Tag Archives: thinking skills

COMPASS learning

23 Jun

After working for few weeks on a literature review about learning and teaching being disconnected, and how student empowerment improves learning, I just wanted to share the highlights. Here they are in a form of a compass:

COMPASS learning

 

Choices and open-ended questions are needed for increased student engagement and motivation in learning. Choosing is a skill that can (and should) be taught. It relates very straightforwardly to problem solving skills. If there is just one correct answer, and students should find it, no thinking or choosing is needed, and less learning occurs. Open-ended questions help us to understand better what the student thinks.

  • Feuerstein, R., & Falik, L. H. (2010). Learning to think, thinking to learn: A comparative analysis of three approaches to instruction. Journal of Cognitive Education and Psychology, 9(1), 4-20.
  • Goetz, T., Frenzel, A. C., Hall, N. C., & Pekrun, R. (2008). Antecedents of academic emotions: Testing the internal/external frame of reference model for academic enjoyment. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 33(1), 9-33

Metacognition needs to be emphasized and taught as a byproduct in every class. How cold anyone be proficient in learning, if they don’t have the information how learning happens best? We teachers sometimes forget that students don’t have all the same information we do.  Students academic self-concept is important for their learning competence, and if you are a university instructor, please remember that it is never too late to help students to find their confidence as learners. Sharing tools how others learn is an important part of any educational event.

  • Alexander, P. A. (2008). Why this and why now? Introduction to the special issue on metacognition, self-regulation, and self-regulated learning. Educational Psychology Review20(4), 369-372.

Pedagogy should be the focus in the classroom, and preferably in the literal meaning of the word “to lead the child”, i.e engaging students in learning facilitation instead of pre-scripted instruction. Students’ learning dispositions and the instructor’s teaching dispositions are equally important in the teaching-learning situation!

  • 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.

Student’s accountability in their own learning is far superior measure for achievement than externally set teacher accountability could ever be. Furthermore, in the Berry & Sahlberg article the external accountability measures seemed to prevent teachers from using effective small group practices. That sounds just downright wrong to me.  Teachers are the learning professionals. They should get to design the instructional method that best fits the group of students they are teaching.

  • Berry, J. & Sahlberg, P. 2006. Accountability affects the use of small group learning in school mathematics. Nordic Studies in Mathematics Education, 11(1), 5 – 31.)
  • Bryk, A. S., Sebring, P. B., Allensworth, E., Easton, J. Q., & Luppescu, S. (2010). Organizing schools for improvement: Lessons from Chicago. University of Chicago Press.

Self-regulated learning is essential for academic success. After all, learning IS individual, and the sooner students learn to self-regulate their own learning needs, the more likely they are to become lifelong learners.  The world is changing very fast, and it seems that the pace of change is not going to slow down anytime soon. This presents the dire need for every student to become a proficient lifelong learner, so that they can update their skills and keep up with the pace of the  progress.

  • Scardamalia, M., & Bereiter, C. (2006). Knowledge building: Theory, pedagogy, and technology. The Cambridge handbook of the learning sciences, 97-115.
  • Zimmerman, B. J. (2000). Attaining self-regulation: a social cognitive perspective. Handbook of self-regulation, 13-39.

Safety should be a given attribute in every school. In addition to ensuring the physical safety, the learning environment MUST be emotionally safe for students to engage in higher level thinking (check Maslow if you don’t want to take just my word for it). Students spend a lot of their time in school and classroom. If we want to have well-adjusted and balanced citizenry in the future, then the learning environment should contribute towards that goal.

  • Willms, J. D., Friesen, S., & Milton, P. (2009). What did you do in school today. Transforming classrooms through social, academic, and intellectual engagement.

 

ABCs of Classroom Learning

18 Feb

Learning itself , of course, is such a multidimensional phenomenon that capturing it  is very hard, or maybe impossible. However, this is my attempt to simplify and verbalize how teaching and learning interact in the classroom, hence the A, B and C.

A. Have you ever noticed how right away after becoming aware of something the very same phenomenon suddenly seems to appear everywhere? (Often discussed among women just before/after getting pregnant how suddenly the world is full of strollers, big bellies and baby stuff – how did they pop up overnight?) The plain explanation is that our brain discards most of the sensory feed, so it never reaches our consciousness, until it has significance, and then it is suddenly “seen”. What we see (or hear) results from what our first filters let to be processed. Often just explained that we see things we want to pay attention to, or things that are active in our consciousness – which of course is duly noted in most lesson plan templates under “motivating students”.  Yet, as teaching and learning are two separate processes, it is a bit hit and miss to know whether students are activated and becoming aware about this new information, and this partly explains the effectiveness of flipped classroom as a teaching method and getting students engage with the learning materials on their own.

