How to enjoy learning?

25 Jul

In the beginning of our lives, we all love to learn! Anyone, who has been with preschoolers, knows how excited they are about learning new things. Observing high school students or people in Professional Development – well, not so much visible enjoyment there. Why? What went wrong?

Learning is a survival skill we all are born with. But at school we often turn the intrinsic learning (and learning interest) around to something else, something measurable – schooling, or being taught. At worst, schooling kills the intrinsic interest to learning because we figure out that we are doing things wrong while learning on our own. In most cases it just decreases our learning enjoyment and makes us go through the motions and activities for an external reward – for a grade or diploma. However, there are different, better ways to support learning and engagement than grades and diplomas.

First – we must find again our own learning enjoyment as educators. A teacher who is not interested in learning should seek different employment. I know this is very strong statement, but it is not easy to fake something as fundamental as one’s desire to learn. Emphasizing anything else but learning is a mistake when we want to improve education – yet many school improvement plans focus on student “achievement” or “performance”, which are very different because they are snapshots of what a student knows or can do at a single point of time. A test score cannot even pinpoint where in the learning process the “magic” happened. My dear visitor, I am assuming that you are reading this because you are ready to engage in your own learning process and want to learn something new.

Second – let’s agree that learning happens everywhere, not only at school. Anything can be learning experience when we have the mindset and dispositions that support life-long learning, which should be the main outcome of an educational system (and it is often mentioned in missions and value statements). However, students’ everyday experiences are not about engaging their own learning process – mostly they are just trying to assimilate tons of information, which is very hard without a meaningful learning context, and easily leads to surface or strategic learning approach. We must help students to learn on their own! This is one example how to do it: Pre-school/kindergarten in Finland is dedicated to learning how to learn (instead of learning reading and math). The Finnish curriculum highlights interactions, meaningfulness and joy of learning:

Answers were sought to the question on how to best promote learning.

The active involvement of pupils, meaningfulness, joy of learning and school cultures

that promote enriching interaction between pupils and teachers are at the core of the new curriculum.

Finnish National Core Curriculum.

As educators we must support students’ holistic learning. Reminding students and parents that learning can happen anywhere and finding ways to integrate students individual learning experiences as parts of their formal learning portfolio is a great start towards increasing learning enjoyment. (The same principle obviously applies to educators’ Professional Learning – which is often better than Professional Development!)

Third – we must strive to make learning more meaningful for students. This is a hard one, because we all are so different. One size just cannot fit all! Therefore, offering choice for obtaining information and demonstrating competency/mastery is crucially important. We do this while differentiating instruction, but often forget (or don’t have time) to include students’ insight of their learning preferences into improving their learning experiences. Yet, in order for learning to be meaningful, students must have a part in the learning design process. This is not a new idea, there is more than 100 years of research about benefits of learner-centered approach and treating learners as co-creators and partners in the teaching and learning process [1](lots of familiar names there: Dewey, Montessori, Piaget, Vygotsky, Rogers among others).  APA – American Psychological Association has emphasized the importance of meaningful learning since 1990 by highlighting the learner-centered approach and 2015 updating the approach to Top 20 principles for PreK-12 education. I wish every teacher had a copy of these documents!

Bottom line: We can and must support students’ learning enjoyment as well as enjoy our own learning experiences!

We have many choices for doing this. The following blog posts are helpful :

Learner-centered education

Is learning a product or process?

Engaging student in their own learning process

Choosing How to Teach

References:

[1]  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  and  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Student-centered_learning

Learner agency thrives in an emotionally safe learning environment

11 Apr

Student-centered and emotionally safe pedagogy is a choice, an instructional approach in any level of education. It is not a handbook of tips and tricks, to add diversity and equity into instruction, or help us survive our challenging days in the education profession. It is being intellectually and emotionally present when a student needs us. It is also about choosing the instructional strategies to support every students’ individual learning process and learner agency[1].

Supporting learner agency has 8 components: metacognition, self-determination, learning environment, learning ownership, social context, subjective experiences, choices, social-emotional learning.

I have been on the path of critical pedagogy for a long time. During my own K-12 education, I never imagined I would become a teacher, but as an adult I was intrigued by the ways we construct our understanding. Even before I became a teacher I wondered how individual learning could be better supported – because one size does not fit all. It seemed to me that an intellectually and emotionally safe learning environment was very necessary for supporting the learning process. After that realization there was no turning back – I had to study education science. 🙂

Learning happens in a social context, in interactions, and as educators we can make this experience better for our students. Emotionally safe classrooms are flexible by nature and they have rules that are consistent and justified, and preferably created in cooperation with students. Treating students as unique human beings is essential – which makes is hard or impossible to use behaviorist learning theories, or have strong external regulation for learning process. Later I realized that this also describes the DEI – approach for diversity, equity and inclusion. We want to support students’ self-determination because it increases their intrinsic motivation and ownership of their learning process [2].

Learning to learn is a lifelong process. It starts in early childhood, which is why preschool can have such a huge effect in future learning. Good quality early childhood pedagogy focuses on supporting holistic child development and making learning a joyful experience children want to repeat. It is important to also teach children how to help themselves to learn. We do this by increasing their metacognition and guiding children to use a variety of deep learning strategies – based on the learning task they are facing [3]. Learning to write one’s own name requires different strategies than learning to ride a bike. In order to choose, we must be aware about choices we have. And as adults we are still discovering new learning strategies for ourselves – if we keep looking for them. It really IS a life-long process.

