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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].

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

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/

 

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.

Learning Strategies – part 2

31 Jul

Metacognitive skills are important for deeper learning. Simply put, metacognition is our knowledge of our own learning and cognitive processes, and also how to use those processes to help us learn better[1].  Therefore, knowing several learning strategies and being able to teach students how to use different strategies is essential for being a good teacher.

Discussing learning strategies with students is an important part of teaching! 

Learning to learn is an important topic to cover throughout formal education. It shouldn’t be a subject of it’s own, but those learning skills must be embedded into everyday instruction. The funny thing is, that while we as teachers know about learning strategies, we don’t always apply that knowledge to our own learning. I have very funny discussions about this with my own students (teachers pursuing their M.Ed. degrees) when I get to remind them about the learning strategies they remind their own students about. 🙂 I think we all just need reminders of how to best help ourselves to learn different things. The chosen learning strategy must match with the learning task! That’s why we need to know many different strategies!

Most deep learning processes benefit from using several different learning strategies! 

Helping students to become self-sufficient and autonomous learners is a crucially important part of contemporary education. We cannot think that learning would end with high school diploma or degree certificate, most workplaces today require ongoing learning engagement.

I have grouped the learning strategies on Nina’s Notes as the following:

  • ways to pace your learning
  • strategies to memorize and recall
  • strategies to make connections, and
  • strategies that aim for deeper learning

Memorization strategies work quite similarly as learning categories on the first level of Bloom’s taxonomy: recognizing and recalling [2]. Therefore I am seldom recommending flashcards as a primary learning strategy – they detach the concept from the context. However, if you really need to recognize and recall something, then very focused use of flashcards may be useful. Please do remember to continue your learning from remembering to understanding, applying and analyzing!

Very focused use of flashcards may be helpful in certain situations. Remember to practice recalling, too! 

While discussing and using different learning strategies it is important to remember the difference of perceving learning as a process and learning as a product.

Learning as a product refers to meeting the external objective(s) of instruction with a measurable change in behavior. This view emphasizes the importance of instruction and information delivery. Students are the object of instruction. Their choices and learner agency are very limited.

Learning as a process refers to the internal development caused by acquiring new information and elaborating one’s own understanding of using it. There is a triadic This view emphasizes learners’ active engagement in their own learning process and making sense of the content. Students are subjects of their own learning. They have choices and learner agency is supported in the learning environment.

I hope the Learning Strategies – series are useful for you and your students!

🙂

Nina

 

[1] Ormrod, J. E. (1999). Human learning: Principles, theories, and educational applications. 3rd. ed. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Merrill Publishing Co.

[2] Krathwohl, D. R., & Anderson, L. W. (2009). A taxonomy for learning, teaching, and assessing: A revision of Bloom’s taxonomy of educational objectives. Longman.

 

Learning Strategies – part 1

22 Jul

One important part of Teachers’ Pedagogical Knowledge is the skill of supporting students’ individual learning processes. For Learning and Development this means fostering each student’s individual learning through knowledge of human development, information processing, attributions and other theories that relate to how we learn. For Dispositions it means understanding how perceptions of self, others, values and beliefs affect learning process.

Remember, these are our professional competencies! Sometimes we forget that our students don’t have the same knowledge and insight into learning as we do. This is why we must explicitely teach appropriate and effective learning strategies to our students.

While the strategies themselves – ways to pace learning, to memorize and recall, make connections and aim for deeper learning – remain pretty much the same throughout our educational experiences, the way we use them is directly related to our subjective learning needs.  These needs depend on our personal preferences, developmental age, knowledge structure, and the perception of why we are learning. Discussing learning strategies and helping students to choose the best ones for the purpose is an easy way to make the everyday learning experiences more personal.

Today there are various initiatives to personalize learning, ranging from software programs to truly learner-centered design for instruction. Teaching students about different learning strategies is an excellent way to make learning more personal and help students have more ownership over their own learning process.

Personalized learning is tailoring learning for each student’s strengths, needs and interests — including enabling student voice and choice in what, how, when and where they learn — to provide flexibility and support to ensure mastery of the highest standards possible.[1]

I am always a little worried with the -ized ending in the words when we discuss education because it often implies someone (or something) else than the student to make decisions about their learning. My biggest take-away from the quote is the increased student voice and choice, because it IS their learning experience we are talking about.  Experience is such a subjective phenomenon that it can’t be standardized. What we can do as teachers, is to empower, help and support the learning process, and provide more choices and more tools for our students. Learning is a personal endeavour. The strategies we recommend to our students should reflect that fact!

