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Learner agency thrives in an emotionally safe learning environment

11 Apr

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

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

3Cs for 2020

2 Aug

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I hope you enjoy!

🙂

Nina

 

Other posts about 3Cs and supporting learning process:

3 Superior online strategies

Is learning process or product

Teaching dispositions

Self-determination

Learning-centered education

 

 

References:

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

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

 

The Power of Positive Regard

1 Mar

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

The table categories (genuineness, unconditional positive regard and empathetic understanding) are also important parts to my 3C- approach to learning and teaching.  The way I do it combines the cognitive and constructive practices in a cooperative learning environment. Cognitive practice includes helping students to learn about learning, but also become more knowledgeable of their own worldview, thinking and metacognitive skills.  Constructive learning and teaching focus on collaborative meaning-making, gaining skills and understanding concepts. Cooperative teaching and learning build the emotionally safe learning environment, where interactions are held in high value, students can ask questions and engage in non-punitive assessments that support the learning process

Cognitive, constructive and cooperative learning in a Venn diagram.

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

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

 

 

—–

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

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

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

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

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

 

Learning Strategies – part 1

22 Jul

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

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

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

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

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

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

Emphasizing personal learning approach is not a new fad. APA has emphasized the importance of personal learning since 1990 by highlighting the learner-centered approach and 2015 updating the approach to Top 20 principles for PreK-12 education. I wish every teacher had a copy of that document!

The Learner-Centered Principles apply to all learners, in and outside of school, young and old.  Learner-centered is also related to the beliefs, characteristics, dispositions, and practices of teachers – practices primarily created by the teacher.When teachers and their practices function from an understanding of the knowledge base delineated in the Principles, they:

(a) include learners in decisions about how and what they learn and how that learning is assessed

(b) value each learner’s unique perspectives

(c) respect and accommodate individual differences in learners’ backgrounds, interests, abilities, and experiences, and

(d) treat learners as co-creators and partners in the teaching and learning process.

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

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

 

🙂

Nina

 

—–

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

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

 

Self-efficacy for deeper learning

28 Apr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

[2] Shum, S. B., & Crick, R. D. (2012, April). Learning dispositions and transferable competencies: pedagogy, modelling and learning analytics. In Proceedings of the 2nd international conference on learning analytics and knowledge (pp. 92-101). ACM.

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

Teachers’ Pedagogical Knowledge

8 Sep

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

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

TPK Sonmark JPG

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Please see the other blog posts about this topic:

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

Self-determination and learning process

12 Aug

People are curious by nature. This curiosity is a great reason for learning something new. Sometimes, we as teachers, work against this natural flow of learning and end up in a situation where students resist learning. Here are 5 rules for avoiding this mistake:

  1. Build a classroom climate that supports learning. This can be done by engaging in frequent discussion about how subjective learning is, and how everyone learns and understands in a unique way – based on their previous knowledge and experiences. Provide choices for students to engage in learning and demonstrate their competence.
  2. Help students to choose to learn. Often students are mandated to attend school, which doesn’t create a great starting point for cooperation, however, providing opportunities for autonomy, competence and relatedness fosters engagement and motivation to learn (as argued in SDT – self determination theory). Validating students’ concerns and opinions helps to engage in open and honest communications. Students are in your class to learn. You are there to help them to learn. You didn’t mandate them to attend school. Try to step away from the power struggle of why, to making the classtime as meaningful as possible.
  3. Avoid rewards and punishments. They reduce the intrinsic motivation to learn and point students’ focus towards getting a reward or avoiding a punishment. All time and effort placed in creating a fair rewarding system is time away from the most important thing in classroom: learning. External regulation leads to external locus of control – and what we really want is for students to become self-regulated learners.
  4. Emphasize cooperation. Learning doesn’t happen in a vacuum, it is situational and contextual, which only emphasizes the importance of the rule number 1. Plan for plenty of students’ talking in your lessons. Students learn from each other, and sometimes it is easier for them to understand a concept when another student explains it, just because their vocabulary is similar (as academics we often have lots of teaching jargon in our sentences).
  5. Recognize competence and help the student to move forward. Everyone is on their own learning path, therefore expecting all students to have exactly the same competence is foolish. Provide feedback to influence the outcomes of students’ learning actions towards meaningful growth – this is the essence of Growth Mindset! “Effective teachers who actually have classrooms full of children with a growth mindset are always supporting children’s learning strategies and showing how strategies created that success.” [1]

Self-determination theory discusses motivation, emotion and development. Intrinsic motivation (e.g. doing something because we are interested in doing it) is much stronger predictor for future educational success than extrinsic motivation, which is associated with surface and strategic learning approaches.  The three principles in SDT are:

  • Autonomy – have choices and be an agent of one’s own life and learning
  • Competence – reach goals and move towards meaningful growth
  • Relatedness – connect and interact with others

These are basic human needs. Providing ample opportunities for students to choose, grow and relate – every day, in every class – makes learning easier and teaching more successful.

 


References:

[1] Niemiec, C. P., & Ryan, R. M. (2009). Autonomy, competence, and relatedness in the classroom: Applying self-determination theory to educational practice. School Field7(2), 133-144.

[2] Zimmerman, B. J. (2013). From cognitive modeling to self-regulation: A social cognitive career path. Educational psychologist48(3), 135-147.  Available at researchgate.

