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What Learner-Centered Education Really Means

16 May

Learner-centered and emotionally safe pedagogy is an attitude or disposition. It is not a handbook of tips and tricks. It is being physically and emotionally present when a student needs us. It is also about focusing on the learning process instead of the product (worksheet, assessment, test score, etc.). It means  engaging in a dialogue, offering help and support, and answering the question every student asks: What’s in it for me? 

Personalization is one of the modern approaches in learning and teaching. However, it is important to remember that designing great learning experiences doesn’t require any special apps, programs or gadgets! We want it to based on Learner-centered pedagogy because it has a long history and it has proven to be very effective. At the simplest form learner-centered means that we are are focusing everything around students needs. (Image below: my starburst mirror in the making)

When I was making my starburst mirror few years back, I was thinking that this is how student-centered learning really works: keeping students in the center and carefully building the individualized support around them. This means purposefully designing the instructional process (teaching methods, lesson planning and classroom management) to meet students’ needs, focusing on supporting students’ individual learning process (learning and development and SEL) and using assessment data to support students’ individual learning processes. Please see TPK for more info about pedagogical knwoledge.

Some students need more support than others. We are not clones and should not be treated like ones, so it is important to abandon the outdated factory model, where learning is seen to be a product (of instruction and testing). To me, one the cringiest examples of the product thinking is seeing 28 pieces of identical “artwork” on classroom walls. Yes, students had learned to follow directions and create a copy of something, but the scary truth is that we will never creat the same competency when following somone else’s thinking. For deep learning to happen we must engage in our own thinking – this is what I learned while working for Head Start. Children were amazingly creative and learned so much every day while playing.

A major problem is that we still talk about learning and teaching like they were just one process. But learning and teaching are two different things! They are two different processes that are often put into the same frame of reference (education) and sometimes even happen in the same physical space (classroom) – but it would be foolish for us to imagine that students only learn at school! The “real” learning often happens after studying has been done, and the newly gained knowledge is used in real-life situations and combined with all the existing knowledge and experiences student have. This is what “deep learning” means: reconstructed personal understanding of the topic.

When we perceive learning as an in-built force within our students, the teaching job became instantly easier! Being a facilitator for learning and guiding  students to build their own knowledge is a huge step towards supporting learner agency. And it is truly learner-centered! 

We want to strive towards the next step in education: schools evolving to places where knowledge is socially constructed and contextually reinvented. We can do this is ANY given classroom  by offering choices for students and making their learning more meaningful. But this also presents the need for mutual intentionality and accountability – students coming to school with the intention to learn, teachers with the intention to support students’ individual learning. Not just meeting the standard of the learning objective of the day. Please understand that I am NOT against standards! But meeting them cannot be the ONLY goal of education.

The one thing that sustains my professional practice after a decade in Higher Ed is that I get to talk and email with my students, one at the time, and ask the most important question:

How can I help and support your learning process today?

Dialogues that enhance learning

10 Nov

Engaging in a dialogue is essential for learning. Knowledge construction (=learning) cannot occur in a vacuum, but happens in interactions [1]. Too often we think that all classroom discussions equal dialogue. They do not.

Conversation and discussion are very broad concepts to describe (educational) interactions. Debates are more specific interactions for presenting and supporting an argument, a genre of dialogue focusing on challenging assumptions and knowledge. Argumenting discussion can objectify a perspective thus supporting reasoning and understanding [2]. It is still a discussion, not a dialogue.

Classroom dialogue refers to the productive interactions that support students’ deeper learning in the classroom. It is not about winning an argument, but helping students to understand the concepts and construct the meaning of the topic to be learned. Similarly, classroom dialogue is not about an “inquiry” where students will end up in predetermined conclusion. The traditional classroom talk in the form of IRF (initiation-response-feedback/follow-up) or IRE (initiation-response-evaluation) is definitely not about engaging in dialogue, because the range of acceptable answers is very limited. These closed questions reflect behaviorist-objectivist ideology of education where the knowledge is transmitted to students, and their learning is tested with questions and tests. Well-crafted IRF can lead students “through a complex sequence of ideas” [3], but does it really contribute to the productive interactions that help students to engage in deeper learning and craft individual understanding and transferable knowledge based on the information they received during the discussion?

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. Dialogue is very tightly tied to the classroom values and teaching/learning dispositions. In a safe learning environment, where students dare to ask questions and challenge their own beliefs, dialogue can be a very powerful tool for learning.