Emphasizing personal learning approach is not a new fad. APA has emphasized the importance of personal 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 that document!

The Learner-Centered 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.

Changing the focus from universal delivery of information (i.e. traditional teacher-centered educational model) to learner-centered or personal learning approach (i.e. learning facilitation) is the first step.  Then, changing assessment and grading to reflect students’ learning process and engaging in non-punitive assessment model is the second step.

This is the beginning of Learning Strategies blog posts. I hope these learning strategies will help you to help your students.

 

🙂

Nina

 

—–

[1] Patrick, S., Kennedy, K., & Powell, A. (2013). Mean what you say: Defining and integrating personalized, blended and competency education. Report, October.

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

 

Self-efficacy for deeper learning

28 Apr

While trying to think how to best support my adult learners and help them to have stronger self-efficacy beliefs, I realized that I had to figure out the differences and similarities between efficacy and other similar concepts.

We all have an academic self-concept. Often this is an aggregated judgment of our perceived ability in an academic domain, based on our past learning performance. [1]  I am thinking of all the times when I have heard a student say that they are not good at math or languages, or that they are poor test-takers. Academic self-concept is our self-perception of our skills and competencies.  These beliefs can be either empowering or restrictive for deeper learning.

Learning achievement is firmly tied into learning dispositions, which is the way we all as students engage in and relate to the learning process. Sometimes dispositions are shrunk to the word “attitude”, which seems quite inadequate to describe all the different processes related to how we choose engage in learning experiences. Deep engagement in learning is a function of a complex combination of learners’ identities, dispositions, values, attitudes and skills [2].

The American Psychological Association uses the concept of emotional well-being to describe parts of school satisfaction and being successful in learning [3]:

The components of emotional well-being include sense of self (self-concept, self-esteem), a sense of control over oneself and one’s environment (self-efficacy, locus of control), general feelings of well-being (happiness, contentment, calm), and capacity for responding in healthy ways to everyday stresses (coping skills).

Fortunately, self-efficacy develops throughout our lives. It is not as an isolated construct, but as an important part of our development, dispositions and agency.  It seems that by focusing on strengthening learner agency, we also support other components of deep learning engagement. Students’ subjective learning experiences in the everyday classroom context are the building blocks of their academic self-images and self-efficacy beliefs.

Emphasizing and increasing learner agency is easy: listen to students and provide them with choices for deep learning engagement – no busywork! Distinguishing learning experiences from the experience of being taught is an important starting point. When students have meaningful learning experiences, this contributes to their school satisfaction, in addition to supporting their self-efficacy.

In a knowledge society learning cannot end with a graduation ceremony. It has to become a personal process of growth in order to engage with the change that constantly occurs in the modern world.  To achieve this, the role of engagement in one’s own learning cannot be overemphasized.

Fortunately, as educators we can support our students’ agency and self-efficacy beliefs. Every day and in every classroom. If we choose to do so. I hope we all do!

 

 

[1] Bong, M., & Skaalvik, E. M. (2003). Academic self-concept and self-efficacy: How different are they really?. Educational psychology review15(1), 1-40.

[2] 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.

[3] Coalition for Psychology in Schools and Education. (2015). Top 20 principles from psychology for preK-12 teaching and learning. American Psychological Association

Learning process and contextual wellbeing

4 Jan

My last blog post was about the importance of reflection, and how it is the best tool for anyone who wants to teach. I try to take my own advice and engage in reflection during my workdays. Supporting adult students’ learning is sometimes harder than supporting the learning of younger students. As adults we have stronger preconceptions about our learning abilities and preferences, based on the previous educational experiences. Sometimes these unwritten rules make effective learning harder.

Today I red about an amazing book and found their website: Contextual Wellbeing is such an important concept for education today! Focusing on important (instead of urgent) improves the outcomes of most processes. Learning process is no exception of this rule. Shifting focus from competitive educational model to equitable educational communities that emphasize contextual wellbeing is the challenge.

Making education better requires a systematic change, and changing focus from learning products to learning process. However, we all can make small changes in our own instructional settings and improve the learning experiences our students have. My common request for my students is that they pay forward the learner-centered education with non-punitive assessment system they have experienced. It is much harder to to change to learning- and learner-centered education if you have not experienced it. We all tend to instruct in the way we were instructed, unless we reflect on our dispositions and practices. Yet, as teachers and faculty we all can take small steps towards this direction by focusing on supporting learners autonomy, relatedness and copetency.

