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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. Here is one such article. 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.

Deep learning for teachers

4 Nov

 

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

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

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

Truly focusing on life-long learning.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

 

Deep Learning

19 Aug

Are your students engaging in deep or shallow learning?

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

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

The following  short comparison explains the differences:   

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

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

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

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

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


Original research about deep learning:

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

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

 

Praise and punishment – two sides of control

17 Nov

It is surprising how often people, who think punishments to be detrimental for learning, still approve praise as an effective tool in education.  How is this possible? Both are based on the concept of superiority and having control over other human beings. Often this power is just artificial authority.

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

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

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

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

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

 

If a student learns….

22 May

For the past few weeks I have observed my students to get busier and more stressed.  Most of them are teachers, feeling the strain of the end of the school year, and still trying to engage in their masters studies. While the last days of school before summer are bittersweet: it is wonderful to see students graduate and move on, yet we will miss them after they have gone (or, sometimes let out a sigh of relief – just trying to be realistic here, because I hear those stories, too), the path of getting to summer vacations is lined with testing.  And, some more testing, and frantically documenting the learning that has occurred during the year.

Meeting learning goals and objectives is important for accountability.  But, I find it funny that all too often we are talking about learning goals when we actually mean teaching goals.  The objective and subjective realities of teaching and learning get mixed together.  Each student has a different subjective experience of the learning that happened in the class during the school year.  Teacher has her/his own experience, too.  So, which one is true?

There is an old philosophical thought experiment that has attributed to philosopher George Berkeley: If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”  

Our subjective realities are references to the lives we live.  We see and hear things based on our preferences and expectations.

Every teacher knows how hard it is to help students to learn new concepts, if they have very strong misconceptions about the topic.  Similarly, our own observations may be clouded by preconceived ideas, and we sometimes forget how much students learn  while they are not taught. Or, sometimes even in spite of the teacher (this was a common joke among the faculty in the school I taught in Finland, and I still think how a good dose of self-irony sometimes saves the day ).

In education a common misconception is to believe that significant learning only happens when students are taught.  In reality students are born learning machines, they learn all the time, everywhere. But teachers are needed to enhance those individual learning experiences and help students to dive deeper into the subject or the area of their interest. Documenting and testing should not be the primary focus of teaching.

Yet, in today’s world we are very busy in documenting all kind of things: taking pictures and videos of events to make memories, and sharing them in social media.  A common joke is to question whether a *thing* really happened, if nobody posted it into social media. This may be the modern version of the falling tree thought experiment.

But how about teaching and learning?

I sure hope nobody is seriously asking this:

If learn

The break-things-into-bits mistake we have been making in education for centuries – happening today with standards

20 Apr

Grant Wiggins about splintering the learning content. This is an important message for all curriculum and instruction designers, but also for each and every teacher. Good teaching is about providing information in student-sized chunks, and making sure the details don’t obscure the whole, the entity we are learning about. Contexts and connections are SO important in meaningful learning!

Granted, and...

In the just-released Math Publisher’s Criteria document on the Common Core Standards, the authors say this about (bad) curricular decision-making:

“’Fragmenting the Standards into individual standards, or individual bits of standards … produces a sum of parts that is decidedly less than the whole’ (Appendix from the K-8 Publishers’ Criteria). Breaking down standards poses a threat to the focus and coherence of the Standards. It is sometimes helpful or necessary to isolate a part of a compound standard for instruction or assessment, but not always, and not at the expense of the Standards as a whole.

“A drive to break the Standards down into ‘microstandards’ risks making the checklist mentality even worse than it is today. Microstandards would also make it easier for microtasks and microlessons to drive out extended tasks and deep learning. Finally, microstandards could allow for micromanagement: Picture teachers and students being held accountable for ever more…

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Ingredients of effective teaching

7 Feb

Effective teaching is often seen as increase in student learning.  I can understand the thought behind it, because after all teaching is futile if learning is not happening. But getting these two different phenomena -teaching and learning- productively intertwined in the classroom is a challenge all educators are facing, and correlations between the two should not be drawn in haste.

The old saying about leading the horse to the water but not being able to force it to drink is very descriptive for the differences between teaching and learning, and often also quoted as such. We attempt to measure the ways of presenting information for students to learn, and seem to think the score makes one teacher more effective than another -but I am not convinced that it makes such a big difference how we take the horse to the water: it will drink when it is thirsty.  Fortunately students are born curious and ready to learn. The only thing we need to do is find a way to cooperate with that curiosity and help students preserve their interest in learning and their sense of wonder – because that is where all true learning starts: wondering if, how, when, why….

Whether students have successful learning experiences and really (deep) learn the content depends on multiple factors found in areas of both instruction and curriculum. Students’ intrinsic motivation helps them to engage, but unfortunately in some measurements of effective teaching the motivation is translated to teachers’ duty to motivate students to learn, which leads students functioning on extrinsic motivation, and never engaging in the deep learning process. The learning environment (both physical and emotional) sets the tone for the learning experience. Students’ readiness to learn  and their previous knowledge, perceived meaningfulness of content, student autonomy (support vs. control), and cooperation with the teacher all have various effects on the learning outcomes.

The concept of effectiveness is hard to define. Maybe we should pay more attention to the quality of interactions, and see how they contribute to successful learning experiences?

Learning happens in interactions between the student and the content to be learned.  In addition to interacting with the content of their learning resources, students also interact with many other things – environment, peers, teachers, staff, parents, media, social media, etc. Focusing their attention to the learning task is a choice every student makes, purposefully or being unaware about it. We teachers can help students choose wisely and spend more time interacting with their learning resources, but we certainly cannot force them into doing it. Forced interactions are of poor quality, and result in shallow learning when students perform tasks to fulfill the expectations, but don’t engage with their thoughts and/or curiosity.

Traditionally we have perceived the teacher to be one of these learning resources, or even the source of information, but I am wondering if it is not the time to recognize how a teacher’s job is much more importantly about facilitating student’s experience and engagement in interactions that result learning.

This is what pedagogy and andragogy are about: supporting students’ learning in a dialogue, individually and as a group, so that they each can be successful in their studies. Please note that I am not undermining the subject matter expertise of teachers, because being knowledgeable is essential for effective teaching. I just want to emphasize the fact that simply with enormous knowledge about the area of expertise one does not miraculously become a master teacher, because teaching (or learning facilitation) is an art and science of its own. And quite frankly, it is hard for an expert to recall what it was like to learn the first steps of a complex skill set. We pay much less attention to the details after something has become an automated skill.

Effective teaching is knowing those details, understanding how the skill builds and being able to communicate about the process.  And of course the most effective teacher is the one who makes herself unnecessary by empowering  her students to become autonomous learners. So, when creating metrics for measuring teacher effectiveness, should we also assess  students’ independence or autonomy in learning?

 

22 Jul

A True North posted excellent information regarding PISA and good quality education. It is good to hear how many countries have already greatly improved their educational outcomes. Also, hearing it from Andreas Schleicher how me MUST focus on learning instead of teaching and foster diversity in all educational settings really made my day. 🙂

A True North

Measuring Student Success Around the World

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