Metacognition: The awareness and perceptions we have about ourselves as learners, understanding of the requirements and processes for completing learning tasks, and knowledge of strategies that can be used for learning.

We all have our subjective experiences and preferences that inform our choices. Sometimes we need to learn to manage ourselves in a different way – fortunately there are plenty of great SEL resources to use. Please check the CASEL framework and resources! I became familiar with social-emotional learning when I was earning my M.Ed. in Finland, and it has been a crucially important part of the learner-centered and emotionally safe pedagogy I have been building in my career and discussing in this blog. Stress-free atmosphere helps to build an emotionally safe growing and learning environment.  Knowing that their thoughts and ideas are valued helps students think and express their thoughts more freely. More thinking equals more learning.

The one situation when most of us feel threatened or unsafe is while we are receiving feedback. In an emotionally safe classroom feedback becomes a natural part of the learning process, and thus stops being scary – Growth Mindset can be used in this, if we remember to use the pedagogy of kindness and invest in personhood [4]. Focusing on supporting each individual student on their own learning path does take more time than applying standardized measures. But, it is also more effective. Students’ daily self-evaluation and teacher’s verbal comments can create an awesome tool for students to reflect and control their own learning, but it takes time to have those individual interactions with all students. I would like to see classroom sizes small enough to allow more dialogue, because learning still happens in interactions, regardless of the technology we may be using. 

It is important to remember that being kind is different from being nice. While being kind I engage in the important (but hard) dialogue about learning, helping my students to understand their own learning process and how they can either help or hinder their own learning. If I were to be just nice, I could say “Good job!” and move on – but that would not help my students to learn more.

References:

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

[2] Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (2000). The” what” and” why” of goal pursuits: Human needs and the self-determination of behavior. Psychological inquiry11(4), 227-268.

[3] Seif, E. (2018, November 16 )Dimensions Of Deep Learning: Levels Of Engagement And Learning. Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. https://inservice.ascd.org/dimensions-of-deep-learning-levels-of-engagement-and-learning/

[4] Denial, C. (2020) A pedagogy of kindness. In. L. Stommel, C. Friend, & S.M. Morris (Eds.), Critical digital pedagogy: A collection. Hybrid Pedagogy Incorporated (pp. 212-218). https://hybridpedagogy.org/critical-digital-pedagogy/

Using SEL to support learner agency

22 Jan

Learner agency (students’ voice and choice in their own learning) has gained wonderfully much interest in education around the world during the past few years.

Alas, sometimes I see learner agency being expressed as something students either have or don’t have – yet, agency is truly the capacity to choose our responses to problematic situations [1]. It is not up to us as educators to start scoring learner agency, or dividing students based of whether they have agency or not. And, according to my research, learner agency may sometimes appear negative, especially when students choose to disengage – often to object the structure of instruction.

Students can perceive their learner agency as Detachment, Belonging, Synergy or Unbound.

Detachment can happen more easily when students perceive that their learning has no real-life connections, or when they are just going through the motions to earn a grade. There is very little or no learning going on, and students may engage in surface learning strategies.

The good news is that we CAN support learner agency with our instruction and classroom management and help students to belong, find synergy and become unbound learners. Choosing to teach with respect towards students and support students’ ownership of their own learning is a good start! Social- emotional learning (SEL) provides great tools for supporting learner agency. CASEL framework has identified 5 areas in SEL:

  • self-awareness
  • self-management
  • social awareness
  • relationship skills
  • responsible decision making

These are not something new and surprising, teachers throughout the time have focused on supporting these areas in their classrooms. And we know from decades of research how successful students already use all these skills – I am thinking all the research about self-regulation and co-regulation, engagement and participation, executive functions, metacognitive skills, and so forth. All SEL skills are necessary for successful learning, but too often they are not taught throughout formal education. And children arrive to school with different skillsets of SEL, some will need more help than others.

By embedding the SEL skills to our instruction and classroom management we are helping students to better engage in their own, individual learning process. And this is why embedding SEL is so crucially important! They should not be an additional curriculum, but learned within every school subject and project. The classroom applications for embedding SEL are quite self-evident:

