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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. It really is about designing good learnign experiences.

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 design good learning experiences and support students’ learning process are crucial parts of teachers’ professional development. Acquiring and updating the scientific knowledge of learning process, attributions, dispositions and human development is a major part of keeping teaching competency updated. I beleive this professional learning is the only way to avoid falling into minimazing learning to become an one-time evenr or a product to be displayed.

When learning is predominantly perceived to be a product (essay, test, project, exam, etc.), the emphasis lies on instruction/infrotmation delivery instead of individual learning experience, 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 starts with planning for students’ learning experiences. The next part is to decide 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. (2003). Towards a contemporary and comprehensive theory of learning. International journal of lifelong education22(4), 396-406.

[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)

Feedback for deeper learning

13 Dec

There are times when successful learning requires interactions between the student and the teacher/instructor.  Often this is done in the form of feedback.  As educators we should cherish these moments, because at best feedback is an opportunity to have an authentic dialogue with the student, which easily leads to a deeper learning experience.  At the worst case scenario, receiving feedback makes the student think s/he was unfairly judged, which is an experience that may lead students to hate learning.

Feedback for deeper learning is information about students’ learning process and meeting the goal.  In all levels of education feedback is an essential element in guiding students’ knowledge construction. Transparent feedback and assessment practices increase the quality of cognitive learning and help students to have better understanding their own learning process. According to APA, effective feedback must be clear, explanatory, and timely (2015, p. 12).  Engaging in dialogue with students about feedback is an important – but often forgotten –  part of of teaching-learning interactions.  This dialogue is the magic ingredient that supports deep learning in all levels of education, from preK to higher education and professional development.

Feedback for deeper learning is not evaluation, assessment, labels, praise, or providing advice. Evaluation is a formal judgment about students’ work, often summative, and as such doesn’t function as feedback and supporting the learning process. Feedback is not assessment, either, because assessments focus on meeting competencies or goals/objectives, whereas feedback must focus on learning and guiding students to take action to meet the goals and build the competencies.  Good and timely feedback enables students to “seek better strategies to complete the task” (Hattie & Timperley, 2007, p. 86). Grades, therefore, should never be considered to be feedback, because they are given after the learning is done, and there is nothing students can do to improve their learning.

Feedback is not about labeling students’ work   with attributes like “good job”, “nice work”, “sloppy”, or “needs more” – weather in person or as written on students’ product (typically in the margin of an essay?).  To enhance learning, feedback must be provided during the learning process, instead of only measuring the end result, the product (task, paper, project, etc.). Whether the label is positive (praise) or negative is irrelevant, because labels in education may have a detrimental effect of students’ academic self-concept and their self-efficacy. This is exactly why it is essential to have a strong informal feedback system to support the meaningfulness of learning and teaching. Bandura and Locke emphasize the importance of self-reflection and agency as a theory that by “embodying feed-forward self-regulation differs from control theories rooted solely in a negative feedback control system aimed at error correction” (2003, p. 87).

Feedback is an essential part of the learning process. Constructing learning environments and feedback around the fact that your students can affect their own learning helps them to become better learners for the rest of their lives. I cannot emphasize this enough! Regardless of the level of education, preK-12, college, university, workplace, or anything else, supportive feedback changes the way students think about their own learning process. Zimmerman call this “calibration” while talking about self-regulated learning (2013. p. 145).  Both agency and self-regulation grow stronger with timely feedback, because it helps students to adjust their expectations and modify the plan to learn.

Giving effective feedback is not always easy. However, it is a skill that can (and should) be learned and taught. The basic principle in effective feedback is: Mistakes are a proof of trying. Acknowledging the positive in students’ attempts to learn gives the appropriate kind of feedback to keep students willing to try new things, and make new choices. Being afraid of making the wrong choice prevents students (or employees) from learning anything meaningful.

Moving away from labeling students or their skills, and starting to point out the progress they show in their learning process is a great way to start changing the feedback practices and emphasize deeper learning. Non-punitive assessment system is a requirement for feedback to support deeper learning.