The more students are buying into the initial activation, the better predictions there are for good learning outcomes. And we all know how hungry, tired, scared, abused, stressed, overwhelmed, bored, or otherwise distracted students tend to substantially underachieve – so the very first thing in education should be ensuring students’ physical and emotional well-being. In addition to enhancing students’ cooperation with us, we teachers can also use constructive approach to activate our students, and ask them to find/categorize/present/discuss/strain  information that relates to the topic of the lesson. Applying some cognitive strategies to help students become more aware about their own learning needs enables students to become more accountable for their own learning.

B. We all also have personal ways to process further the things we become aware of, and the type of this processing depends on another set of filters we have: our beliefs[1], attitudes, rules. While explaining these filters to students, I simply hand out some different colour sunglasses to demonstrate it very concretely what it looks like to have another kind of filter. After discussing about the shades, and the way the classrooms (or certain pictures) look like with the darker shades or lighter ones, it is fairly easy for even young students to understand how they all have a unique way of seeing the world. I am not suggesting for teachers to become therapists, but raising this kind of awareness among students is just removing the barriers from successful learning experiences. Not understanding and dealing with these individual filters leads to cookie-cutter teaching and assuming every student will process the new information in an identical way, which obviously is not true.

Increasing transparency of information and knowledge by providing ample opportunities for students to discuss their beliefs and filters is bothcooperative and a cognitive tool for helping our students learn better.  Students’ self-assessment of their own learning needs, and planning tools included in executive functions can be used as parts of constructive strategies to ensure more successful learning experiences.

C. The consequences are the actions we take as a result of parts A and B coming together. Our actions, that can be emotions, cognitions, and/or behaviours,  depend on how we perceive things and what we believe about them – and also about our own  awareness or ability to  choose how we react. In education, often called learning outcomes, these actions (or reactions) are the phenomenon we teachers are assessing and reinforcing. Yet, even if all students were given the same motivation and same information their reaction will be individual, and some students will simply discard the information as uninteresting or unnecessary (especially if they already have the knowledge). Measuring input and expecting a standard output is not a functional formula while dealing with individuals. This is why teachers must be allowed to choose how to teach and to adapt the curriculum to meet the need of students.

Acknowledging the different filters and beliefs our students have and discussing the advantages of individual ways to categorize and refine the new information creates open ended and dynamic views of personal knowledge. This constructive practice is the exact opposite of stagnant “there is a single one correct answer and you’d better find it” – tradition. I also see the teacher’s role now and in the future as an essential part of learning facilitation, dealing with anything and everything that happens in part B and helping students make sense of the things they are learning (otherwise we could just use robots spewing out information, right?) and provide feedback of their learning process.  By using cognitive tools to address the beliefs, attitudes, filters, misconceptions and ideas we can provide more successful learning experiences for all students. And by using cooperative tools in learning facilitation we can increase the perceived meaningfulness of learning and help every student to get their ABCs together in the way that best supports the growth of their thinking skills.

 


[1] Beliefs here include: personal, cultural, religious, political beliefs; causal attributions, ideas, feelings, impressions, opinions, sentiments, points of view, presumptions, ideologies and misunderstandings that we use to filter the external information.

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?

Less Teaching – More Learning

11 Aug

Fixed mindset is a scary thing. It prevents us from seeing/hearing other options or opinions than the ones we have already selected. And if this option happens to be the idea of the teacher being the main source of information for students, I can understand how ridiculous learning facilitation sounds. Yet, in today’s world we have more information available than ever before and it would be unwise for any teacher to imagine this fact NOT having an effect on teaching practices.

 

We can’t (and shouldn’t) keep students in a vacuum where they don’t hear anything that is in contradiction to what they are being taught. This could only happen in a totalitarian world where just a single one truth (or correct answer) is accepted (Nina’s personal note: somehow this always makes me think about multiple choice testing, I am sorry!). This transfer of static facts is hardly learning, even though it can be teaching: transmitting our culture to the next generation.  Of course, one purpose of formal education IS to preserve the culture. Yet the other, equally important purpose is to prepare students to face the world we know nothing about, the future.  In today’s world, where the amount of  information doubles with increasing speed, it is important to build strong thinkers and lifelong learners.  And learning starts from wondering.

 

I can see how having just one single correct answer feels safer than having too many choices – but we really need to teach students how to choose wisely, because we cannot contain them from information outside. Their foundation for thinking and comparing must be wide  and solid enough to sustain observing foreign ideas, and the framework of their learning must be strong enough to allow flexibility. Having the freedom to explore, but also safety to return is the same strategy a safely attached two-year-old uses: gradually moving in larger circles away from the parent, but returning to her/his lap when needed. How can we foster this same combination of freedom and safety in education?

 

While attending the AERO – Education Revolution Conference last weekend I admired the way different teaching-learning disciplines came naturally together. Differences were not emphasized, but the things we all shared: lifelong learning, free sharing of information and using communication for understanding.  Negotiating the meaning of a word or concept happened frequently and spontaneously, because I cannot expect others to understand my subjective connotations. Why are we not using this tool more in education? I think we should.