  • Supporting students’ self-awareness means that we address their thoughts, beliefs, emotions and motivations regarding the learning experiences students have.
    • Providing information is just one part of the teaching-learning exchange
    • Addressing students’ questions and validating their thoughts immediately deepens the learning experience
    • Helping students to deal with their emotions during learning process further improves the learning experience – getting new or contradicting information is hard for all of us!
  • Supporting students’ self-management means that we help students to take initiative and cope with their emotions and thoughts, and we also provide guidance for stressful situations.
    • We have all had students with advanced self-management skills, and also students who haven’t really been exposed what self-management means. Balancing different student needs is always challenging, and it will always be challenging because we are individuals with different personal histories. Supporting students’ self-regulation is just a part of being an educator!
    • Some students need more support in taking initiative than others, it may be a part of their personality. Too often I see extroversion being rewarded over introversion – even though one is not a better personality trait than the other!
  • Supporting students’ social awareness means that we model empathy and compassion, recognize (and verbalize) situational demands and opportunities, and help all students to take perspective
    • Understanding the perspective of another person is a fundamental skill in the society, and we can choose to teach this with all classroom interactions. Think-pair-share is a great start!
    • Discussing why some things are harder to learn than others is important, because it relates directly to the mindsets we have. And verbalizing that we all struggle with something builds better communication and learning skills for the future.
  • Supporting students’ relationship skills means that we emphasize cooperation, communication and proactively teach students to seek help and offer help to others
    • Engaging in dialogue is important. And dialogue is VERY different from discussion, because in dialogue we are actively trying to understand what the other person is trying to express (not focusing on building our own argument).
    • Cooperative education is learning-centered, meaning that everything we do is focused on supporting students’ learning process and understanding the big picture – instead of cramming tons of details to be forgotten after the test or engaging in busywork.
    • Learning happens in interactions – so providing more opportunities for meaningful interactions is important!
  • Supporting students’ responsible decision making means that we teach students how to make good decisions, first with smaller things and about personal behaviors and social interactions, but also increasingly more complex decisions.
    • Choosing is a skill that can (and must) be learned in a safe environment.
    • Only through making choices we can train our own executive functions [2] – EF doesn’t develop if we are always told what we need to do.
    • Too many (and too big) choices can be detrimental – knowing students’ personal preferences will help us to support them learning to choose.
    • Adding choices also communicates to our students that we believe they can learn, and that we are there to help, if needed.

All the five SEL elements are organically present in our lives, in our societies. Classroom learning shouldn’t be an exception of this. Choosing to teach with the focus of supporting students’ learning process also helps us empower our students to learn more on their own.

Helping students to learn how to make responsible choices is a crucially important life skill. Let’s not waste our opportunity to support their agency by embedding SEL strategies to our instruction and adding more students’ voice and choice to every learning interaction!

References:

[1] Emirbayer, M., & Mische, A. (1998). What is agency? American journal of sociology, 103(4),
962-1023. Retrieved from: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/231294.

Biesta, G., & Tedder, M. (2007). Agency and learning in the lifecourse: Towards an ecological
perspective. Studies in the Education of Adults, 39(2), 132-149.

[2] Patall, E. A., Cooper, H., & Robinson, J. C. (2008). The effects of choice on intrinsic motivation and related outcomes: a meta-analysis of research findings. Psychological bulletin, 134(2), 270.

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

Empower students to learn!

15 Nov

Social-emotional learning (SEL) is here to stay. And that is a great thing! As learning is such a holistic phenomenon, we educators must be aware of the emotional and social parts of it, and encourage students to collaborate and make most of their learning experience. In other words: instead of just teaching/ providing information, we must empower our students to learn.

There is a huge difference between these two approaches to education.

I personally believe that student empowerment is one major superpower of Finnish education. I know I experienced it throughout my own education in Finland, more in some classes and less in some others, througout the basic education (K-12). My deepest and most profound experiences of learner empowerment happened during my M. Ed. studies and teacher training at University of Jyväskylä. So, I am happily exporting student empowerment and making it an integral part of my own practice.

The easiest way to empower learning is to provide choices for students and discuss learning being an iterative process. We generally have stronger emotional attachment to things we get to choose – and that emotional connection increases the likelihood of deeper learning to happen. It’s because ownership, engagement and intrinsic motivation amplify each other. Empowered students have more ownership over what they learn.

Having choices is the prerequisite for ownership!

Empowering students to learn autonomously can be scary in the beginning. I am not suggesting that you should let go of all the classroom rules and allowing students to do whatever they please. That would not be education. But starting to add choices for students to support their self-direction, and embedding SEL into every lesson is a great start. CASEL has awesome resources for relationship skills, social and self-awareness, self-management and responsible decision-making. The only way students can learn to make good decisions is to have choices and get to practice choosing in safe environments. Making good choices is just one skill among other life skills and we should foster it in all possible ways we can. Because that’s how we support students’ critical thinking!

It is important to remember that SEL is so much more than just training students to use their “power skills” like executive functions or relationship skills – SEL is an integral part of human development and needs to be embedded into curriculum and instruction instead of being taught as another school subject.

Teaching with empowerment changes the power dynamics in a classroom, and communications between faculty and students. We teachers and faculty want to assume the role of a guide, not the leader. And we do this to support learner agency which is “perhaps the most higher-order, emergent, abstractly defined, and most cherished of human functions” [1]. This is why empowerment is so important! Learner agency is all about the choices and degree of freedom students have about their learning! Teaching how to choose is an integral part of education.

Empowering students to learn means striving to provide ample opportunities for students to have autonomy (choose readings, assignments, assessments, partners, projects, etc.) so that they can grow their competencies and relate with the teacher and each other. These three (A, C, and R) are parts of self-determination in life and learning. More information under this link. It is crucially important for us as educators to realize that the gamining industry has already harnessed the ACRs and benefit from the motivational pull to play [2]. The three elements are:

  • Autonomy – have choices and be an agent of one’s own life and learning
  • Competence – feel capable in own learning and growing skills
  • Relatedness – accceptance, feeling connected and interacting with others

We can empower students to learn by emphasizing ACRs. Alas, it is harder for students to learn to use their self- determination in compliance-driven learning environments. It is harder for teachers, too, because in the beginning it may not be easy to figure out what kind of choices students could have. Fortunately we have contemporary research to support our choices for empowerment.

