Tag Archives: teaching

Learner Agency – an important part of Deep Learning

13 Aug

Learner agency as a concept in 21st century education relates tightly into students’ perceptions of their own learning experiences.  Agency is the capacity to act, to make decisions about one’s own life and learning.

Deep learning requires ownership and individual engagement with the content. Here is a succinct definition for deep and surface level learning strategies: “the basic processing operations that describe how students react to and interact with the learning material and with people present in the learning environment in order to enhance domain-specific knowledge and skills” (Boekaerts, 2016, p. 81).

This is why learner agency is so important. Students must develop their skills in independent judgment. In order to do that they need ample opportunities to practice choosing. Being or becoming responsible for one’s own actions is one of the possible byproducts of public education.

Recent research recognizes the importance of learning experiences that emphasize autonomous and agentive participation, including the opportunity to have control over oneself and one’s learning environment. There are various ways to perceive agency in the classroom.

It is different to learn something than to be taught something. Being taught doesn’t necessarily mean that learning happens. It only means that the student has been present when the teaching has happened. This is very detached view of learning, and hardly motivates students to try. Memorizing content until the next test is included in students’ perceptions of detached learning.

Sometimes students feel they belong to the school community, which makes them more compliant in learning activities, and a little bit less eager to exercise their agency. In these cases students depend on their teachers and just go through the motions and learning activities, as they are expected to do.

Open dialogue can help students choose to actively engage in their own education and to become more accountable for their own learning. Teachers should support growing agency in the classroom, because the ownership contributes to engaging in deep learning. Students who have strong ownership are interested in learning more.

Deep learning experiences can lead students to become ubiquitous learners, who learn anytime, anywhere.  This unbound learning extends beyond school walls and hours, but we as educators must learn to acknowledge and credit this very independent learning.

Students’ perceptions of their agency can span over several categories. These descriptive categories cannot be used to label students.

In formal education the tradition has been to perceive students as objects of the teaching-learning interaction, with the expectation for students to absorb the facts presented by teachers or faculty.  This view of education doesn’t fit into contemporary learning theories that emphasize knowledge construction. Educational research shows how important factors students’ ownership and knowledge construction are for academic success, yet many educational practices still rely on teacher-centered instructional models. Why?  This seems to support the perceptions of detachment.

There are many ways to support agency in the classroom.

Building a learner-centered environment where students can choose how they practice and learn is an easy way to support learner agency. Students must have choices while selecting their learning resources.  Researchers say that agency is about understanding what choices and resources are available (Kumpulainen et al., 2011, p. 13). Becoming responsible for one’s own learning can and must be fostered in the classroom context.

Supporting learner agency improves the quality of students’ engagement in their own learning process, and help students become ready for the requirements of living in 21st century.  Examples of engagement quality are “going through the motions” vs. “I make my own motions” and “being a classroom sheep” vs. “trying to understand how to transfer learned”.

The table below displays components of learner agency and students’ perceptions of it, as see in my research.

Sometimes agency may seem negative, for example when a student decides to leave homework undone, because they are okay with a grade that is less than perfect. Obviously, this is only a problem when learning is seen as a product, instead of (life-long) process.

Understanding students’ perspectives and using practices that support learners’ agency helps teachers create better teaching-learning interactions.  These learner-centered interactions will improve the quality of students’ learning experiences and also their academic achievement (e.g. Reyes et al. 2012).

The importance of intentional engagement, subjectivity and shared classroom experiences cannot be overemphasized as means for deeper learning. Students must have an opportunity to exercise their agency.

More about Learner Agency at Nina’s Notes

 

—–

Boekaerts, M. (2016). Engagement as an inherent aspect of the learning process. Learning and Instruction43, 76-83.

Kumpulainen, K., Krokfors, L., Lipponen, L., Tissari, V., Hilppö, J., & Rajala, A. (2011). Learning bridges – Toward participatory learning environments. Helsinki: CICERO Learning, University of Helsinki.

Reyes, M. R., Brackett, M. A., Rivers, S. E., White, M., & Salovey, P. (2012). Classroom emotional climate, student engagement, and academic achievement. Journal of Educational Psychology104(3), 700 – 712.

