Tag Archives: Agency

Supporting adult learning and SEL

27 Feb

Learning and being taught are two very different experiences. Engagment in one’s own learning process (aquiring information and elaborating on it) is crucially important for deeper learning to happen. Learning is usually more enjoyable than the experience of being taught. (There is a LOT of infomation why professional learning is so much better than professional development, but let’s not get too deep into that! Suffices to say that teacher agency is crucially important for learner agency. Here is a good link: REL Pacific)

University and college students are (mostly) adults, and we need to be very mindful about how we teach. Just because learning happens in interactions. This is one of the deep truths in education: The content of our message matters, but also the delivery!

The phones in the picture are all mine. I used the pink Nokia flip phone in Finland and Mexico before I moved to the U.S., and then was surprised that I still needed a landline here. My house still doesn’t get much of mobile reception. When communication gets harder (because of tech or any other reasons) we should pause for a moment and consider what our students are receiving. Just because what we say (or think what we are saying) can be very different from what our students are hearing. This is why learning really needs dialogues, the back-and-forth exchanges where we are building mutual understanding. Which obviously takes time. But that time is so extremely well spent!

Adult learners bring such a huge burden of their previous learning experiences to every assessment they are facing. One part of the problem is that often there aren’t real rubrics that would map the scope of the assessment, the other part is that we all interpret the assessment and the rubric using our past educational experiences. This is why coaching (or mentoring) is an important part of adult learning. By engaging in dialogue and highlighting SEL (social-emotional learning) competencies we can support adult learners to enjoy their learning experience and gain the most of it.

Everyone who works in higher education should read the APA guide to College Teaching. It has excellent insight into how students learn and how we can support that learning. The other resource I use every day is the CASEL framework. It helps me to discuss the self awareness and self-management we need as eductors, as well as social awareness, relationship skills and my all-time-favorite: responsible decision making! My other blog is named “Choosing How to Teach” for this very reason – we DO have choices and we can choose to support our students’ learning and SEL. Learning IS a process, not just a product.

How about you? What are your best resources for supporting adult learning and SEL?

🙂

Nina

Dialogues that enhance learning

10 Nov

Engaging in a dialogue is essential for learning. Knowledge construction (=learning) cannot occur in a vacuum, but happens in interactions [1]. Too often we think that all classroom discussions equal dialogue. They do not.

Conversation and discussion are very broad concepts to describe (educational) interactions. Debates are more specific interactions for presenting and supporting an argument, a genre of dialogue focusing on challenging assumptions and knowledge. Argumenting discussion can objectify a perspective thus supporting reasoning and understanding [2]. It is still a discussion, not a dialogue.

Classroom dialogue refers to the productive interactions that support students’ deeper learning in the classroom. It is not about winning an argument, but helping students to understand the concepts and construct the meaning of the topic to be learned. Similarly, classroom dialogue is not about an “inquiry” where students will end up in predetermined conclusion. The traditional classroom talk in the form of IRF (initiation-response-feedback/follow-up) or IRE (initiation-response-evaluation) is definitely not about engaging in dialogue, because the range of acceptable answers is very limited. These closed questions reflect behaviorist-objectivist ideology of education where the knowledge is transmitted to students, and their learning is tested with questions and tests. Well-crafted IRF can lead students “through a complex sequence of ideas” [3], but does it really contribute to the productive interactions that help students to engage in deeper learning and craft individual understanding and transferable knowledge based on the information they received during the discussion?

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. Dialogue is very tightly tied to the classroom values and teaching/learning dispositions. In a safe learning environment, where students dare to ask questions and challenge their own beliefs, dialogue can be a very powerful tool for learning.

The essential condition for dialogue to happen is equality. My truth cannot be better than your truth. Dialogue requires openness to rule over the dogma [4], in order to make exploration possible. Sometimes this is a very hard change to make in the classroom situation where the teacher is perceived to be the authority of knowledge. Communicating clearly to students about issues that don’t have one signle correct answer helps students to engage in  dialogue with the teacher and each other. Wondering is often the first step in learning.

Dialogue = authentic conversation. Not a tool for manipulation to get what we want.Dialogue involves multiple dimensions of the classroom reality. Working with the tensions that occur in classroom setting is important to make dialogue possible. Having a non-punitive assessment system is important for fostering dialogue in the classroom. Risk-taking behaviors are not likely to happen in a learning environment where students get punished for submitting a “wrong answer”.  Right and wrong, true and false, are dichotomies that belong to more objectivist pedagogy and official knowledge, and thus are destructive for collaborative meaning-making.