The essential condition for dialogue to happen is equality. My truth cannot be better than your truth. Dialogue requires openness to rule over the dogma [4], in order to make exploration possible. Sometimes this is a very hard change to make in the classroom situation where the teacher is perceived to be the authority of knowledge. Communicating clearly to students about issues that don’t have one signle correct answer helps students to engage in  dialogue with the teacher and each other. Wondering is often the first step in learning.

Dialogue = authentic conversation. Not a tool for manipulation to get what we want.Dialogue involves multiple dimensions of the classroom reality. Working with the tensions that occur in classroom setting is important to make dialogue possible. Having a non-punitive assessment system is important for fostering dialogue in the classroom. Risk-taking behaviors are not likely to happen in a learning environment where students get punished for submitting a “wrong answer”.  Right and wrong, true and false, are dichotomies that belong to more objectivist pedagogy and official knowledge, and thus are destructive for collaborative meaning-making.

Focusing on concepts instead of details is a viable way to start using the dialogue in the classroom.  It is a great way to help students get engaged in their own learning process.  My favorite definion of dialogue is the following: “Dialogue is about engagement with others through talk to arrive at a point one would not get to alone” . This engagement is easy and enjoyable!  It must be fostered in all education!

🙂

Nina

 

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

[2] (direct citation from Littleton & Howe, 2010, p. 108)  Littleton, K., & Howe, C. (Eds.). (2010). Educational dialogues: Understanding and promoting productive interaction. Routledge.

[3] (direct citation from Littleton & Howe, 2010, p. 4)  Littleton, K., & Howe, C. (Eds.). (2010). Educational dialogues: Understanding and promoting productive interaction. Routledge.

[4] (direct citation from Littleton & Howe, 2010, p. 172)  Littleton, K., & Howe, C. (Eds.). (2010). Educational dialogues: Understanding and promoting productive interaction. Routledge

[5] (direct citation from: Lodge, 2005, p. 134) Lodge, C. (2005). From hearing voices to engaging in dialogue: Problematising student participation in school improvement. Journal of Educational Change, 6(2), 125-146.

Teachers’ learning process has three dimensions

5 Nov

Who dares to teach must never cease to learn.

~John Cotton Dana

Our world today is very different from the dawn of the industrial world where school systems were created, so the way we prepare students for their unknown future should be changed. Well-rounded contemporary education aims for students (and teachers) to achieve (and improve) the global competencies that are to:

  • examine the world, including local and intercultural issues
  • understand and appreciate diverse perspectives
  • effectively communicate ideas and interact respectfully with others
  • take responsible action toward sustainability and collective well-being

Today information is available everywhere – hand held devices, computers, books – and in various forms – text, sounds, images, movies, infographs, social media, and more.  This means the teacher cannot be seen as the sole source of information, but we must become the facilitators of students’ individual learning. We will guide their learning process and provide support for making good choices about how to use all the information we have. Changing the teaching profession to support individual learning process instead of just delivering information must also change the way we think about teacher training and professional development.

Just like their students, teachers have diverse needs for their learning and professional development, and are entitled to their own learner-centered training experiences. Only by strengthening teachers’ learning process we can truly improve their professional competence and ultimately the learning experiences pupils will have.  Standards alone are not the solution – there must be room for personalization for all learners regardless their age or educational level. Engaging in the individual learning process enables both teachers and students to build up from standards and achieve the global competencies to thrive in the modern world.

3d teacher competence

All training and professional development (PD) should include the three dimensions of teachers’ professional competency: teaching and instruction, pedagogical knowledge and global reflection.  All three dimensions are important and contribute to the teaching-learning situations. The colour in the thirds deepens with layers of professionalism, produced by the teachers’ ongoing learning process. You probably notice how the third part, global reflection, seems to be drifting apart from the two others? That is unfortunately happening too often in training and PD. But excluding global reflection makes it significantly harder for teachers to achieve excellent learning facilitation skills and thrive in their profession.  In Teacher’s Pedagogical Knowledge (TPK) the global reflection includes Evaluation and diagnosis procedures and Data & Research literacy. But I think it really is a broader concept including the global competencies!

Too often teacher PD stays on the first dimension – the practical and concrete classroom practice to deliver lessons. Teaching and instruction trainings and PD sessions talk about the curricula or ready assessments without supporting teachers’ thinking about the pedagogical choices that would be best for their students. How would you incorporate the global competencies into the classroom experience, if everything is designed fro a standard population and scripted by someone else? And how do you think students will learn to investigate the world, recognize diverse perspectives, communicate effectively and take action to improve things if they are not active participants in their own learning? It they are just presented the curriculum?  If they just arrive to school to be instructed and assessed instead of engaging in their own learning with the curiosity they have towards the world?