Smith, N.C. (2017). Students’ perceptions of learner agency: A phenomenographic inquiry into the lived learning experiences of high school students. (Doctoral Dissertation).

Advertisements

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.

Learning-centered education

12 Feb

What is the central focus in your classroom or course? What is in the nexus of your instruction? Is it learning, performing, socializing, producing (or reproducing), obeying, memorizing, or something else? What is the most important thing for your students to remember from your class or course?

It is surprising to realize how often our everyday teaching practices contradict our teaching philosophy!

Thinking about the core purpose of education: helping students to learn. How easily it gets diverted from the original focus on learning, and becomes a rite of passage or about measuring academic performance!

In everyday language we use such a huge a variety of definitions for “learning” – like answering correctly, passing,  “learning a lesson”,  memorizing, and so on – that it is easy to get confused and think that measured performance is equal to learning. I don’t think it is. Sometimes performance as learning means just cramming information into short term memory in order to pass an assessment or evaluation. Then that information can be forgotten, and it never becomes the much needed intellectual capital of knowledge.

When we simply measure performance with assessments and evaluations, we only get to see the end result of students’ learning process. We don’t know how the skill or knowledge was acquired. We just know that this student passed an exam, or created an acceptable product.  But the “learning” behind the score may not not what the educational systems wish it was: this kind of surface or strategic learning is usually not learning for life. It is memorizing for survival in testing-oriented educational context.

To change the learning context we must focus much more on supporting students’ learning process, because acquiring transferable and life-long knowledge and skills is exactly what real learning is, or what it should be. When we are too busy cramming all the minor details of our beloved subject matter into the lesson or syllabus, we easily forget what learning really is about: for students to construct their own understanding of the subject. Not only reproduce something the textbook says, but to use critical thinking in order to fully understand the topic and how it relates to the world where student lives.  Decontextualized learning is shallow or superficial by default. This is why I am very critical about prescriptive curricular and instructional design – students have different ways of thinking, different ways of learning, and different ways of knowing, and education has to accommodate those needs in order to be effective!

The easiest ways that I know to engage in learning-centered education is to provide choices for students. Thinking about learning as acquisition and elaboration of information (Illeris, 2003), it is handy to let students choose how they obtain the information. Sometimes letting students have a choice of where they get the information is beneficial (yes, I think wikipedia is a good starting point, but obviously students will have to dig deeper than that, and provide appropriate references for their sources). Also providing choices for learning strategies supports both students’ self-regulation and their learning process. Does it really matter how your student learned the concept or topic, if they learned it well? In order to help students’ independent learning skills to grow even more,  it is a great idea to provide choices for assignments and assessments, and use rubrics and formative feedback to guide students to the level of competence where they need to be. Naturally, each student will arrive to that point on their own, individual pace.

I know that standardized tests don’t really fit into this picture, but their purpose is not to support students’ learning. Those tests exist to provide numerical data for stakeholders in the form of summative evaluations, not to promote learning-centered education. As teachers we may not have enough voice to change the current educational policies, but engaging in learning-centered education helps students to be ready for both the tests and life.

How about making learning the central focus of your instructional practice?

 

N3C

Illeris, K. (2003). Toward a contemporary and comprehensive theory of learning. International Journal of Lifelong Education, 22(4), 396-406. doi:10.1080/0260137032000094814

 

Visible and invisible learning and teaching

13 Jan

Learning process is anything but linear and visible.

Best learning experiences are often messy and hard, but oh-so-rewarding. For education professionals it is sometimes nice to think about how the learning process is rolling forward like a simple cycle (like Kolb’s), and emphasize the perception and processing, but the reality is far more complex. There are pits, loops and rabbit holes along the way.

The discussion of learning process must include these invisible or intermediate processes of learning, and acknowledge the personal preferences that make learning stick. One size does not fit all.

Learning process

Our personal preferences for the intermediate processes of learning are the ways we prefer to perceive, choose, store, reflect and retrieve the data and information needed for learning. These preferences result from our previous experiences in life and learning, and they can either help or hinder our academic learning process (Green et al. 2012). Acknowledging the individual preferences and emphasizing the importance of metacognitive skills in learning helps to focus more on these invisible parts of learning process.

