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What Learner-Centered Education Really Means

16 May

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

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

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

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 We are not clones and should not be treated like ones, so it is important to abandon the outdated factory model, where learning is seen to be a product (of instruction and testing).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

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

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

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

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

How can I help and support your learning process today?

Teachers’ learning process has three dimensions

5 Nov

Who dares to teach must never cease to learn.

~John Cotton Dana

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

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

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

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

3d teacher competence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to enjoy learning?

25 Jul

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finnish National Core Curriculum.

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

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

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

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

Learner-centered education

Is learning a product or process?

Engaging student in their own learning process

Choosing How to Teach

References:

[1]  Summarized from the APA Work Group of the Board of Educational Affairs (1997, November). Learner-centered psychological principles: Guidelines for school reform and redesign. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.  http://www.jodypaul.com/lct/lct.psychprinc.html  and  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Student-centered_learning

3Cs for 2020

2 Aug

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

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

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

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

C1 – Cooperation is the foundation for successful online learning – we just can’t hold people accountable over the distance, so spending time in trying to do that is wasted effort and time. Students always have agency: a choice about their own beliefs and actions. But, we can support students’ learning process and help them learn (instead of focusing on teaching). Getting rid of the “sage on the stage” thinking and becoming the “guide on the side” is a great way to start building a cooperative practice. Cooperation in the beginning of a school year looks like this: Provide emotional support for students by validating concerns and offering indivualized help, continuously showing positive regard. Offer help every day. Repeat offering help and support every day. Emotionally safe learning environment is the first premise for effective learning. If students are scared or worried, learning is not their highest mental priority, surviving is.  3C-framework is built on cooperation, and uses constructive and cognitive instructional approaches.Constructive learning design supports students’ learning process. Make sure to balance the three dimensions of teachers’ pedagogical knowledge: instructional process, learning process and assessment – in physical classroon the instructional process can easily become overemphasized. Now is the time to change that! Build flexible learning entities from the curricula that make sense to students and remember that these can easily integrate two subjects! Build ongoing feedback to keep the learning process going – shared documents, portfolios, blog posts, presentations, videos, etc., emphasizing the open-ended nature of students’ learning. Remember to share a clear rubric with students! [Check this post about student-centerd assessment practices!]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I hope you enjoy!

🙂

Nina

Other posts about 3Cs and supporting learning process:

3 Superior online strategies

Is learning process or product

Teaching dispositions

Self-determination

Learning-centered education

References:

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

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

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.

 

How to Support Transformative Learning

22 Oct

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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. 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)

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.