The first step is to have a clear idea of the most important target for the feedback and an understanding of the desired outcome of the dialogue. Using open ended questions to get students’ input on how they see their own progress helps to figure out where and why they may struggle. Sometimes just inquiring about the next steps the student is planning to take and verbally situating those into the bigger picture of their learning experience or task completion is enough. When students are thinking about their own learning plan they are already engaging in deeper learning.

Please remember: only those mistakes that are allowed to be corrected can help students to learn more!

 

 

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

Bandura, A., & Locke, E. A. (2003). Negative self-efficacy and goal effects revisited. Journal of applied psychology, 88(1), 87.

Hattie, J., & Timperley, H. (2007). The power of feedback. Review of educational research, 77(1), 81-112.

Zimmerman, B. J. (2013). From cognitive modeling to self-regulation: A social cognitive career path. Educational psychologist, 48(3), 135-147.  Available at researchgate.

Deep learning for teachers

4 Nov

 

It easier to teach something you have experienced firsthand. This is why teachers’ learning should reflect the ways we wish their students to learn. Instruction is situated in one’s own experiences.

I am not talking about activities in professional development, but those same elements that provide deeper learning experiences for students in classroom:

  • focusing on transferable understanding,
  • providing opportunities to reflect,
  • relating new information to previous knowledge, and
  • bridging theory with practice.

Truly focusing on life-long learning.

Teachers as learning professionals still need occasional reminders about how to support their own learning process, because in the professional world the expectations for showing competence by generating learning products (evidence, projects, artifacts, exams, etc.) sometimes take over the deep learning process, and thinking about how learning really happens, and how it can be supported on personal level. Knowledge of metacognitive skills is an essential tool for anyone who wants to teach.

Metacognitive awareness includes the knowledge and perceptions we have about ourselves, understanding the requirements and processes of completing learning tasks, and knowledge of strategies that can be used for learning.  Teaching metacognitive knowledge and skills is an important part of supporting deep learning. We as teachers should have extensive knowledge and skill to embed metacognitive strategies into our everyday practices.

Just like classroom learning experiences, also teacher learning should be designed to support self-regulated learning (SRL) practices.  SRL refers to students’ cognitive-constructive skills and empowering independent learning, focusing on strengthening the thoughts, feelings and actions that are used to reach personal goals (Zimmerman, 2000). This approach aligns well with the research of adult learning, which highlights the use of constructive-developmental theories (e.g. Mezirow, 2000; Jarvis, 2009; Stewart & Wolodko, 2016).

Supporting students’ SRL becomes easier to embed into instruction when we have first practiced in our own learning. This cannot be achieved by following a script or curriculum book, but situating the knowledge of pedagogy in classroom practice.

Using SRL as a chosen approach in professional development or other learning opportunities helps to recognize our own fundamental beliefs about learning. These beliefs, that either help or hurt learning process, are always present in both teaching and learning situations.

Following the three steps of SRL helps us to approach learning tasks within their context, and first create a functional plan and choose learning strategies to support learning process. Then, we will want to monitor our own performance and learning process during the second part, performance phase. This is where the knowledge of deep learning strategies is very important, because sometimes instruction and design reward surface processes, and we might want to change our strategies to still engage in deep learning. In the third phase, self-reflection, is the most important one, but often forgotten. Without engaging in self-assessment about our own learning process, it would be hard to do things differently next time, if needed. Yet, the whole idea of using metacognitive knowledge to improve deep learning relies in dealing with our own perception and managing our emotional responses, so that our beliefs about deep learning are strengthened. Some beliefs are detrimental for deep learning, and for example mentally punishing ourselves (for failure, procrastination, etc.) leads toward using surface learning processes.

Instructional approaches that emphasize choice, learning ownership, knowledge construction, and making connections are more likely to facilitate deep learning and understanding – for teachers and students alike.

 

 

Here is more information about SRL for adult online learners  in a PDF form.

 

Jarvis, P. (2009). Learning to be a person in society. In K. Illeris (Ed.) Contemporary theories of learning: learning theorists… in their own words. London: Routledge.