Teaching the metacognitive skills could be called invisible teaching, because it requires significant amount of interactions between the teacher and the student – interactions that may or may not relate directly to the learning objectives.

Learning happens everywhere. This must be acknowledged in curriculum design and instructional design processes, because without transfer to personal lives of students the formal learning is quite worthless. (This is obviously not a new idea, non scholae sed vitae has been around for a long time.) Unfortunately, teaching is sometimes seen as a simple act of delivering information.  In such learning environments evaluations of learning (or performance) are based only on the tests, exams, essays, worksheets and other ways of demonstrating the  mastery of the subject/topic.  Grades are handed out to students in the end of term or semester, but what do these grades actually mean?

Invisible learning could be called unvalued leaning, because it is not included in the evaluations conducted in formal education.  To be effective, contemporary education must strive “to capture intermediate learning processes in student work,” not just outcomes (Bass & Enyon, 2009, p. 15). One way to broaden the evaluation of learning is to use performance assessments with rubrics, so that students know what they are supposed to demonstrate, and use all their knowledge in the tasks, not just a small, segmented amount of knowledge that belongs to that specific class.

The challenge for contemporary education is to include the invisible learning into formal learning. Learning should always be life-long, life-deep and life-wide.  Students have lots of knowledge gained outside of the school systems, and in information societies we cannot – and should not – try to restrict students’ access to information. Visiting websites like wikipedia should be encouraged, with the constant reminder of not taking any information at a face value.  Not even what is printed in the textbook. 🙂

Bridging this informal or invisible/unvalued learning to formal education helps students to see their classroom learning more meaningful because it carries personal significance. Emphasizing invisible learning empowers students to engage in self-regulated learning and be more active in building their own, personal knowledge-base.

What is the easiest way for invisible learning to become valued in your class?

 

 

 


 

Bass, R. and Eynon, B. (Eds.). (2009). The difference that inquiry makes: A collaborative case study of technology and learning, from the Visible Knowledge Project. Academic Commons. Retrieved from http://academiccommons.org/).

Green, J., Liem, G. A. D., Martin, A. J., Colmar, S., Marsh, H. W., & McInerney, D. (2012). Academic motivation, self-concept, engagement, and performance in high school: Key processes from a longitudinal perspective.Journal of adolescence35(5), 1111-1122

Invisible learning as a new paradigm or metatheory.

 

 

Growth mindset for grit vs. empowerment

5 Sep

I enjoyed reading Alfie Kohn’s critique about Dweck’s mindset because it made me think about how we empower students to engage in their own learning process.  The article addresses points that are extremely important while using the mindset in the classroom, especially the pedagogical choices about focusing on traits like grit or supporting the individual learning process of each student. Mindset itself is important, but the way we discuss the growth mindset with students is even more important.

Personally I find it controversial to focus too much on learning styles or personality traits like grit (other labels are extroversion, openness, impulsivity, etc, google MyersBrigg or Big 5 for additional information).  This is because the contemporary learning theories highlight the subjectivity of learning, and the expected teaching dispositions are very clear about the need for all teachers to display the belief  that every student can learn (regardless the personality traits students have). Furthermore, I prefer to focus on supporting my students’ individual learning processes, because this helps them to become independent learners. Every student, child or adult, has their unique set of skills and needs, and perception of their own strengths and areas of growth. Discussing the growth mindset in the classroom may help some students to adopt better learning dispositions and engage more deeply in their own learning process.

It seems that mindset is a refined and renewed version of attribution theory and deals with students’ self-efficacy beliefs and locus of control.  We all have had those students and parents with the firm belief how “nobody in our family has ever been good in math” or “everyone in the family struggles with reading”. When children hear these messages stated over and over again in casual discussions, they often start to believe that they couldn’t possibly learn math, or be fluent readers, because those attributions don’t belong into their family. These beliefs easily create self-fulfilling prophecies that can seriously harm students’ learning.  Growth mindset can be an excellent tool to diminish these negative causal attributions and help students create a realistic (academic) self-concept. But, I don’t believe this can be achieved with something as simple and effortless as praise.