APA – Top 20 principles for k-12

Choice and Intricnsic motivation – Patall et al. meta-analysis

Meaningful learning: essential factor – Novak article

Motivation and Self-Regulated Learning – Book

References:

[1] Zelazo, P. D. (2020). Executive Function and Psychopathology: A Neurodevelopmental Perspective. Annual Review of Clinical Psychology16. (citation is from page 443)

[2] Niemiec, C. P., & Ryan, R. M. (2009). Autonomy, competence, and relatedness in the classroom: Applying self-determination theory to educational practice. Theory and research in Education7(2), 133-144.

The problem with strategic learning approach

20 Sep

In any given situation where we need to learn something new – whether formal (at school) or informal (anywhere) – we have a choice to make about our own approach to learning it. This approach can be either engaging in deep learning (immersing ourselves to learning for life) or surface learning (memorizing disconnected pieces of information). When we are in formal education (school, college, university) there is also a third approach: strategic learning, which means that we are aiming for a good grade without caring about the content, and forgetting the information as soon as we pass the assessment.

Deep and deeper learning both refer to acquiring transferable knowledge through classroom experiences.  The emphasis is in supporting students’ lifelong learning process.  The term “deep learning” resulted from the original phenomenograhpic research where researchers found out students having different approaches to learning [1]. These approaches describe how learners perceive tasks – either as disconnected pieces of information to be memorized in order to pass the exam (surface learning), or as knowledge to be constructed and understood in order to create new meanings (deep learning).

Deeper learning has been defined by American Institutes for Research as “a set of competencies students must master in order to develop a keen understanding of academic content and apply their knowledge to problems in the classroom and on the job” [2]

We all use the deep and surface learning approaches in different situations. When presented with a learning task, we appraise the value of it, and then decide about our approach. This usually happens very quickly and automatically. What worries me, is that I have met students whose only learning approach seems to be the strategic learning – meaning that they want high grades, but don’t want to really learn the content. These can be very “good” students – always submitting their assignments and assessments in time, often doing extra work to ensure a good grade. But what about the quality of their learning?

Most grading systems appear to reward the strategic approach, which is very problematic because it focuses on extrinsic motivation and external rewards. Students are taught to complete their worksheets and other tasks and pass their tests so that they can get good grades. But why don’t we talk about learning? And being able to use what they learned?

After moving overseas from Finland, I was so surprised to see that my children had homework that was graded. That made no sense to me! As a teacher, how would I know who actually completed that homework assignment, or how much help the student received in completing it? While teaching in Finland the rule for homework was that it must be something that allows students to revisit what they learned at school. Because the idea of homework is to support students’ learning. Not to have them demonstrate their competency.

Making learning more meaningful for students and decreasing the obsession with grading is more important in 2020 than ever before.

Learner-centered instructional strategies will help. Providing choices for students – they can learn same competencies with different tasks, and getting to choose increases intrinsic motivation (game builders know this, btw, and have mastered the ACR – autonomy, competence, and relatedness). TeachThought also has a collection of more learning-centered strategies for instruction.

To make a leap further into learner-centered practices, ask students’ input for planning their learning experiences. Express positive regard. Try competency-based education. Change the assessment to be student-centered and non-punitive!

 

 

[1] Marton, F., & Säljö, R. (1976). On Qualitative Differences in Learning: I—Outcome and
process. British journal of educational psychology, 46(1), 4-11.

[2] Huberman, M., Bitter, C., Anthony, J., & O’Day, J. (2014). The shape of deeper learning: strategies, structures, and cultures in deeper learning network high schools. Findings from the study of deeper learning opportunities and outcomes: Report 1. American Institutes for Research. Retrieved from: http://www.air.org/resource/spotlight-deeper-learning

[3] Bain, K. (2013). Introduction: Growing Deep Learning. Teaching and Learning Together in Higher Education1(8), 1.

3Cs for 2020

2 Aug

Cooperative learning environment with constructive design and cognitive approach is more important in schoolyear 2020 than ever before! I wish to empower every teacher to choose how they teach!

The new normal requires every school and every teacher to reconsider how we educate the next generation. We can’t afford failing to engage ALL students in their own learning process, because it is the best way to support students’ intrinsic motivation and mastery goal orientation that leads to deeper learning (check this [1] APA site).

Helping students self-engage with voice and agency increases their academic performance, because just pushing for completing tasks or worksheets leads to very limited learning of knowledge and skills (check this [2] ASCD blog). Deep learning is about students acquiring transferable knowledge and skills through their learning experiences – making differentiation and indviviualization a necessary standard practice in every classroom (not just in special education!).

Instruction that is not personalized leads to students choosing the less beneficial engagement approaces: surface approach (participating enough to pass the test/getting an acceptable grade, not interested in learning) or strategic approach (ace the test to get straight A’s, then forget it all). These both are focusing on compliance and participation, instead of engagement on personal level. Engaging students in their own learning process requires a paradigm shift, but it IS possible to do. The 3Cs provide the roadmap.

