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The problem with strategic learning approach

20 Sep

In any given situation where we need to learn something new – whether formal (at school) or informal (anywhere) – we have a choice to make about our own approach to learning it. This approach can be either engaging in deep learning (immersing ourselves to learning for life) or surface learning (memorizing disconnected pieces of information). When we are in formal education (school, college, university) there is also a third approach: strategic learning, which means that we are aiming for a good grade without caring about the content, and forgetting the information as soon as we pass the assessment.

Deep and deeper learning both refer to acquiring transferable knowledge through classroom experiences.  The emphasis is in supporting students’ lifelong learning process.  The term “deep learning” resulted from the original phenomenograhpic research where researchers found out students having different approaches to learning [1]. These approaches describe how learners perceive tasks – either as disconnected pieces of information to be memorized in order to pass the exam (surface learning), or as knowledge to be constructed and understood in order to create new meanings (deep learning).

Deeper learning has been defined by American Institutes for Research as “a set of competencies students must master in order to develop a keen understanding of academic content and apply their knowledge to problems in the classroom and on the job” [2]

We all use the deep and surface learning approaches in different situations. When presented with a learning task, we appraise the value of it, and then decide about our approach. This usually happens very quickly and automatically. What worries me, is that I have met students whose only learning approach seems to be the strategic learning – meaning that they want high grades, but don’t want to really learn the content. These can be very “good” students – always submitting their assignments and assessments in time, often doing extra work to ensure a good grade. But what about the quality of their learning?

Most grading systems appear to reward the strategic approach, which is very problematic because it focuses on extrinsic motivation and external rewards. Students are taught to complete their worksheets and other tasks and pass their tests so that they can get good grades. But why don’t we talk about learning? And being able to use what they learned?

After moving overseas from Finland, I was so surprised to see that my children had homework that was graded. That made no sense to me! As a teacher, how would I know who actually completed that homework assignment, or how much help the student received in completing it? While teaching in Finland the rule for homework was that it must be something that allows students to revisit what they learned at school. Because the idea of homework is to support students’ learning. Not to have them demonstrate their competency.

Making learning more meaningful for students and decreasing the obsession with grading is more important in 2020 than ever before.

Learner-centered instructional strategies will help. Providing choices for students – they can learn same competencies with different tasks, and getting to choose increases intrinsic motivation (game builders know this, btw, and have mastered the ACR – autonomy, competence, and relatedness). TeachThought also has a collection of more learning-centered strategies for instruction.

To make a leap further into learner-centered practices, ask students’ input for planning their learning experiences. Express positive regard. Try competency-based education. Change the assessment to be student-centered and non-punitive!

 

 

[1] Marton, F., & Säljö, R. (1976). On Qualitative Differences in Learning: I—Outcome and
process. British journal of educational psychology, 46(1), 4-11.

[2] Huberman, M., Bitter, C., Anthony, J., & O’Day, J. (2014). The shape of deeper learning: strategies, structures, and cultures in deeper learning network high schools. Findings from the study of deeper learning opportunities and outcomes: Report 1. American Institutes for Research. Retrieved from: http://www.air.org/resource/spotlight-deeper-learning

[3] Bain, K. (2013). Introduction: Growing Deep Learning. Teaching and Learning Together in Higher Education1(8), 1.

Add 5 Elements to Online Education

29 Mar

Creating a productive teaching-learning relationship vial regular interaction is crucial in online education. While communicating in person we use non-verbal cues to understand each other, but over the phone or video we must be more explicit and truly engage in dialogue.  Constructing knowledge cannot occur in a vacuum, and spoken language is much less formal than written language! Engaging in dialogue is essential for learning.

To make online learning better for our students, we must 1) express care, 2) challenge growth, and 3) provide support in our regular interactions. These are the easier, more familiar parts of 5 elements. Just make sure to be available to help via phone, email or video to provide consistent support. But, we also must remember to 4) share power and 5) expand possibilities to fully support the development of our students! These two require deeper dialogues between students and educators because dialogue is collaborative meaning-making by nature. Explanation of these 5 Elements is attached to the bottom of this post.

Teaching is SO MUCH MORE than just handing out worksheets or delivering information. It is taking time to have a dialogue about learning and helping students to engage in their own learning process! In classroom the dialogue happens more easily, while in distance education we must actively seek opportunities for engaging in these crucially important interactions, and ask non-threatening questions to better understand our students’ experiences.

As educators we all want to help and support our students’ development, regardless of their age (here is a quick view of adult development). One way for adding these 5 Elements is to use the learner-centered approach.