Praise is normative by its nature. Praise implies that the student met an invisible norm, known or set by the subject matter experts (teachers, educators, parents, etc). Thus praise is always about evaluation, because it is an external judgement about what the student did or what the student is (doing referring to the growth mindset and being referring to the fixed mindset). In education we need to increase the use of assessments and self-assessments with clear criteria about expected outcomes of assignments, so that students know what they are supposed to achieve and don’t have to rely on hit-and-miss strategies. Evaluations are very much overused, which is problematic because they emphasize the control over students and their performance, instead of providing learning support or feedback about the learning process.

The very first decision for every teacher to make before introducing the mindset to her/his students, is whether the mindset is used in the classroom to promote grit or to empower students to learn more.

Using mindset to promote grit in the classroom is fairly straightforward: create standards and labels for appropriate behaviour (maybe checklists), and we are good to go and evaluate students’ behaviours, actions and displays of true grit for demonstrating their growth mindset.  It is easy to quantify how many work sheets students have filled, or how many minutes they have engaged in the activities – and then praise the persistence in task (whether the task is meaningful for students is irrelevant in this environment).

I can understand why effort-praising, grit-building growth-mindset practices are appealing: they appear to be a quick fix for the most important problem in education – student disengagement. I am sure we could build a robot to offer praise every time when a student displays gritty behavior! But doesn’t this kind of praise seriously underestimate our students as vibrantly intelligent, creative and curious human beings? While persistence is important in successfully completing tasks or projects, it certainly cannot be the most important ingredient in educating students to become productive citizens of 21st century!

Grit vs empowerment

In the classroom reality the difference between the environments is obviously much less black and white, and features from both sides (grit and empowerment) are used in most learning environments I have seen. Balance is what matters. Taking behaviour at face value, and believing that it truly communicates what students are thinking is a big mistake. Students are not as experienced in communication and interaction as we teachers are, they are still trying to figure it out. (Here is a nice iceberg image about behaviour to remind us about the reality!)

Focusing on empowerment in mindset discussions is harder and more time consuming for educators, because empowerment requires a dialogue between students and the teacher. It is about engaging in authentic interaction where both parties are heard. In this environment assessment becomes an opportunity for feedback and growth. I am currently working on my dissertation about learner agency in formal education, and these very same themes of empowerment are important for educating students who are “self-organizing, proactive, self-reflecting, and self-regulating, not just reactive organisms shaped and shepherded by external events”  (Bandura, 1999, p. 156).  To thrive in the with the constant information overflow in the world today, this active choosing (instead of reacting) is exactly what our students need to learn.

We as teachers need to make informed choices about our pedagogical and instructional practices. Is it more valuable for students to remember that finishing all tasks gets them rewarded (with praise or grades), or to know that they can have an effect on their own learning process? This is a value level choice about the classroom practices we communicate to students with expectations and grading policies. So, when introducing the mindset in your classroom, please do think about the long-term goals. What do you really wish for students to gain from the mindset discussion?

Update on 9/29/2015:

Carol Dweck revisited mindset stating that she may have “emphasized sheer effort too much”. Wonderful!
Maybe this mislead educators to think that promoting grit is beneficial, and so it became this widely accepted misconception about contemporary learning!

Bndura, A. (1999). Social cognitive theory of personality. Handbook of personality: Theory and research, 154-196.

Teaching and learning dispositions

28 May

What is your teaching disposition?

Providing a short answer to this question has always been a struggle for me, because so much falls under the concept of teaching disposition: values, beliefs about teaching and learning, interaction styles,  even worldview. So, where to start?

Those who have been following my blog already know that I am very passionately supporting student-centered learning and teaching, so obviously my teaching disposition focuses more on  supporting  students’ individual learning processes than anything else.  Pedagogical skill is very high on my priority list.

Believing that everyone can learn is one of the fundamental dispositions in contemporary education. This belief doesn’t always seem to fit perfectly with standardized testing, or labeling schools (and sometimes even students) as “failing”, based on a quantitative snapshot evaluation that tells very little if anything about the learning process (i.e. the learning quality).