Focusing on concepts instead of details is a viable way to start using the dialogue in the classroom.  It is a great way to help students get engaged in their own learning process.  My favorite definion of dialogue is the following: “Dialogue is about engagement with others through talk to arrive at a point one would not get to alone” . This engagement is easy and enjoyable!  It must be fostered in all education!

🙂

Nina

 

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

[2] (direct citation from Littleton & Howe, 2010, p. 108)  Littleton, K., & Howe, C. (Eds.). (2010). Educational dialogues: Understanding and promoting productive interaction. Routledge.

[3] (direct citation from Littleton & Howe, 2010, p. 4)  Littleton, K., & Howe, C. (Eds.). (2010). Educational dialogues: Understanding and promoting productive interaction. Routledge.

[4] (direct citation from Littleton & Howe, 2010, p. 172)  Littleton, K., & Howe, C. (Eds.). (2010). Educational dialogues: Understanding and promoting productive interaction. Routledge

[5] (direct citation from: Lodge, 2005, p. 134) Lodge, C. (2005). From hearing voices to engaging in dialogue: Problematising student participation in school improvement. Journal of Educational Change, 6(2), 125-146.

Learner agency thrives in an emotionally safe learning environment

11 Apr

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

Supporting learner agency has 8 components: metacognition, self-determination, learning environment, learning ownership, social context, subjective experiences, choices, social-emotional learning.

I have been on the path of critical pedagogy for a long time. During my own K-12 education, I never imagined I would become a teacher, but as an adult I was intrigued by the ways we construct our understanding. Even before I became a teacher I wondered how individual learning could be better supported – because one size does not fit all. It seemed to me that an intellectually and emotionally safe learning environment was very necessary for supporting the learning process. After that realization there was no turning back – I had to study education science. 🙂

Learning happens in a social context, in interactions, and as educators we can make this experience better for our students. Emotionally safe classrooms are flexible by nature and they have rules that are consistent and justified, and preferably created in cooperation with students. Treating students as unique human beings is essential – which makes is hard or impossible to use behaviorist learning theories, or have strong external regulation for learning process. Later I realized that this also describes the DEI – approach for diversity, equity and inclusion. We want to support students’ self-determination because it increases their intrinsic motivation and ownership of their learning process [2].

Learning to learn is a lifelong process. It starts in early childhood, which is why preschool can have such a huge effect in future learning. Good quality early childhood pedagogy focuses on supporting holistic child development and making learning a joyful experience children want to repeat. It is important to also teach children how to help themselves to learn. We do this by increasing their metacognition and guiding children to use a variety of deep learning strategies – based on the learning task they are facing [3]. Learning to write one’s own name requires different strategies than learning to ride a bike. In order to choose, we must be aware about choices we have. And as adults we are still discovering new learning strategies for ourselves – if we keep looking for them. It really IS a life-long process.

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

We all have our subjective experiences and preferences that inform our choices. Sometimes we need to learn to manage ourselves in a different way – fortunately there are plenty of great SEL resources to use. Please check the CASEL framework and resources! I became familiar with social-emotional learning when I was earning my M.Ed. in Finland, and it has been a crucially important part of the learner-centered and emotionally safe pedagogy I have been building in my career and discussing in this blog. Stress-free atmosphere helps to build an emotionally safe growing and learning environment.  Knowing that their thoughts and ideas are valued helps students think and express their thoughts more freely. More thinking equals more learning.

The one situation when most of us feel threatened or unsafe is while we are receiving feedback. In an emotionally safe classroom feedback becomes a natural part of the learning process, and thus stops being scary – Growth Mindset can be used in this, if we remember to use the pedagogy of kindness and invest in personhood [4]. Focusing on supporting each individual student on their own learning path does take more time than applying standardized measures. But, it is also more effective. Students’ daily self-evaluation and teacher’s verbal comments can create an awesome tool for students to reflect and control their own learning, but it takes time to have those individual interactions with all students. I would like to see classroom sizes small enough to allow more dialogue, because learning still happens in interactions, regardless of the technology we may be using. 

It is important to remember that being kind is different from being nice. While being kind I engage in the important (but hard) dialogue about learning, helping my students to understand their own learning process and how they can either help or hinder their own learning. If I were to be just nice, I could say “Good job!” and move on – but that would not help my students to learn more.

References:

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

[2] Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (2000). The” what” and” why” of goal pursuits: Human needs and the self-determination of behavior. Psychological inquiry11(4), 227-268.