 

Our students may be using the same words we do, but their understanding about it differs from ours, I can guarantee this. And because we are not attempting to create clones (I sure hope we aren’t!) , we should create lots of opportunities for negotiating the meaning (=personalized understanding) of the concepts that belong to our curricula, and thus provide students with the opportunities to reflect and create connections to existing knowledge and understanding. While thinking about student motivation to ponder and participate, one simple thing becomes clear to me. The ultimate question in investing my time and my effort in thinking and learning usually is: What’s in it for me?

 

What do you do to provide your students with this one important piece of making their learning more meaningful? How do you help them wonder?

 

 

 

 

What happens to learning when school year ends?

10 Jun

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                                                                                     

Receptive or Expressive?

23 Apr

Learning a new language is always both fascinating and frustrating at the same time. Fascinating because a whole new world opens up, and new connections are made. Frustrating because even though I am soon starting to understand some sentences in the new language, I am still far away from speaking fluency, and I know from experience that it will take a looong time before I get there.

It occurred to me that learning always seems to follow the same pattern, no matter what we are learning, language or something else. First you gain some basic ideas about the topic (or language), and try to wrap your mind around it. Then you try to produce something  from you newly learned knowledge. In language learning we call these receptive and expressive language skills. And language teachers have long time known how important it is to get students started with speaking on the target language from the day one, to keep the expressive threshold low for them.

Already in elementary school we are introducing several new “languages” to students: math has a large vocabulary, so does science…not to talk about linguistics, and learning all the names of different features in language. If these “new vocabulary requirements” are not discussed openly with students, they will remain as parts of the hidden expectations. Encouraging students to learn these new vocabularies and use them in everyday speech is a single teaching strategy that will carry for years and years in the future.

Language teachers also know how important students’ talking in the class is,  when we want to help them get fluent.  It is equally important for students to externalize their thoughts and individual understanding about other school subjects to gain the necessary depth of learning. This is easily done by providing every student an opportunity to verbalize their understanding – and because we have limited time in the classroom, it must be done in short pair or group discussions. Every day. In every subject.

Why do we still seem to think teachers’ talking being more important than students’ talking? When the teacher is talking  students are building  only their receptive skills.  Of course, this is the same truth as in learning being more important than teaching.

Only when your expressive skills are adequate  (i.e. you know what you are talking about) you can master the subject.

What is your expectation for your students? Do you wish them to become “fluent” enough with your subject, or are you happy if they have limited receptive understanding about it?

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?

How to build student centered class environment?

25 Feb

Student centered teaching is a way of making teaching and learning better in the classroom. As this is a highly qualitative measure, it is sometimes hard to summarize the necessary changes or easily communicate the differences between student-centered and traditional teacher-led instruction.

What makes definition even harder, is the fact that student centered education is not really a method. It is a philosophy, based on the fact that each human being learns individually. What is taught in a classroom is not necessarily learned, because each student has a different perception of what was taught – and that is exactly how it should be, if we want to foster (critical) thinking skills. When we are asked to follow someone else’s thinking we will not create the same competence as while thinking it through on our own.

There are certain indicators for student centered teaching and learning. The three  main characteristics to define whether a learning environment is student centered or not, are the use of cognitive, constructive and cooperative tools in teaching and learning. One very simple “measurement” is to pay attention to the amount of open-ended questions (as opposed to questions that have just single one correct answer). The other measure is the amount of individualization used in the classroom, and the learning environment supporting learner’s autonomy in majority of tasks and assignments.

Open-ended questions cater for the cognitive growth of your students.  These questions also help your students grow as learners and understand the way their individual learning happens when they hear different correct answers to the same question.  Discussing about the different points of view leading to these answers helps students understand the connections between concepts, and thus caters for deep learning.  When you as teacher know how learning happens, you can easily guide students beyond rote memorization. The question to ask yourself while planning the lesson is: what will my students really learn about this?

Individualization sometimes seems like a bad word, or being something that only adds to the load for the teacher. But it does not have to be  that way. Constructive teaching is student centered and acknowledges the importance of building the content to be learned so that it meets the students’ increasing understanding about the subject matter. Of course,  introducing more complicated concepts after the basics have been learned is just plain common sense. But, the constructive way I have taught with also includes the idea of providing choices for students, so that the more advanced students can learn further on their own speed, while those students who may need extra time can review the content one more time, if necessary. This is not hard to do. And it still is basic common sense: keep the learning meaningful for all of your students. I used to assign different homework for students, too.

Learner’s autonomy requires cooperation in the class.  Only cooperative learning is student centered, because teacher-led instruction is based on the teacher telling students what to do. Cooperation must happen between students to provide deeper understanding about the subject. Sometimes the students’ choice of words makes it easier for another student to understand, because they share the approximately same language level, which is not the case between the teacher and student. Cooperation  in the teacher-student relationship takes away the unnecessary power struggle between teachers and students: why have a battle when we are aiming to a mutual goal? Providing autonomy in class empowers students to learn more on their own,  and makes them become more interested in things they learn at school. This of course decreases the need for behaviour management in your class, when everyone is engaged in learning. Seems like a win-win situation to me!