Supporting adult learners includes the same components of respect and compassion as all other teaching, and builds similarly on 3Cs: The cognitive learning approach combined with constructive and cooperative practices that enable effective teaching and meaningful learning.

N3C

 

C1 – Cognitive approach makes supporting adults’ learning easy and effective. Viewing learning as a student-centered and dynamic process where learners are active participants, it strives to understand the reasons behind behavioral patterns. Discussing values and mental models is the first step. Talking about forethought, performance control, and self-reflection helps students to improve their academic performance by learning how to self-regulate their behavior, engagement and learning. Having conversations about the hierarchy of concepts in learning material and providing support to create graphic organizes and mental models is an important part of the learning support. Establishing and resetting process goals and completion goals, as well as discussing conditional goal setting is important!

C2 – Constructive practice emphasizes the learning process and students’ need to construct their own understanding.  Interactions are the basic fabric of learning! Delivered or transmitted knowledge does not have the same emotional and intellectual value. New learning depends on prior understanding and is interpreted in the context of current understanding, not first as isolated information that is later related to existing knowledge. Constructive learning helps students to understand their own learning process and self-regulate and co-regulate their learning in the classroom and beyond. Regular feedback, self-reflection and joint reflection with respect and compassion are important! Teachers’ strong pedagogical content knowledge is a prerequisite for successful constructive practice.

C3 – Cooperative learning is about holistic engagement in the learning process. The guiding principle is to have learning-centered orientation in instruction and support. Students learn from each other and engage in collaborative meaning-making. Every student has their own strengths and areas to grow, and growth mindset is openly discussed in class. Teaching and learning become meaningful for both teacher and students, because there is no need for the power struggle when interactions are based on respect and compassion. From students’ perspective cooperative learning is about respecting the views of others and behaving responsibly while being accountable for your own learning. At best this leads to learning enjoyment, which is a prerequisite for life-long learning: why would we keep on doing something we don’t like? In 21st Century nobody can afford to stop learning.

The discussions I have with my grad students are amazing. Every day I talk with teachers who have so much passion for their work, so strong dedication for making learning better for their students, and such a drive to gain more professional knowledge.  I am privileged to support my students’ learning process by engaging in dialogue with them. Of course, there are also teachers whose goal is just to pass their courses and earn their degree by demonstrating their existing competencies, and the dialogue with these students is different. As a faculty member I respect their strategic learning approach, but also offer opportunities to engage in deeper learning discussions and support their learning process and wellbeing.

The best tool I have found for supporting adult students’ learning process and contextual wellbeing is open and honest communication.  I try to open the dialogue by listening what my students are thinking, and expanding their knowledge of curriculum, instruction and research by communicative interactions. This is what I think pedagogy and andragogy are really about: supporting students’ deeper learning in dialogue.

Reflection is teachers’ best tool

30 Dec

As teachers we know the mechanisms of teaching and learning. In classroom we must choose which instructional practice to use to help our students to learn. What worked yesterday may or may not work today or tomorrow, because learning depends on the classroom situation and context. These decisions are often value judgments. This is why reflection is so crucially important!

Knowledge of the instructional process, learning process, and assessment are the three cornerstones of teaching practice. However, these three create a tad wobbly foundation if we omit the importance of personal and professional reflection. Teaching is work done with our personalities – there is no denying this! Students perceive us as a part of the learning environment, no matter what we do.

How we engage in the instructional process and learning process are the most important things to reflect upon after every workday. (Yes, these are two VERY different processes!) Reflection doesn’t have to be anything very time consuming or fancy (I know how busy teachers can be), but you shouldn’t walk away from your class or lesson without spending a minute thinking about it. Skipping reflection is like closing a word processing program without saving your work!

This is the easiest, fastest, everyday reflection process I know about:

Everyday reflection

Thinking about these three things and making a note about the change will help in future planning sessions. I often email myself things to be remembered, and I have a separate email account just for the notes from myself. Doesn’t matter whether you want record your reflections in a notebook. Just do it!

Reflection gets even better if we get to do it with a colleague. They may have insight into why students behaved differently, or a suggestion for what we might want to change in our teaching practice. Maybe they have tried different instructional strategy in a similar situation, or maybe they have diverse insight into learning process.

Joint reflection requires lots of trust. Exposing our own (perceived) weakness to a colleague requires a safe and collaborative working environment. While the advice from friends and colleagues is very helpful, the ultimate instructional choices must be our own and align with our personal values and dispositions. Thinking about our own pedagogical knowledge and pedagogical content knowledge is the base for making value judgments about instructional strategies and how we support students’ learning process. Instruction must fit into the classroom culture. (This is also the reason why exporting Finnish education as a product is not possible – learning is always situational and contextual.)