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

[4] Denial, C. (2020) A pedagogy of kindness. In. L. Stommel, C. Friend, & S.M. Morris (Eds.), Critical digital pedagogy: A collection. Hybrid Pedagogy Incorporated (pp. 212-218). https://hybridpedagogy.org/critical-digital-pedagogy/

Empower students to learn!

15 Nov

Social-emotional learning (SEL) is here to stay. And that is a great thing! As learning is such a holistic phenomenon, we educators must be aware of the emotional and social parts of it, and encourage students to collaborate and make most of their learning experience. In other words: instead of just teaching/ providing information, we must empower our students to learn.

There is a huge difference between these two approaches to education.

I personally believe that student empowerment is one major superpower of Finnish education. I know I experienced it throughout my own education in Finland, more in some classes and less in some others, througout the basic education (K-12). My deepest and most profound experiences of learner empowerment happened during my M. Ed. studies and teacher training at University of Jyväskylä. So, I am happily exporting student empowerment and making it an integral part of my own practice.

The easiest way to empower learning is to provide choices for students and discuss learning being an iterative process. We generally have stronger emotional attachment to things we get to choose – and that emotional connection increases the likelihood of deeper learning to happen. It’s because ownership, engagement and intrinsic motivation amplify each other. Empowered students have more ownership over what they learn.

Having choices is the prerequisite for ownership!

Empowering students to learn autonomously can be scary in the beginning. I am not suggesting that you should let go of all the classroom rules and allowing students to do whatever they please. That would not be education. But starting to add choices for students to support their self-direction, and embedding SEL into every lesson is a great start. CASEL has awesome resources for relationship skills, social and self-awareness, self-management and responsible decision-making. The only way students can learn to make good decisions is to have choices and get to practice choosing in safe environments. Making good choices is just one skill among other life skills and we should foster it in all possible ways we can. Because that’s how we support students’ critical thinking!

It is important to remember that SEL is so much more than just training students to use their “power skills” like executive functions or relationship skills – SEL is an integral part of human development and needs to be embedded into curriculum and instruction instead of being taught as another school subject.

Teaching with empowerment changes the power dynamics in a classroom, and communications between faculty and students. We teachers and faculty want to assume the role of a guide, not the leader. And we do this to support learner agency which is “perhaps the most higher-order, emergent, abstractly defined, and most cherished of human functions” [1]. This is why empowerment is so important! Learner agency is all about the choices and degree of freedom students have about their learning! Teaching how to choose is an integral part of education.

Empowering students to learn means striving to provide ample opportunities for students to have autonomy (choose readings, assignments, assessments, partners, projects, etc.) so that they can grow their competencies and relate with the teacher and each other. These three (A, C, and R) are parts of self-determination in life and learning. More information under this link. It is crucially important for us as educators to realize that the gamining industry has already harnessed the ACRs and benefit from the motivational pull to play [2]. The three elements are:

  • Autonomy – have choices and be an agent of one’s own life and learning
  • Competence – feel capable in own learning and growing skills
  • Relatedness – accceptance, feeling connected and interacting with others

We can empower students to learn by emphasizing ACRs. Alas, it is harder for students to learn to use their self- determination in compliance-driven learning environments. It is harder for teachers, too, because in the beginning it may not be easy to figure out what kind of choices students could have. Fortunately we have contemporary research to support our choices for empowerment.

APA – Top 20 principles for k-12

Choice and Intricnsic motivation – Patall et al. meta-analysis

Meaningful learning: essential factor – Novak article

Motivation and Self-Regulated Learning – Book

References:

[1] Zelazo, P. D. (2020). Executive Function and Psychopathology: A Neurodevelopmental Perspective. Annual Review of Clinical Psychology, 16. (citation is from page 443)

[2] Niemiec, C. P., & Ryan, R. M. (2009). Autonomy, competence, and relatedness in the classroom: Applying self-determination theory to educational practice. Theory and research in Education, 7(2), 133-144.

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

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.

 

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 Field, 7(2), 133-144.

[2] Zimmerman, B. J. (2013). From cognitive modeling to self-regulation: A social cognitive career path. Educational psychologist, 48(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/

Learner Agency – an important part of Deep Learning

13 Aug

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There are many ways to support agency in the classroom.

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

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

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

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

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

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

More about Learner Agency at Nina’s Notes

 

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Boekaerts, M. (2016). Engagement as an inherent aspect of the learning process. Learning and Instruction, 43, 76-83.

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

Reyes, M. R., Brackett, M. A., Rivers, S. E., White, M., & Salovey, P. (2012). Classroom emotional climate, student engagement, and academic achievement. Journal of Educational Psychology, 104(3), 700 – 712.

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

NCS Dissertation PDF