Being convinced that knowledge is much more than a fixed bunch of  facts (information) brings another dimension to the dispositions because it defines the extent of our teaching. We must prepare students for the world that is a complex mixture of cultures and diverse beliefs, and while memorizing disconnected pieces of information may be a nice trick in trivia game, students also 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 it productively?

Unfortunately the discussions about the nature of knowledge are seldom highlighted in professional meetings, but it should be. 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. The use of labels falls into the category of misusing information, and it often leads into otheringwhich is how we define “us” and “others”.

It is easy to sort people, categorize them and label their qualities. But, when we use labels and define the problem in education for example as underachieving students, it locates the solutions to fixing the students. Not education, nor instruction, but students. How scary!  This is how something we know from research and experience to be beneficial for students, their learning and their future (e.g. bilingualism) suddenly becomes a problem (e.g. ELL, underachieving).  Of course these diverse students score lower in the standardized tests.  But their individual learning processes may be incredible.

In order to effectively communicate to students about the  importance of individual learning process, two additional parts of teaching dispositions must fall into place: keeping my bias in check, and differentiating for students’ needs – not for the labels we too often attach to students (you know: ELL,  poverty, learning disabilities, behavioral needs etc etc).   When we keep on othering, we point our fingers to students, label them, and provide remedial education — without checking our bias (is the problem really the student, or maybe the environment, instruction or context?) and without differentiating for students’ individual needs.  This deficit thinking also seems to be the origin for the grit discussions. Have you noticed that nobody is asking for successful students to show more grit? It may be because they don’t need to persist, because they have gained the sufficient knowledge with informal learning, and are getting bored out of their minds in the classroom. But these seemingly successful students would really need to learn how to learn effectively something new, because nobody can be excellent in everything.

Recent research also recognizes the importance of teachers’ interaction styles and skills as mediators for learning, and suggest that setting limits is more beneficial for students’ learning than guilt-inducing appealing to students emotions[1]. This makes perfect sense from the viewpoint of dispositions: respecting the diverse needs and skills of learners also leads to offering every student an individual amount of freedom and choice and providing the information in student-sized chunks.

So this is probably the shortest description of my teaching dispositions:  focused on supporting students’ individual learning process I strongly believe everyone can learn, I do also understand the importance of connected knowledge, and I try to check my own bias regularly to avoid engaging in othering and keep on striving to differentiate for my students’ individual needs.

Oh… and our teaching dispositions are of course very close to our learning dispositions, but even more up close and personal. Learning dispositions regulate our learning efforts, our interests and motivation. The origin of learning dispositions is complicated, but they are partially born from our everyday learning experiences.

What kind of learning dispositions you think your students are creating? What is important and valued in your classroom?

 

 

__________________________________________

1. Viljaranta, J., Aunola, K., Mullola, S., Virkkala, J., Hirvonen, R., Pakarinen, E., & Nurmi, J.-E. (in press). The role of temperament on children’s skill development: teachers’ interaction styles as mediators. Child Development.

 

 

Instruction that supports learning process

30 Apr

Education is about looking both into the past and into the future, which is why it also has two opposite purposes: to ensure cultural progression and to prepare students for their unknown future.

Cultural progression is necessary for societies to have members who will know about the past (history) and the traditions (culture), but emphasizing the traditional ways of doing things may cause difficulties for students to learn for the future. Yet, not knowing the history could cause us to repeat the mistakes of the past generations. For anyone engaging in instruction this is just one of the many dichotomies of the teaching-learning situation. Finding balance is important because both past and future are necessary in understanding the process.

Modern educational theory and practice are built on the premise of education being the process for students to “develop their rational faculties so that they become capable of independent judgement”(1). This requires for students to engage in three-dimensional learning process and grow their skills, knowledge and understanding.

It is important for every teacher to know the values and ideas behind the instructional practice they use in helping students to learn. I tend to move towards the humanist worldview of learning and teaching, where knowledge is seen subjectively constructed.  I have hard time believing in knowledge being measurable, objective or free of values. Data can be that, and some information may be objective, but those only become knowledge when they have been processed through our own experiences and understanding, i.e. personally constructed during the learning process.

