game – and the guiding principle should be meaningfulness for the learner, because that guarantees better quality learning.

Meaningful learning is also competency based, so that regurgitating same content for umpteenth time is understood and accepted to be unnecessary. This is also the basic recipe for truly diverse classrooms: students get to learn what they need to learn, not what their peers need to learn. Facilitating self-paced and autonomous learning would be extremely easy with existing technology, so why don’t we use all our tech like that? I am afraid the answer is quite ugly: we want to control what our students are learning, and how they do that (and also measure their performance). So we are asked to teach everything and everyone in the same way, and wish our students would miraculously deep learn it all, and even find it meaningful. Then we reprimand students for not being happy and enthusiastic to learn, or at least work hard to memorize all the (unnecessary) information we pour onto them. I know there are too many details in any given curriculum, and not enough higher level concepts – but there are many daily choices for teachers to either teach those details or facilitate students learning about them.

While discussing with the teachers I mentor there is one common theme they highlight about their work: the blissful feeling of being successful in teaching when a student has an “a-ha!” – moment. In that moment learning is extremely meaningful for the student, and it often has been described like windows suddenly opening and seeing the world/ the problem with new eyes. What happens in reality is brain creating new connections and applying knowledge in a new context. The extreme case of this is a flow experience, which can be quite addictive, actually.

Empowering students to learn helps them to like learning – or even crave  for more knowledge and understanding. This means they are learning for life not just for school. We can change the future world by choosing to provide meaningful learning experiences for our students. How do you choose to teach today?

Global education everywhere

27 Nov

Every child has a right to learn.  This makes education a global issue. I am glad we are cooperating in educational research and making the latest information available for everyone via internet. In my mind this makes education more global as we become more aware about different practices around the world.

Every teacher should be empowered to teach and to know they have choices. Comparing educational practices internationally may help us all to adapt better practices. I like to share the Finnish know-how of education, and  while I am excited to see yet another study highlighting Finland as the best country in education, I am also hoping  that the takeaways are much greater than just a simple ranking list.

Having data is not important, but knowing what to do with it!

New Pearson education study ” The Learning Curve”  provides 5 important talking points:

  1. No magic bullets – there are no quick fixes in education, long term joint planning is needed for sustainable education quality.
  2. Respect teachers – trust in your teachers and value them, because they are your professionals that schools cannot function without!
  3. Culture can be changed – find the positive elements in your educational culture and highlight them, then start building on that foundation.
  4. Parents are not the key – but they certainly should be your allies! We have a joint mission: student success.
  5. Educate for the future – empower students to learn. Focus education on how to  learn and how to think, because that improves transfer to all other areas of education.

I think these points are no news for people who are working on improving the quality of education around the world. It is very nice, though, to get additional affirmation for thoughts we have been posting  and discussing about.

The one very important message is about changing your culture. We often talk about students, how they are not clones and should not be treated like ones. Standards are not the solution. Educational systems have their distinctive characteristics, too, and thus global education must have a unique look in different countries, districts and schools.

The paradigm change for educational quality must start at all levels of education – we cannot afford to wait for someone else to change first. Sometimes it is hard to find opportunities to choose. But, I refuse to believe there would be a classroom/school/educational system/country with absolutely no choices for students/teachers/administrators/policymakers to make learning more meaningful – the least we can do is to choose a “can do”  attitude.

How could your class/school/district be global and unique at the same time? What are your positive elements?

Successful learning experiences

24 Nov

Defining success is not easy, and sometimes we get tangled in details and want to define students’ success as mastery of a single subject or unit, or course. Often applying unnecessary power over students is also disguised as success – but do students really need to perform according to minor details, or should we emphasize understanding the concepts and entities, so that the learned skill is transferable? In contemporary education negotiating meaning is more important than ever before, just to be sure that we are talking about the same concept/word/idea – and the word “success” certainly has several different connotations.

To me student success means simply making myself unnecessary as a teacher by empowering my students become autonomous learners, who can work independently and who know where to find the information and guidance they need. This requires handing over the tools for learning to students, and trusting in their motivation and drive to get their learning done, but having open and honest interactions with students to be able to help if needed.