The underlying instructional philosophies and curricular choices are very important for effective learning experiences! The global competencies are not compatible with the basic behaviorist one-size-fits-all education. We must dig deeper into teachers’ learning!

Pedagogical  knowledge is the middle dimension of teachers’ learning process, which means it needs to be visited and revisited all the time in order to tie the rapid instructional decisions to the theoretical background we have about teaching, learning and understanding. According to this infograph at TeachThought blog teachers make 1500 educational decisions each day. Solid pedagogical knowledge helps us as teachers to become aware about our own choices in classroom practices. With solid knowledge of how learning happens and how it can best be supported we are taking a huge leap towards making learning personal and enabling students to become accountable for their own learning. No classroom or group of students is identical to another, so no practices should be adopted without thinking how well they fit into this particular class or group.

The third dimension of professional learning – global reflection – combined with the pedagogical knowledge helps teachers to decide what strategies are the best fit in the classroom. For educators it is really important to think about the question “why?”. Teaching dispositions, values and  philosophy belong to global reflection, as well as didactic design, even though it is terminology used mostly in Scandinavia. This third dimension in teachers’ learning process and professionalism is s the big picture of teaching and learning, and how different learning theories become alive in our classroom. We only see what we are ready to perceive, which is why we must have solid knowledge of educational research and know how to use assessment as learning and assessment for learning in addition to assesment of learning. Awareness is the first step in everything.  Changing between the big picture and details helps us analyse teaching and learning, because it relates to the ability of taking different viewpoints to the same issue and trying to see what others see. For teachers this is essential, so that they can offer information in student-sized chunks and relate it to students’ previous knowledge, and thus support students’ learning process.

The three dimensions of teachers’ learning process (concrete instruction, pedagogical knowledge and values/research behind it)  are present in all teaching-learning situations. They can be visible in the choices and interactions, or veiled in hidden expectations.

I want to encourage all teachers and instructors to engage in value discussions and joint reflection with colleagues and students to strengthen their own professional competence. PD is very insufficient for us teachers to be effective in our profession, because  it most often is that one-size-fits-all training. Please be proactive and create a PLC (Professional Learning Community) with your colleagues to deepen your own competencies in all three dimensions of teachers’ learning process!

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.

3Cs for 2020

2 Aug

Cooperative learning environment with constructive learning design and cognitive learning 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. It is quite simple: just focus on emphasizing learning instead of instruction. 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 engagement and learning (check this [2] ASCD blog). Deep learning is about students acquiring transferable knowledge and skills through their learning experiences – therefore it is crucial to make differentiation and indvidualization a standard practice in every classroom (not just in special education!).

Instruction that is not personalized leads to students choosing the less beneficial engagement approaches: 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). Both of these 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 for switching from focusing on instruction to focusing on learning.

C1 – Cooperation is the foundation for successful online learning – we just can’t 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 and help them learn (instead of focusing on teaching). 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 learning 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 approach 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.  It is not an event, but an ongoing process (Stahl et al., 2010). Online learning presents great opportunities for individual and productive learning interactions. therefore learning experience design should be built around intereactions. 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.

When we consider the first part of learning process to be interactions between the learner, content, and environment, and the second part being internal acquisition and elaboration (Illeris, 2003, p. 398), it seems obvious that the core strategies for great online education focus on supporting these two processes. I have found the following three superior strategies to be the most helpful ones during the last 8 years of my online practice.

  1. Strive for user-friendly content delivery – make it easy for students to know what to do and where to find necessary information.
  2. Decidedly support students’ self-regulated learning – the learning process is very individual and we can help students to design better learning experiences for themselves.
  3. Favor asynchronous learning activities – we want to differentiate students learning experiences, and accommodate differnet needs and previous knowledge with asynchronous activities.

Learning is such a personal experience. When our students have successful learning experiences they are more likely to want to learn more. The three strategies above agree with the framework of Teacher’s Pedagogical Knowledge (Sonmark, et al., 2017), addressing all three areas of our necessary 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). More about the strategies below!

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 self-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 syllabus 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 willing and available to help.

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 our 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!, because students may not have any experience of designing their own learning experiences. 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). The third phase of learning process also relies on rubrics 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 chat or a phone/webcam 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.

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 than others. 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.

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.

😊

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. (2003). Towards a contemporary and comprehensive theory of learning. International journal of lifelong education22(4), 396-406.

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.

Stahl, S. M., Davis, R. L., Kim, D. H., Lowe, N. G., Carlson, R. E., Fountain, K., & Grady, M. M. (2010). Play it again: the master psychopharmacology program as an example of interval learning in bite-sized portions. CNS spectrums15(8), 491-504.

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

 

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[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