Cooperation is the foundation for successful online learning – we just cannot hold people accountable over the distance, so spending time in trying to do that is wasted effort and time. Students always have agency: a choice about their own beliefs and actions. But, we can support students’ learning process. Getting rid of the “sage on the stage” thinking and becoming the “guide on the side” is a great way to start building a cooperative practice. Cooperation in the beginning of a school year looks like this: Provide emotional support for students by validating concerns and offering indivualized help, continuously showing positive regard. Offer help every day. Repeat offering help and support every day. Emotionally safe learning environment is the first premise for effective learning. If students are scared or worried, learning is not their highest mental priority, surviving is.  3C-framework is built on cooperation, and uses constructive and cognitive instructional approaches.Constructive design supports students’ learning process. Make sure to balance the three dimensions of teachers’ pedagogical knowledge: instructional process, learning process and assessment – in physical classroon the instructional process can easily become overemphasized. Now is the time to change that! Build flexible learning entities from the curricula that make sense to students and remember that these can easily integrate two subjects! Build ongoing feedback to keep the learning process going – shared documents, portfolios, blog posts, presentations, videos, etc., emphasizing the open-ended nature of students’ learning. Remember to share a clear rubric with students! [Check this post about student-centerd assessment practices!]

Focus on cognitive learning by supporting students’ metacognition (or, thinking about thinking/learning about learning). Teaching metacognitive knowledge and skills is an important part of supporting deep learning in all levels of education! It just looks different: for very young students we try to help them on a path of self-efficacy and positive academic self-concept by supporting self-regulation and concept development; for grad students we offer support in managing the self-regulated learning process and self-evaluation/self-judgment.

Metacognition: The awareness and perceptions we have about ourselves as learners, understanding of the requirements and processes for completing learning tasks, and knowledge of strategies that can be used for learning.

Help students by discussing Growth Mindset as an important part of understanding one’s own learning process. Provide various ways to organize one’s own thinking: graphic organizers, mindmaps, taxonomies, color coding, etc., and emphasize that there are many different ways to learn something new. Make a list of shareable learning strategies you can recommend to students at any time. Include self-reflection as a standard practice – model it by thinking aloud, help students verbalize what they have learned, help them think what they might do differently or how they could make their schoolwork (stories, presentations, videos, etc) better. Always emphasize learning being a process!

Fostering learning process is actually very simple. In addition to open-endedness there are some other qualities in my mind I decided to name as  CAFÉ

Communicate. Have a dialogue with your students, the most effective communication is reciprocal and includes negotiations of meaning.

Acknowledge their competence, and help to add into it. Validate their knowledge and understanding.

Feedback early and often. Provide feedback about the process (think of mapping the ground that lies ahead them, it is easier to steer clear when you know where the pitfalls are).

Encourage and empower. Support their choices. Point out other possible directions (make sure not to choose for students).

And just like coffee, or life in general, also learning is best when we can enjoy it!

CAFÉ: Communicate. Have a dialogue with your students, the most effective communication is reciprocal and includes negotiations of meaning. Acknowledge their competence, and help to add into it. Validate their knowledge and understanding. Feedback early and often. Provide feedback about the process (think of mapping the ground that lies ahead them, it is easier to steer clear when you know where the pitfalls are). Encourage and empower. Support their choices. Point out other possible directions (make sure not to choose for students).

I hope you enjoy!

🙂

Nina

 

Other posts about 3Cs and supporting learning process:

3 Superior online strategies

Is learning process or product

Teaching dispositions

Self-determination

Learning-centered education

 

 

References:

[1]McCombs, B. L. (2010, February 16). Developing responsible and autonomous learners: A key to motivating students. American Psychological Association. http://www.apa.org/education/k12/learners

[2] Seif, E. (2018, November 16 )Dimensions Of Deep Learning: Levels Of Engagement And Learning. Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. https://inservice.ascd.org/dimensions-of-deep-learning-levels-of-engagement-and-learning/

 

Add 5 Elements to Online Education

29 Mar

Creating a productive teaching-learning relationship vial regular interaction is crucial in online education. While communicating in person we use non-verbal cues to understand each other, but over the phone or video we must be more explicit and truly engage in dialogue.  Constructing knowledge cannot occur in a vacuum, and spoken language is much less formal than written language! Engaging in dialogue is essential for learning.

To make online learning better for our students, we must 1) express care, 2) challenge growth, and 3) provide support in our regular interactions. These are the easier, more familiar parts of 5 elements. Just make sure to be available to help via phone, email or video to provide consistent support. But, we also must remember to 4) share power and 5) expand possibilities to fully support the development of our students! These two require deeper dialogues between students and educators because dialogue is collaborative meaning-making by nature. Explanation of these 5 Elements is attached to the bottom of this post.

Teaching is SO MUCH MORE than just handing out worksheets or delivering information. It is taking time to have a dialogue about learning and helping students to engage in their own learning process! In classroom the dialogue happens more easily, while in distance education we must actively seek opportunities for engaging in these crucially important interactions, and ask non-threatening questions to better understand our students’ experiences.

As educators we all want to help and support our students’ development, regardless of their age (here is a quick view of adult development). One way for adding these 5 Elements is to use the learner-centered approach.

The Learner-Centered Principles (as definded by APA) 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. [1]

Treating students with repect and providing choices is the important 4th element (share power), often underused in education, and crucially important in online learning. We cannot hold people accountable over the distance, so the better approach is to empower students to lead their own learning process (self-regulated learning is a great!). Students must be treated as the co-creators and experts of their own learning process. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t offer help for example choosing the most suitable learning strategies, because that is our area of expertise as educators.

Expanding possibilities as the 5th element means connecting students with additional resources (even beyond the curriculum). It is helping students to pursue their individual interests and perceive themselves as unbound learners, truly life-long learners who are curious about new things and seek knowledge for their own enjoyment. This obviously looks very different for each individual student.