The Learner-Centered Principles (as definded by APA) 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. [1]

Treating students with repect and providing choices is the important 4th element (share power), often underused in education, and crucially important in online learning. We cannot hold people accountable over the distance, so the better approach is to empower students to lead their own learning process (self-regulated learning is a great!). Students must be treated as the co-creators and experts of their own learning process. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t offer help for example choosing the most suitable learning strategies, because that is our area of expertise as educators.

Expanding possibilities as the 5th element means connecting students with additional resources (even beyond the curriculum). It is helping students to pursue their individual interests and perceive themselves as unbound learners, truly life-long learners who are curious about new things and seek knowledge for their own enjoyment. This obviously looks very different for each individual student.

Online education has the potential to become students’ best or worst learning experience. We can make it to become the best one, by adapting practices that focus on supporting each individual student’s learning process.

Embedding the 5 elements of developmental relationships framework to our everyday communications with students increases the chance of online education becoming a great learning experience!

 

The following is from Search Institute’s website, and written from the viewpoint of a young person:

Express Care

Show me that I matter to you.

    • Be dependable—Be someone I can trust.
    • Listen—Really pay attention when we are together.
    • Believe in me—Make me feel known and valued.
    • Be warm—Show me you enjoy being with me.
    • Encourage—Praise me for my efforts and achievements.

Challenge Growth

Push me to keep getting better.

    • Expect my best—Expect me to live up to my potential.
    • Stretch—Push me to go further.
    • Hold me accountable—Insist I take responsibility for my actions.
    • Reflect on failures—Help me learn from mistakes and setbacks.

Provide Support

Help me complete tasks and achieve goals.

    • Navigate—Guide me through hard situations and systems.
    • Empower—Build my confidence to take charge of my life.
    • Advocate—Stand up for me when I need it.
    • Set boundaries—Put in place limits that keep me on track.

Share Power

Treat me with respect and give me a say.

    • Respect me—Take me seriously and treat me fairly.
    • Include me—Involve me in decisions that affect me.
    • Collaborate—Work with me to solve problems and reach goals.
    • Let me lead—Create opportunities for me to take action and lead.

Expand possibilities

Connect me with people and places that broaden my world.

    • Inspire—Inspire me to see possibilities for my future.
    • Broaden horizons—Expose me to new ideas, experiences, and places.
    • Connect—Introduce me to people who can help me grow.

Copyright © 2018 by Search Institute®, 3001 Broadway Street NE, Suite 310, Minneapolis MN 55413; 800-888-7828; http://www.search-institute.org. Used with permission.

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

3 Superior Strategies for Supporting Online Learning

22 Mar

Learning happens in interactions. Online learning presents great opportunities for productive learning interactions. Obviously, there may be some serious problems, too, such as not noticing when students are struggling. Most problems get solved when we focus on supporting students’ learning process and build our communications around that support.

Here are the three superior strategies I have found to be most helpful during the last 8 years of my online practice. If we consider the learning process to be interactions between the student, content and environment (Illeris, 2018), it seems obvious that the core strategies for online teaching must deal with these all types of interactions.

  1. Strive for user-friendly content delivery
  2. Decidedly support students’ self-regulated learning
  3. Favor asynchronous learning activities

These three strategies agree with the framework of Teacher’s Pedagogical Knowledge (Sonmark, et al., 2017), addressing all three areas of our professional competence: Instructional Process (teaching methods, lesson planning and classroom management), Learning Process (learning & development and dispositions), and Assessment (evaluation and diagnosis procedures & data and research literacy).

3 Superior Strategies for Supporting Online Learning: 1.	Strive for user-friendly content delivery 2.	Decidedly support students’ self-regulated learning 3.	Favor asynchronous learning activities

First strategy: make learning easier by providing choices for engaging with the content. Curriculum usually dictates the content to be learned. Delivering content is the easiest problem to solve while transferring to online learning. We can share documents and record presentations, provide worksheets and assessments. It is important to honor students’ different preferences for obtaining information, some prefer watching videos, others like to read or listen. Keep videos short. Make sure to provide a transcript for a video or podcast – especially when instructing adults. We read much faster than anyone can talk.

Often online learning includes using a Learning Management System, LMS. As educators we have to become proficient users of the LMS, in addition to the foundational competencies of Teachers’ Pedagogical Knowledge, otherwise online teaching becomes very cumbersome. Obviously, students have different previous exposure to online environments, so remembering to offer help for navigation is the crucially important first step. Series of walk through documents or short videos is better than one or two long videos. We want to be sure to provide just-in-time support to make it easy for students to navigate the curriculum and their learning materials.

Online learning environment can sometimes become a barrier for learning. Therefore, it is important to step out of our own comfort zone with the LMS, and try to see it with the eyes of someone who encounters it for the first time. Are learning materials organized in a user-friendly way? Does the navigation make implicit sense to a person who encounters it for the first time? How can we help all students to navigate their new learning environment? These questions are equally important if we are just providing the learning materials over a website. In situations with great learner diversity it may be best to create a checklist for required activities and another list for additional supporting documents. And, most importantly: make sure to be available to help via phone or email.