Many schools aspire to empower their students to become life-long learners, and that is great! This is the true paradigm shift we need in education! But, it is not enough if we say this aloud (or write it on the visions and missions of school, or publish it on the school website), this goal must be integrated into everyday teaching practices as well as to the assessments.  Students’ perception matters. We need open and honest communication to remain believable so that our students understand and feel their success and learning being important for us.

Students’ perception creates the emotional learning environment of the classroom or the entire school. Please note, though, that I am not talking about entertaining students. My intention is to describe a learning environment where students cooperate and are accountable for their own learning.  In Finland one measurement for successful education is “kouluviihtyvyys”, which approximately translates to school enjoyment, or school satisfaction, but actually has some deeper connotations[1]. School satisfaction is seen to be built of several components where  school conditions create one part, social relationships another part and means for self-fulfillment in school the third crucial part – following the categories of having, loving, being by Erik Allardt[2]. I cannot but see the equivalence to the 3Cs: constructive tools used in cooperative way to provide cognitive connections.

Classroom management and curricular choices belong to having/school conditions, and often are the most emphasized component in student success. However, no matter how constructively you build the conditions, the two other components must be present to complete the picture of successful learning experiences.

Cooperation falls into social relationships/loving – part of school enjoyment, and it covers school climate, teacher-student relationships and all interactions – also those with students’ homes and family members. Cooperation increases students’ success in all levels starting from informal peer tutoring among classmates, covering anything and everything that happens during a school day, but also reaching to professional collaboration between education professionals (yes, I am against to Race to the Top or any other competitive attempts to improve education). Loving is a strong word for me to use about social relationships at school, but I do see how well it fits here.

Being/the means of self-fulfillment cover many important areas: value of work (no busywork!), creativity (students and teachers are so much more than parts in a machine), encouragement (feedback about learning process), and having opportunities to practice making good choices. Knowing how I learn is essential for becoming a good learner, and this is why metacognitive tools should be an essential part of each and every teacher’s toolbox. This is also why I am so sceptical about standards – when learning is an individual process, how could it be measured with standardized testing?

To me well-being in schools as defined above is an essential measure of providing students with successful learning experiences. What do you think? And how can you increase student success by improving having, loving or being in your school?

Lifelong learning

3 Apr

Information superhighway ‘bypassing adult learners’ — new study

Does it really surprise any education professionals to read how online technology has not helped people to become lifelong learners? And how the childhood experiences about learning and education are the  most significant predictors for the future interest in learning?

“Learning in later life appears to be primarily linked to positive attitudes to education that are usually formed during compulsory schooling. This means that young people who experienced early educational failure or felt alienated by the school system are very unlikely to participate in education as adults regardless of the opportunities available or potential benefits.” says Dr. Patrick White.

Don’t get me wrong. I like (learning) technology, and am hopelessly hooked to my computer, smartphone and even kindle. What worries me, though, is how different gadgets or software programs are presented as the ultimate answer for fixing education and mending the problem of falling grades and detached students. Technology is just a tool – how we use it makes all the difference.

Providing meaningful learning experiences for students takes the power struggle away from classrooms. This can be done with or without the technology. While working as an Academic Coordinator I used to say how teachers are my most important teaching tools, and I still think that being the reality of teaching and learning. It doesn’t help to have a fancy building with all the latest gadgets in every classroom if I don’t have teachers. But having my teachers willing to make learning a meaningful experience for students my school would be operational even without classrooms or any equipment. Teaching IS a contact sport.

If we wish to foster lifelong learning our students must be involved with worthwhile activities so that they can find learning interesting and rewarding. The negative attitude is the biggest challenge for lifelong learning. Empowering students to use their thinking skills (with or without technology) caters for positive approaches to learning. This is already a recognized and valid practice in Early Childhood Education where play is an important way for making learning an adventure student wants to repeat.

What could you do to foster lifelong 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!