Online education has the potential to become students’ best or worst learning experience. We can make it to become the best one, by adapting practices that focus on supporting each individual student’s learning process.

Embedding the 5 elements of developmental relationships framework to our everyday communications with students increases the chance of online education becoming a great learning experience!

 

The following is from Search Institute’s website, and written from the viewpoint of a young person:

Express Care

Show me that I matter to you.

    • Be dependable—Be someone I can trust.
    • Listen—Really pay attention when we are together.
    • Believe in me—Make me feel known and valued.
    • Be warm—Show me you enjoy being with me.
    • Encourage—Praise me for my efforts and achievements.

Challenge Growth

Push me to keep getting better.

    • Expect my best—Expect me to live up to my potential.
    • Stretch—Push me to go further.
    • Hold me accountable—Insist I take responsibility for my actions.
    • Reflect on failures—Help me learn from mistakes and setbacks.

Provide Support

Help me complete tasks and achieve goals.

    • Navigate—Guide me through hard situations and systems.
    • Empower—Build my confidence to take charge of my life.
    • Advocate—Stand up for me when I need it.
    • Set boundaries—Put in place limits that keep me on track.

Share Power

Treat me with respect and give me a say.

    • Respect me—Take me seriously and treat me fairly.
    • Include me—Involve me in decisions that affect me.
    • Collaborate—Work with me to solve problems and reach goals.
    • Let me lead—Create opportunities for me to take action and lead.

Expand possibilities

Connect me with people and places that broaden my world.

    • Inspire—Inspire me to see possibilities for my future.
    • Broaden horizons—Expose me to new ideas, experiences, and places.
    • Connect—Introduce me to people who can help me grow.

Copyright © 2018 by Search Institute®, 3001 Broadway Street NE, Suite 310, Minneapolis MN 55413; 800-888-7828; http://www.search-institute.org. Used with permission.

[1] https://www.apa.org/ed/governance/bea/learner-centered.pdf and http://www.jodypaul.com/LCT/LCT.PsychPrinc.html

3 Superior Strategies for Supporting Online Learning

22 Mar

Learning happens in interactions. Online learning presents great opportunities for productive learning interactions. Obviously, there may be some serious problems, too, such as not noticing when students are struggling. Most problems get solved when we focus on supporting students’ learning process and build our communications around that support.

Here are the three superior strategies I have found to be most helpful during the last 8 years of my online practice. If we consider the learning process to be interactions between the student, content and environment (Illeris, 2018), it seems obvious that the core strategies for online teaching must deal with these all types of interactions.

  1. Strive for user-friendly content delivery
  2. Decidedly support students’ self-regulated learning
  3. Favor asynchronous learning activities

These three strategies agree with the framework of Teacher’s Pedagogical Knowledge (Sonmark, et al., 2017), addressing all three areas of our professional competence: Instructional Process (teaching methods, lesson planning and classroom management), Learning Process (learning & development and dispositions), and Assessment (evaluation and diagnosis procedures & data and research literacy).

3 Superior Strategies for Supporting Online Learning: 1.	Strive for user-friendly content delivery 2.	Decidedly support students’ self-regulated learning 3.	Favor asynchronous learning activities

First strategy: make learning easier by providing choices for engaging with the content. Curriculum usually dictates the content to be learned. Delivering content is the easiest problem to solve while transferring to online learning. We can share documents and record presentations, provide worksheets and assessments. It is important to honor students’ different preferences for obtaining information, some prefer watching videos, others like to read or listen. Keep videos short. Make sure to provide a transcript for a video or podcast – especially when instructing adults. We read much faster than anyone can talk.

Often online learning includes using a Learning Management System, LMS. As educators we have to become proficient users of the LMS, in addition to the foundational competencies of Teachers’ Pedagogical Knowledge, otherwise online teaching becomes very cumbersome. Obviously, students have different previous exposure to online environments, so remembering to offer help for navigation is the crucially important first step. Series of walk through documents or short videos is better than one or two long videos. We want to be sure to provide just-in-time support to make it easy for students to navigate the curriculum and their learning materials.

Online learning environment can sometimes become a barrier for learning. Therefore, it is important to step out of our own comfort zone with the LMS, and try to see it with the eyes of someone who encounters it for the first time. Are learning materials organized in a user-friendly way? Does the navigation make implicit sense to a person who encounters it for the first time? How can we help all students to navigate their new learning environment? These questions are equally important if we are just providing the learning materials over a website. In situations with great learner diversity it may be best to create a checklist for required activities and another list for additional supporting documents. And, most importantly: make sure to be available to help via phone or email.

Second strategy: Support self-regulated learning (Zimmerman, 2000). The greatest mistake while switching to online learning is the attempt of mimicking seat-based education where instructor talks and students sit and listen (an approach created without modern knowledge of how learning happens and how it can best supported). First rule of effective education is this: learning process is individual – so, focus your efforts on supporting students’ learning process. While we all DO learn the same way, through acquisition and elaboration, our concept development and preferred constructs for connecting new information to our existing knowledge are very diverse. We all have our own mental models of the world and keep adding information to our own knowledge base. Information that is not personally assimilated or accommodated will simply be forgotten, as it doesn’t become a part of our knowledge structure. Therefore, supporting students’ learning process and being available to answer questions IS the path for effective online education.