Mezirow, J. (2000). Learning as Transformation: Critical Perspectives on a Theory in Progress. The Jossey-Bass Higher and Adult Education Series. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass

Stewart, C., & Wolodko, B. (2016). University Educator Mindsets: How Might Adult Constructive‐Developmental Theory Support Design of Adaptive Learning?. Mind, Brain, and Education10(4), 247-255.

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.

 

 

Deep Learning

19 Aug

Are your students engaging in deep or shallow learning?

I believe “learning loss” is a made up concept. Think about it: you still remember many things and concepts  you learned as a kid, right? Only those things that had no significance for you have been forgotten. Yet, we still seem to think that what is taught is also learned. That could not possibly be true! Understanding subjectivity and learning ownership is very important for every educator.

Deep Learning and Shallow Learning (which is also called Surface Learning) are fundamentally different. 

The following  short comparison explains the differences:   

wp-1503129883296.
The difference between the two types of learning is huge, isn’t it? Each of us utilizes shallow learning sometimes. Usually with subjects or topics that carry little significance to us but that we still need to learn to some extent, or maybe with something that we don’t expect to need after a while.

Shallow learning can be seen as a chosen learning strategy and is a well accepted choice in certain situations. What scares me is that some students use shallow learning as their only strategy to learn or to even approach subjects to be learned. This inevitably leads to underachievement, and of course also losing the memorized bits of information, which we then call “learning loss”. Yet, it is worth noticing that some strategic learners choose to use shallow learning as their main learning strategy, in order to pass their exams and get good grades, while not being interested in really learning the content.

The educational reality revolves around the fact that what is taught is not necessarily learned. And if the assessment is taken immediately after instruction, the facts and concepts are mainly held in our short term memory. When transfer happens, and students are able to use and apply the learned concepts in other situations, it also means they have been deep learned. Getting there requires collaboration between students and teachers: meaningful instruction from teacher’s part, and buy-in from students’ part.

“What’s in it for me?” is the question every learner asks (more or less knowingly) before engaging in any given task. The answer may be an external reward (grade, certificate, badge, sticker, etc) or intrinsic interest (curiosity, need to know more about the subject, general interest), and this is where intrinsic/extrinsic motivation comes into the equation of teaching and learning.

It seems obvious that shallow learning relates to perceiving learning as a product. Supporting student’s individual learning processes also promotes deep learning!


Original research about deep learning:

Marton, F. & Säljö, R. (1976a). On the qualitative difference in learning I-Outcome and Process. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 46, 4-11.

http://www.psy.gla.ac.uk/~steve/dands/dandstable.html

 

Learner Agency – an important part of Deep Learning

13 Aug

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There are many ways to support agency in the classroom.

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

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

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

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

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

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

More about Learner Agency at Nina’s Notes

 

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

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

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

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

NCS Dissertation PDF

Praise and punishment – two sides of control

17 Nov

It is surprising how often people, who think punishments to be detrimental for learning, still approve praise as an effective tool in education.  How is this possible? Both are based on the concept of superiority and having control over other human beings. Often this power is just artificial authority. Please understand that I am not against classroom management, just the behaviorist regime of it! Using SEL (social-emotional learning) and ensuring student-centered management practices is important!

I know this may sound like semantics, but hear me out! Praise always carries a value judgment, an evaluation, and is based on our personal/professional opinion. Encouragement in the form of feedback is non-judgmental. It points out facts. And in education we want to point out all the things students have learned because we have names for them and also know the big picture of how competencies relate to each other. We know what students need to learn to be successful. Hence: no praise, just facts, please. Alfie Kohn has written much about this!

My current position as a mentor for graduate students pursuing their M.Ed. degrees is delightful: I spend my days supporting my students’ understanding and learning process, but I don’t have to be a gatekeeper (and I don’t have to do any grading, yay!). Mentoring requires a specific disposition: the belief that everyone can learn, and that learning cannot be enhanced by praise and punishment. Now, please don’t get me wrong. Performance can be increased (up to a point) by praising and punishing and pushing students to complete their products, but engaging in one’s own learning process and deeper learning requires self-regulation and self-reflection. We can lead students to that path but we cannot force them to walk it. External control cannot help students forward in the path to self-transformation.