As teachers we are engaging in lifelong learning. Not only because education changes when culture changes, but also to update our own competence.  I don’t know any teacher whose thinking about the profession has not changed since the day they started teaching.

If you haven’t made a New Years resolution yet, why not give reflective practice a try?

 

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[1] p. 255 in Guerriero, S., & Révai, N. (2017). Knowledge-based teaching and the evolution of a profession. In S. Guerriero (Ed.). (2017). Educational Research and Innovation: Pedagogical Knowledge and the Changing Nature of the Teaching Profession (pp. 253-269). OECD Publishing.

This whole book and many others about recent educational research are freely available for online reading  on OECD site:  Centre for Educational Research and Innovation

 

 

Teachers’ Pedagogical Knowledge

8 Sep

Sometimes we have too narrow view of the teaching profession. Successful teaching is so much more than just delivering the curriculum or course, or lecturing about the content.

There are several necessary competencies for anyone who wants to teach – whether in early learning, K-12, higher ed, or in the training department of a business.  In OECD Teacher Knowledge Survey (TKS) these competencies were divided into three dimensions: instructional process, learning process, and assessment [1]. It makes very much sense to keep these three separate from each other, because they relate to different aspects of teaching-learning interaction. Instructional process is the part of delivering information, learning process is where the learning actually happens, and assessment is where the results of the learning process are measured. The table below shows the competencies in their respective dimensions.

TPK Sonmark JPG

It is important to remember that the instructional process and learning process are two different things: instruction is about delivering information and learning is about acquiring it and elaborating [2], so that the information becomes learners’ subjective knowledge, which obviously is different for each individual student. This is why we should consider learning objectives to be just guidelines showing us what is the basic competency level.

The “real” learning often happens after studying has been done, and the newly gained knowledge is used in real-life settings and combined with all existing knowledge and experiences of the student. This is what “deep learning” means: reconstructed personal understanding of the topic.

While it is great to have excellent content knowledge about the topic you are teaching, it is only one part of the pedagogical (or andragogical) knowledge needed for good teaching. Building skills to support students’ learning process is a crucial part of teachers’ professional development. Acquiring the scientific knowledge of learning process, attributions, dispositions and development is a big part of keeping teaching competency updated, to avoid falling into minimazing learning to become a product to be displayed.

When learning is predominantly perceived to be a product (essay, test, project, exam, etc.), the emphasis lies on instruction and (standardized) measurements of “learning”, where each student is expected to  possess the same knowledge as evidence of teaching-learning interaction being effective.  What if student X already possessed the knowledge before starting the class/course/training? What are we really measuring in this case? Certainly not the quality of learning or teaching!

Effective use of teachers’ pedagogical knowledge includes planning of instruction to support the information delivery (whether flipped, direct instruction or some other form of exposing students to the content), construction of safe and supportive learning environment where students can self-regulate and focus on the acquisition and elaboration process of their new knowledge, and non-punitive assessment methods to measure students’ individual learning processes. This certainly is NOT a one-size-fits-all-approach for education or training, but much more effective and enjoyable learning experience for both students and teachers.

The knowledge dynamics of teaching profession have already changed when the infromation era began. Today teacher learning should focus on all areas of pedagogical knowledge, emphasize connecting reseearch to practice, and support teachers’ ownership of their practice [3].

 

Please see the other blog posts about this topic:

Deep Learning   focuses on understanding connections in the contect, and aims to create permanent knowledge studenture by relating new information with existing one. This is a learning approach that can be fostered among learers of all ages.

Learning: Process or product?  Learning happens all the time, everywhere, yet we try to make formal learning different from all other learning experiences. Maybe we shouldn’t.

Self-Determination in Learning  is like SDT in any other situation: it requires autonomy, relatedness and competency. This is also the premise of gamification to work in education.

Importance of Choices Having choices is the prerequisite for ownership. Optimal level of structure and choicesin classroom increases meaningful learning experiences and teacher-student interactions.

Learner Agency  improves the quality of students’ engagement in their own learning process. Without engagemnt there is not much learning happening.

 

 

[1] 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

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

[3] Révai, N., & Guerriero, S. (2017). Knowledge dynamics in the teaching profession.  In S. Guerrera (Ed.).  Pedagogical knowledge and the changing nature of the teaching profession, 37-72.  OECD Publishing  (the whole book is available for download)