Self-regulated learning cycle guides students through the three crucial parts of learning: Planning – Performance – Reflection. The planning phase (forethought) includes analyzing the tasks and setting the process and completion goals. Planning for your own learning is an advanced skill, and we cannot expect students to master it immediately. Providing support for planning is crucially important in the beginning! The performance phase relies on self-monitoring, so that we are aware of our own learning process and can compare it to the expected outcomes. Rubrics are the best possible formative assessment tool for online learning, because they show students the criteria for grading. The use of rubrics in formative assessments has been shown to support students’ learning in recent educational research (eg. Panadero, Jonsson & Botella, 2017; Kasimatis, Kouloumpis, & Papageorgiou, 2019; Ajjawi, Bearman & Boud, 2019).  Rubrics are a great reflection tool for the third phase of learning process because looking back to the choices made in the current cycle, and having an open dialogue about choices for the next learning cycle, is the very moment for effective self-regulated learning to emerge. Engaging in individual discussions about the rubric with each student is easier in the online learning environment than in the classroom. It can be a phone discussion with online collaboration over the documents comparing the rubric and student’s performance. The important part for the instructor is to listen and learn more about how the student thinks, to best support them during the next learning cycle. The planning part in the next learning cycle benefits from the foundation a dialogue provides. So, make sure to be available to help via phone or email.

The third strategy: favoring asynchronous learning is great! We all learn in different pace, depending on our previous knowledge and thinking patterns. Learning doesn’t happen like manufacturing items on a conveyor belt. Learning process has spurts and halts, and sometimes looping back to already learned content is necessary, because we need to review or relearn things. The great thing about online learning is that we all can take as much time as we need to complete a learning activity – and students don’t have to feel bored or anxious because they need more or less time for the task. Yes, there can and should be times when the whole class checks in, or when a sub task must be ready for a small group assignment. But it doesn’t mean everyone have to sit still if they have already completed it, they can go for a short walk before engaging the next session, or do something else to invigorate themselves. Encouraging students to take several short breaks during the day is very important. I still believe that Finnish model of taking a 15-minute break after every 45-minute lesson was a great way to keep my students engaged and ready to learn. Favoring asynchronous learning activities allows us to support students’ individual needs. So, make sure to be available to help via phone or email.

Bottom line: Online education has the potential to become students’ best or worst learning experience. We can make it to become the best one, by adapting practices that focus on supporting each individual student’s learning process. Therefore, make sure to be available to help via phone or email.

 

😊

Nina

 

Ajjawi, R., Bearman, M., & Boud, D. (2019). Performing standards: a critical perspective on the contemporary use of standards in assessment. Teaching in Higher Education, 1-14.

Illeris, K. (2018). A comprehensive understanding of human learning. Contemporary Theories of Learning, 1-14.

Kasimatis, K., Kouloumpis, D. & Papageorgiou, T. (2019). Cultivation of 21st-century skills: Creating and implementing rubrics for assessing projects. New Trends and Issues Proceedings on Humanities and Social Sciences. [Online]. 6(7), pp 180-188. Available from: www.prosoc.eu

Panadero, E., Jonsson, A., & Botella, J. (2017). Effects of self-assessment on self-regulated learning and self-efficacy: Four meta-analyses. Educational Research Review22, 74-98.

Sonmark, K. et al. (2017), “Understanding teachers’ pedagogical knowledge: report on an international pilot study”, OECD Education Working Papers, No. 159, OECD Publishing, Paris. http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/43332ebd-en

Zimmerman, B. J. (2000). Attaining self-regulated learning: a social-cognitive
perspective, in M. Boekaerts, P. Pintrich, and M. Zeidner (Eds.) Handbook of Self-regulation (pp. 13–39). San Diego, CA: Academic Press.

The Power of Positive Regard

1 Mar

There are lots and lots of expectations for teachers today, one of them being our teaching dispositions. We are asked to check our own biases, exhibit the belief that everyone can learn and be ready and willing to differentiate to support our students’ individual needs. In addition to everything else.

The singlehandedly easiest way for me to keep my sanity while supporting my students, is to have an Unconditional Positive Regard towards each  and every one of them. It simply means isolating the behavior from the person and accepting and supporting people as they are, instead of expecting them to be what I wanted them to be.

The practical way is to always assume that the student had a good intention, whatever the results, or whatever they say or do. It has required practice to start and keep on using it, and withhold my thoughts of judgment. Even today, while engaging in discussion with students, I keep on reminding myself that I do not know what are my students’ lived realities and how they perceive their own learning. My only choice is to ask them to share their thoughts with me, and try my hardest not to assume things. I first learned about the uncoditional positive regard while earning my masters/teaching degree in Finland.

The concept of unconditional positive regard was developed by psychologist Carl Rogers, who emphasized individual choices in his person-centered counseling practice. The learner-centered educational practice carries the same ideas of supporting students’ congruence (self-image being similar to ideal self) by showing genuine interest towards learners and practicing unconditional posive regard in teaching-learning interactions. The learner-centered philosphy builds on the humanist worldview emphasizing construction of meaning and knowledge from individual experiences. I have found following learner-centered approach to be an easy and productive practice in my work as an educator.

The table below displays the three main categories of my learner-centered practice. The categories (following Rogers’ theory) are: striving to be genuine in order to build authentic dialogues, practicing unconditional positive regard to remind students that they do not have to achieve to be accepted, and using empathetic understanding to communicate my attempt in understanding student’s situation. After these basic needs are met, it is easier to discuss the academic questions my students have.