Second strategy: Support self-regulated learning (Zimmerman, 2000). The greatest mistake while switching to online learning is the attempt of mimicking seat-based education where instructor talks and students sit and listen (an approach created without modern knowledge of how learning happens and how it can best supported). First rule of effective education is this: learning process is individual – so, focus your efforts on supporting students’ learning process. While we all DO learn the same way, through acquisition and elaboration, our concept development and preferred constructs for connecting new information to our existing knowledge are very diverse. We all have our own mental models of the world and keep adding information to our own knowledge base. Information that is not personally assimilated or accommodated will simply be forgotten, as it doesn’t become a part of our knowledge structure. Therefore, supporting students’ learning process and being available to answer questions IS the path for effective online education.

Self-regulated learning cycle guides students through the three crucial parts of learning: Planning – Performance – Reflection. The planning phase (forethought) includes analyzing the tasks and setting the process and completion goals. Planning for your own learning is an advanced skill, and we cannot expect students to master it immediately. Providing support for planning is crucially important in the beginning! The performance phase relies on self-monitoring, so that we are aware of our own learning process and can compare it to the expected outcomes. Rubrics are the best possible formative assessment tool for online learning, because they show students the criteria for grading. The use of rubrics in formative assessments has been shown to support students’ learning in recent educational research (eg. Panadero, Jonsson & Botella, 2017; Kasimatis, Kouloumpis, & Papageorgiou, 2019; Ajjawi, Bearman & Boud, 2019).  Rubrics are a great reflection tool for the third phase of learning process because looking back to the choices made in the current cycle, and having an open dialogue about choices for the next learning cycle, is the very moment for effective self-regulated learning to emerge. Engaging in individual discussions about the rubric with each student is easier in the online learning environment than in the classroom. It can be a phone discussion with online collaboration over the documents comparing the rubric and student’s performance. The important part for the instructor is to listen and learn more about how the student thinks, to best support them during the next learning cycle. The planning part in the next learning cycle benefits from the foundation a dialogue provides. So, make sure to be available to help via phone or email.

The third strategy: favoring asynchronous learning is great! We all learn in different pace, depending on our previous knowledge and thinking patterns. Learning doesn’t happen like manufacturing items on a conveyor belt. Learning process has spurts and halts, and sometimes looping back to already learned content is necessary, because we need to review or relearn things. The great thing about online learning is that we all can take as much time as we need to complete a learning activity – and students don’t have to feel bored or anxious because they need more or less time for the task. Yes, there can and should be times when the whole class checks in, or when a sub task must be ready for a small group assignment. But it doesn’t mean everyone have to sit still if they have already completed it, they can go for a short walk before engaging the next session, or do something else to invigorate themselves. Encouraging students to take several short breaks during the day is very important. I still believe that Finnish model of taking a 15-minute break after every 45-minute lesson was a great way to keep my students engaged and ready to learn. Favoring asynchronous learning activities allows us to support students’ individual needs. So, make sure to be available to help via phone or email.

Bottom line: Online education has the potential to become students’ best or worst learning experience. We can make it to become the best one, by adapting practices that focus on supporting each individual student’s learning process. Therefore, make sure to be available to help via phone or email.

 

😊

Nina

 

Ajjawi, R., Bearman, M., & Boud, D. (2019). Performing standards: a critical perspective on the contemporary use of standards in assessment. Teaching in Higher Education, 1-14.

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

Kasimatis, K., Kouloumpis, D. & Papageorgiou, T. (2019). Cultivation of 21st-century skills: Creating and implementing rubrics for assessing projects. New Trends and Issues Proceedings on Humanities and Social Sciences. [Online]. 6(7), pp 180-188. Available from: www.prosoc.eu

Panadero, E., Jonsson, A., & Botella, J. (2017). Effects of self-assessment on self-regulated learning and self-efficacy: Four meta-analyses. Educational Research Review22, 74-98.

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

Zimmerman, B. J. (2000). Attaining self-regulated learning: a social-cognitive
perspective, in M. Boekaerts, P. Pintrich, and M. Zeidner (Eds.) Handbook of Self-regulation (pp. 13–39). San Diego, CA: Academic Press.

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.

Learning Strategies – part 2

31 Jul

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

🙂

Nina

 

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

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

 

Learning process and contextual wellbeing

4 Jan

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

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

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

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

N3C

 

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

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

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

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

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

Reflection is teachers’ best tool

30 Dec

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

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

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

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

Everyday reflection

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

 

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.