I do remember the time when I still believed in praise and punishment.  I am sure my children remember that, too. And for that I want to apologize to them, wishing that I knew more about learning and development when they were young. Fortunately it is never too later for additional development.  Kegan and Drago-Severson have an excellent framework of adult development.

It hurts my ears when I hear someone talk about praise and growth mindset in the same sentence. The two could not possibly fit together. Praising someone means that they have met an invisible standard, for which we want to extend our approvals as superiors. Rewards and gold stars are just a tangible form of praise. Growth mindset carries the same notion of self-transformation as engaging in the personal learning process. As educators it is important to offer timely feedback for students about their learning. However, praise and feedback should not be mixed. Feedback focuses on the achievement and based on transparent criterion of expectations. Praise is based on hidden expectations or personal opinions. It is a value judgement about the behavior or qualities of another human being.

Every educational institution has their own hidden curriculum – the expectations that are not voiced or written. Often these appear in the form of practices and traditions. Hidden objectives are the hardest to meet. A common coping mechanism to meet hidden expectations is the attempt of pleasing the person at control – whether teacher, professor, boss, or anyone else in the position of power. The damage for the organization gets doubled: the person in control only hears the voice of pleasers and cheerleaders, and the structure becomes skewed with the lack of open and honest dialogue. This can easily lead to cliques in classroom (or workplace) and decreased collaboration.

Those who remember Berne’s Transactional Analysis (TA) will probably recognize the roles of Parent and Child in the praise and punishment situations.  Engaging in dialogue on Adult-Adult level is the most important tool for every educator. Students often fall into the trap of playing the child role, especially if their learning process gets reduced to creating learning products that may have no real-life connections, and if they often face praise and punishments in their learning environment. This can happen to adult students too, especially when their learning motivation is externalized. On the positive side it is fascinating to observe young children to behave with maturity above their years when the human dignity is extended to them and they are offered opportunities to self-regulate.

Fear, force and artificial authority

17 May

Learning and teaching in 21st century should definitely be fueled with something much more than fear, force and artificial authority.  After all we want for students to have strong integrity and self-confidence.  And the curricula and evaluations, in addition to the classroom management practices, have been designed for students to benefit from the time they spend in the school.  Right?

Alas, the history of education is filled with good intentions turned into catastrophies.  When teachers and education policy makers are operating with the objective view of learning in mind, the end result becomes a standardized description of a well performing student (without any individual interests and goals, being a puppet in the system bending to the intractable forces of maximum achievement).  Einstein expressed his views of the principal educational methods being fear, force and artificial authority. (Clark, 1971, p.13)

Einstein

The scary part is that even today, more than one hudred years later, the same methods of fear, force and artificial authority are still well and alive in the schools around the world. Why?

Maybe it is easier to convince students about the importance of doing well on tests by instilling the fear of not being able to get admitted to a reputable college/univeristy/workplace unless the test scores demonstrate brilliance? Maybe it is easier to control student behaviors by displaying artificial authority of being the keeper of the scores or grades?  But, from decades of research and practice we know that students learn better when they learn in an environment that is safe, supportive and collaborative.  And we don’t need “servile helots”, but critical thinkers who will thrive in the 21st century environment where information and choices are more abundant than ever before.

The psychological research and practice have advanced very much during the past century. American Psychological Association has published the Top 20 Principles to be used at schools.  What blows my mind is how few teachers have heard about these, or their predecessor Learner-centered Psychological Principles.  Yet, I consider the APA to be the highest authority of educational psychology in the U.S. and a positive influence in the world in general.

These Top 20 principles have been divided into 5 areas of psychological functioning:

  1. Cognition and learning: How do students think and learn?
  2. Motivation: What motivates students?
  3. Social context and emotional dimensions: Why are social context, interpersonal relations and emotional well-being important to student learning?
  4. Context and learning: How can the classroom best be managed?
  5. Assessment: How can teachers assess student progress?

 

All the 20  principles are displayed below in a table.

Top 20

 

What you do in your classroom – whether online on traditional – is your choice.  The psychological principles are compatible with every subject and every curriculum. Why not give it a try and implement a safe, supportive and collaborative learning environment?

 

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

Clark, R.W. (1971). Einstein: The life and times. New York: World.