A tabledisplaying Genuineness, Unconditional Positive Regard and Empathetic Understanding as Learner-centered practices adopted from person-centered therapy.

 

The table is not meant to be a walkthrough of a disussion. It is just a collection of examples from my discussions with my students, and my recent  aha!-moments, like the difference between being kind instead of being nice (I learned this from my colleague’s presentation, and my mind was blown!). I had never before considered the difference! 🙂 Here is the short explanation: While being kind I engage in the important (but hard) dialogue about learning, helping my students to understand their own learning process and how they can either help or hinder their own learning. If I were to be just nice, I could say “Good job!” and move on – but that would not help my student to learn more.

The table categories (genuineness, unconditional positive regard and empathetic understanding) are also important parts to my 3C- approach to learning and teaching.  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 become 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

Cognitive, constructive and cooperative learning in a Venn diagram.

Engaging in dialogue is essential for learning because dialogue is collaborative meaning-making by nature. It is about equal participants engaging in an attempt to understand the viewpoint of other(s) and defining the meaning in the social setting. Such dialogue is about creating new understanding together, and in that sense it denotes very constructive ideas of learning. The essential condition for dialogue to happen is equality. My truth cannot be better than your truth. In a safe learning environment, where students dare to ask questions and challenge their own beliefs, dialogue can be a very powerful tool for deep learning.

The power of positive regard lies in building trust between teachers and students, which then enables the dialogue to happen. If I don’t listen what my student is saying, I am just lecturing to a captive audience, wasting my opportunity to make a difference.

 

 

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American Psychological Association, Coalition for Psychology in Schools and Education. (2015). Top 20 principles from psychology for pre K–12 teaching and learning. Retrieved from http:// http://www.apa.org/ed/schools/cpse/top-twenty-principles.pdf

Client-centered therapy: https://dictionary.apa.org/client-centered-therapy

Kindness indicates an ethical significane:  https://www.scu.edu/the-big-q/being-nice-vs-being-kind/

McLeod, S. A. (2014, Feb 05). Carl Rogers. Simply psychology: https://www.simplypsychology.org/carl-rogers.html

Rogers, C. (1959). A theory of therapy, personality and interpersonal relationships as developed in the client-centered framework. In (ed.) S. Koch, Psychology: A study of a science. Vol. 3: Formulations of the person and the social context. New York: McGraw Hill.

 

How to Support Transformative Learning

22 Oct

Instrumental and communicative learning are two very different approaches in education. [1] As educators, we make decisions every day between these two approaches: we either assess truth claims or validate understanding. In my professional opinion these two approaches must be in appropriate balance. Alas, it appears that instrumental learning is often overemphasized in contemporary education.

Instrumental learning and teaching is about improving performance and controlling the learning environment to produce desired results among learner population, and measuring these results with tests. This is very close to viewing learning as a product. Communicative learning is about seeking mutual understanding and validating both the accuracy and context of assumptions. This is very close to viewing learning as a process.

When transformative learning happens we go through a series of steps starting from facing a problem that makes us to rethink some of the “truths” we know. (Just for a moment, imagine that we got new scientific evidence of earth actually being flat! That would be hard to accept!) We would have to adjust to the new reality and deal with the emotions and fears it might evoke, and also assess our own assumptions very critically.  After that the process of transformation can begin.

For transformative learning to start happening, students must have ample opportunities to consider what they think about their learning topic (this is the critical thinking part!). If students are accepting everything they read or what their teacher or instructor says as an absolute truth, there will not be any transformative learning happening, just simple memorization of given truths. Supporting students’ self-reflection is the very necessary next step, as well as helping students to assess their own assumptions.

Transformative learning is more often connected to communicative learning than instrumental due to its very personal nature: we all have our own dispositions and worldviews, and transformation occurs when our assumptions of the world are changing.  This is why classroom dialogue is so crucially important for deeper learning to happen!

I try to remind myself every day that I will want to support my students’ transformative learning experiences. Because I love coffee, very much, this image and the idea of a Cafe helps me to provide that support and communicate, acknowledge, feeback and encourage my students, every day.

Communicate. Make sure to listen and try to understand! Have a dialogue with your students, the most effective communication is reciprocal and includes negotiations of meaning.

Acknowledge both the competence and the struggle. Learning is hard work! Validate students’ existing knowledge and understanding, support their attemps to learn (even if it isn’t your preferred way to learn).

Feedback early and often. Provide feedback about the learning process. As educators we possess the big picture of what students are learning, feedback helps students to know they are on the right track.

Encourage and empower. Support students’ choices. You can point out other possible directions but make sure not to choose for students because that deacreses their agency.

 

Mezirow’s theory has 10 steps of transformative learning process, and we really covered only the three first steps: creating space for the dilemma, supporting self-reflection, and assessing our assumptions.

 

There is much more to learn about transformative learning, and fortunately Mezirow’s theory is easy to search in the internet.

As educators we must challenge our own assumptions – every day – and be open to engage in the transformative learning experiences to grow in our profession.  Teacher’s Pedagogical Knowledge is so much more than just delivering the curriculum!

 

[1] Habermas 1981, as seen in Mezirow, J. Transformative Learning Theory  in K. Illeris (Ed.). (2018). Contemporary theories of learning: learning theorists… in their own words. 2nd Ed. Routledge.