[3] Dr. Dweck, 2016,  in an interview with Christine Gross-Loh  https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2016/12/how-praise-became-a-consolation-prize/510845/

Why choices are SO important for learning process

14 Jun

 

While doing my research about learner agency, I interviewed high school seniors about their learning experiences. Students’ common perception regarding learner agency was that they do not have enough choices to engage in their learning during their school days. This makes no sense! Students must learn how to make good choices during their K-12 experiences. That is a major part of human development.

So why don’t we offer enough choices in classroom?

I believe there are many answers to this question. The first that comes to mind is scary: we teach the way we were taught. There is a great chance for behaviorism being the predominant learning theory used in that classroom.  Yet, it is generally accepted that intrinsic motivation is important for successful learning [1]. Trying to build effective instruction is very hard, if we keep on ignoring what research shows about teaching and learning!

Teachers who have experimented with letting students decide which tasks they would work on in the classroom report results of students finishing more tasks and being more engaged. Furthermore, we have decades of educational research about benefits of learner-centered classroom practices being superior to operant conditioning and rote memorization. Students need autonomy to build critical and creative thinking skills that will enable them to practice perspective-taking as a part of their everyday learning experiences [2]. Having choices allows students to perceive that they have control over their own learning – which makes the work they put in to feel a little less of a requirement and a little more personally rewarding.

The other possibility for choices missing from the classroom is that providing choices can be intimidating for the teacher:  it changes the power structure in classroom and shifts some of the responsibility from teacher to the students.

Especially accountability-based educational models tend to vest the power to teachers instead of students, and keep on focusing on instructional effectiveness instead of individual learning process. Often the effectiveness is measured with standardized tests, which easily leads “teaching to the test”, and only measuring the end result of instruction. Yet, even in such educational environment it is possible to embed choices into classroom practices and support students’ interest in learning – which ultimately improves the test scores. This is not a quick fix. But changing the approach to embed individual choices for students is supported by contemporary research finding curiosity being associated with academic achievement [3].

Third common reson for missing choices is the missing vertical alignment from one grade to the next one. Most often in this situation students have less autonomy than their developmental age and stage require. It is logical that kindergarteners need different rules nad less independence than 6 graders or high school students.

In such case students’ developmental stage and classroom environment are incompatible. The theory of stage-environment fit [4] describes the conflict between increased need for learner autonomy (during adolescence) and a rigid learning environment. This can be avoided by helping teachers to collaborate and work together to build a continuum from one grade level to another. Supporting this vertical alignment is important both for the curriculum, so that teachers know what happens in other grade levels, but also for plannig the gradual release of student autonomy throughout school years.

The fourth reason for missing choices stems from viewing students as a group instead of individuals.

I understand, and know from my own experience, how hard it can be to make the learning experience personal for each individual student. But, when we apply the one-size-fits-all approach in instruction based on students’ chronological age, we are grossly ignoring their personal characteristics. Some students are more mature than others. Certainly there are milestones in development, some of those built into legislation, like getting your dricers license. What has always surprised me is the lack of autonomy in classroom for students who get to drive their own cars! I would rather see students learning to make good choices in the classroom than behind the wheel. Optimal level of structure and choices in classroom increases meaningful learning experiences and teacher-student interactions.

Having choices is the prerequisite for ownership.

Self-determination is part of being a human [5]. We can see that in toddlers who suddenly disagree with everything. When my 4 kids were young and exhibited very stroing will, I tried to remind myself how great it is that they know what they want, because that is such an important step in development.  🙂  Self-determination relates directly to intrinsic motivation (here is an image of the continuum).  Students tend to learn better when they are intrinsically interested in their studies, hence the need to provide autonomy and choices within the classroom structure. When students have choices they have lesser need to rebel against learning. And, quite frankly, students more often rebel against teaching than learning. During the K-12 students are still in the age where they are learning everything, all the time – and using what they learn to build their worldviews. School is –or shouldn’t be – an exception of this!

Learning to make good choices is one of the very important parts of growing up. As teachers we cannot step back and think that our everyday interactions with students wouldn’t matter in the way they perceive their ability of making good choices. Like everything else in the maturation process, choosing is a skill that can and must be practiced and learned. But, we cannot punish students harshly for the mistakes they make during learning, because that will stop their interest of engaging in their own learning process. Therefore, it is important to use a non-punitive assessment system that supports learning and trying to learn.

Encouraging and empowering students to learn more on their own can create trajectories where classroom learning is extended to students’ lives outside of the formal education. Being interested in one’s own learning is crucially important for deeper learning!

 

 

 

[1] 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 bulletin134(2), 270.

[2]  American Psychological Association. Coalition for Psychology in Schools and Education.(2015). Top 20 principles from psychology for preK–12 teaching and learninghttps://www.apa.org/ed/schools/teaching-learning/top-twenty-principles.pdf

[3] Shah, P.E., Weeks, H.M. Richrds, B & Kaciroti, N.(2018) Early childhood curiosity and kindergarten reading and math academic achievement. Pediatric Research doi:10.1038/s41390-018-0039-3

[4] Eccles, J. S., Midgley, C., Wigfield, A., Buchanan, C. M., Reuman, D., Flanagan, C., & Mac Iver, D. (1993). Development during adolescence: The impact of stage-environment fit on young adolescents’ experiences in schools and in families. American psychologist48(2), 90.  and   Bollmer, J., Cronin, R., Brauen, M., Howell, B., Fletcher, P., & Gonin, R. (2016). stage–environment fit theory. AZ of Transitions, 160.

[5] 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.

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.