 

Humanist vs Mechanist

Also, learning can be so much more than just a change in one’s behaviour,  as it is seen in the mechanist worldview! To fully support the learning process, and to improve students’ academic performance, it is important to combine all three teaching paradigms in the humanist worldview.

The way I do it combines the cognitive and constructive practices in a cooperative learning environment. Cognitive practice includes helping students to learn about learning, but also becoming more knowledgeable of their own worldview, thinking and metacognitive skills.  Constructive learning and teaching  focus on collaborative meaning-making, gaining skills and understanding concepts. Cooperative teaching and learning build the emotionally safe learning environment, where interactions are held in high value, students can ask questions and engage in non-punitive assessments that support the learning process.

3C triangle

Instruction that supports the learning process helps students to become skillful and nimble life-long learners. Skillful learners understand the past and are able to reflect on their own learning, but they are also able to adjust their knowledge to meet the requirements of the future.

 

________________________________________________

[1] Biesta, G., & Tedder, M. (2006). How is agency possible? Towards an ecological understanding of agency-as-achievement. University of Exeter School of Education and Lifelong Learning, Working Paper, 5.

Is Learning a Product or Process – part 2

27 Feb

Best teacher is the one who makes herself unnecessary by

empowering students to become autonomous learners.

~Nina Smith

When learning is seen as a product, the emphasis of the learning-teaching interaction is in instruction – and the thinking behind comes from the idea of students only learning when the teacher is instructing them, and only what they have been taught.  The reality is different, as any curriculum leader can tell you. At any given moment of time any given classroom has several ongoing curricula: intended, written, taught, actualized, learned, etc., so we cannot simply look at the learning product.  This product may be a paper, worksheet, notes, homework, essay, grade, etc., that we use to measure the results of students’ learning.

Emphasizing learning products makes mistakes very undesirable phenomena in the classroom – after all a perfect product is the goal, right?  And often the grade only reflects the finished learning product, without paying attention to how the student got there.  Maybe s/he already knew the content or had the skill, and didn’t have to study  or practice at all?  If we pay too much attention to the product, we may miss the important part of the learning-teaching interaction: the individual students’ main gain,  her/his increase in knowledge/understanding/skills that has happened as the result of instruction.

Now, very seriously: which one is more important to you? What your students know/can do — or how much they improve in what they know/can do? 

There is a big difference.

Improving what students know/can do inevitably leads to different end results, because each student has her/his own starting point. And this improvement, the increase, of course, IS the result of the individual learning process of each student.  This is also why helping students to become independent learners is so important.

Independent learners tend to automatically (or by learned habits) engage in their own learning process.  While observing these students we can see them intentionally influencing their own learning behaviours, and Bandura  (2006, p.164-165) described the four following components in their engagement: the intentionality of their learning, the forethought of their actions, their self-reactiveness and self-reflectiveness. Of course, to be able to do all this, students must have certain amount of freedom in the classroom, which is why I am so fervently advocating for providing more choices in classrooms. Choosing is a skill that can (and should) be taught and learned, and it only grows when students have ample opportunities to try choosing in an emotionally safe learning environment, where mistakes are not only allowed but celebrated.

Just imagine how much more these students learn! They don’t need the teacher to motivate or engage them, because they are already “in the zone”. In the classroom these components apply straightforwardly to students’ engagement as intentional learning activity, and learning motivation and goal-setting as their forethought. Meta-cognitive knowledge is about knowing and understanding how I learn, knowing what is easy and what is hard for me, and where do I need to put in extra effort in learning. Independent learners, who engage in their own learning process already know these things. Wouldn’t it be important to help every student to possess this knowledge of themselves?

The third component in independent learning, self-reactiveness, relates to the way students control their own learning actions and regulate their own behaviour in classroom. As a teacher it is important for me to ask myself, how can I support my students’ self-regulation and  provide more autonomy for them. When students get to regulate their own learning process (pace, depth, breaks, note-taking, collaboration, additional information, etc) also the learning results, the visible and tangible products of learning, do improve.

Maybe the easiest way to support students’ learning process is to provide accurate and timely feedback. This strengthens the fourth component of independent learning, student self-reflection,  which is too often overlooked.  Feedback has been statistically identified as one of the  important teaching-learning factors (Hattie & Timperley, 2007), because it enhances both the learning process and the product we get as an end result of successful learning. Students self-evaluation is an important classroom practice, because it combines feedback and self-reflection.

To me it seems that too strong focus on the learning product leads to shallow learning (to just get by), and strategic learners  (to just get a good grade) instead of deep learning.  While independent students may have strategies to cope in product centered learning environment, the dependent students may not have a clue what they should do, or how they are supposed to do it – which further decreases their learning motivation.

Focusing on the learning process emphasizes the students’ responsibility in the learning-teaching interaction. It both enables and encourages students to engage in their own learning. This engagement helps both students and teachers to build learning up from standards and to achieve competencies needed in our modern world.

 

 

Bandura, A. (2006). Toward a psychology of human agency. Perspectives on psychological science1(2), 164-180.

Hattie, J., & Timperley, H. (2007). The power of feedback. Review of educational research77(1), 81-112.

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.  

 

Quality of learning, process vs. product

19 Jul

There are processes without defined products, play being probably the best example of it. Art and music don’t have a clear definitions of quality either, but we do recognize a masterpiece when we experience it. Learning works the same way. Each student has a unique learning experience, due to their diverse abilities and expectations, so the end result of learning must be open-ended, too. When students are forced into one definite learning outcome, i.e. product (think of 27 nearly identical pieces of “art work” on the classroom wall, copies of a model/template, provided by the teacher), something important of the learning quality is lost.

We already know how important play is for learning, as numerous studies show the positive effects of engaging in free play. One important part must be how play employs our creativity and curiosity. While guided play is sometimes important for concept development, it is necessary for anyone working with early childhood age students to be able to follow the child’s lead and verbally add new dimensions or elements to the play. Sitting the child down to perform a task an adult has planned has less effective learning components than enhancing the free play. Just because we will never create the same competence while  following the thinking of someone else, as we do while thinking  things through on  our own. Playing is the visual part of children’s thinking!  Helping students to engage with their own thoughts is a huge accomplishment.

There is also evidence about how social-emotional choices made during free play, like negotiating about taking turns, actually strengthen the same processes we need in scientific problem solving.  This makes me think how important it is to share our knowledge of learning and how it actually happens with students, so that they can be empowered to engage with their own learning process. Meaningfulness defines the quality of the play, as there is not an objective criteria for children how to conduct “good play”.  This is equally true with learning process, too, where meaningfulness perceived by the students drives their curiosity and engagement in class.

Measuring quality in education is hard, partly because there is not one universal definition what good quality learning looks like. People have different connotations about educational quality, and the cultural perceptions are also very diverse.  Learning, like play, is individual and very situational and contextual.

One way of approaching educational quality[1] is to see it as perfection of the learning process, where everybody involved is required to contribute to the quality of outcome, and can be held accountable for her/his own part. Isn’t this what we want for our students? For every student to be successful in their studies, and also have ownership over their achievements?

I bet every teacher knows about “teachable moments”, and those are the key components of a good quality learning process: to receive the information and inspiration at the right time, so that learning is perceived to be meaningful by the student. Learning quality in those moments is very high, due to engagement and ownership student experiences. These experiences are more likely to be saved in long term memory, because the ownership of learning process makes the transfer of learning to happen almost automatically.

In the classroom it looks pretty much as the following: We plan for optimal instruction, but students’ learning is something more than perfectly written, measurable performance objectives. Involving students in their own learning process helps them to become more accountable for their own learning. Teachers cater for students’ individual needs and preferences to make learning more meaningful for them.

Excellent educational quality emphasizes the transformative learning process that involves both cognitive and personal growth of students. It is learning for life, not just for school. This transformational type of learning happens in individual interactions. Teachers have very big role in supporting these interactions: the younger the student the more important it is to have a teacher as a trusted adult to facilitate these interactions between students and their learning environment and resources.

 


[1] Wittek, L., & Kvernbekk, T. (2011). On the Problems of Asking for a Definition of Quality in Education. Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research55(6), 671-684.