Tag Archives: co-operative

Educational Awareness

3 Feb

It sounds like a fancy and complicated thing, this educational awareness, doesn’t it? Yet is is an everyday phenomenon, and often a hot topic of common conversations. We all have an idea about how to raise our children – or better yet, the neighbour’s children!

We also have strong ideas and beliefs about teaching, because of the experiences we have had during our school years. Just like  our beliefs about the best ways of raising children were partly developed during the time we were being taken care of.  In the past these views of good parenting and good education were passed from mother to daughter, or within the community in general. I think we all should start looking for answers beyond our family traditions, or the ways “it have always been done”.

Today we have more challenges in education and parenting, due to the globalization and free information available everywhere. But where to look and find the best practices? Fortunately we have tools to define good enough parenting – or good quality education. We also have tools to understand what these good practices look like. And this is what I am talking about while asking people to raise the educational awareness in their own communities: looking for practices that support development, learning process and understanding (as opposite of obedience, performance and memorization). There is lots of data available for us in print and on the internet, and we just should communicate  about the best ways of supporting learning to people we meet in our everyday lives.

For example there was a new study published today about how maternal support has an effect on our brain, in the regions that are essential to memory and stress modulation. http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2012/01/24/1118003109  The support I am talking about is seeing the positive in the child instead the negative. So,  instead of paying attention to failure and saying negative things when students / children are misbehaving or unsuccessful we should try “catching” them in the moments of good behaviour, and just simply verbalizing the positive outcome.

How could we communicate this to all the parents, teachers, grandparents, neighbours, and other people being involved with developing children?

Will you help me tell people everywhere that children will learn better in school if they have been supported and nurtured in their early explorations within the safe structure of limits?

Teaching How to Choose

20 Jan

Making good choices seems to come naturally for some students while others need some coaching  in order to become successful learners and be able to navigate with more ease within the educational systems. By allowing choices we also communicate our confidence in our students as learners – it is about letting them know we believe they can do it, without necessarily saying it aloud.

There are things in the classroom that must be done without getting into negotiations about how and why, and we truly cannot let students rule and do whatever they please in the classroom. However, allowing certain amount of choosing makes it emotionally easier for students to agree with the mandatory things. But this is not the only benefit of teaching how to choose. Only through our own choices we create accountability for our own learning and also train our executive functioning. Learning to make good choices is a skill to learn and it highly contributes to our higher level thinking.  We should not deny that opportunity from our students by having too rigid rules that allow no choices.

How to add more choices into your classroom?  During a regular day we have many opportunities to allow choices, starting from choosing whom to work with. By asking students to choose a partner who can help them in this assignment you are also encouraging students to recognize the good study habits of others.  Giving younger students a package of content to be learned by the end of this week communicates your trust in their ability to choose the best pace for their own learning, and providing a timeline about how big fraction of the content should be finished by each day helps them understand the percentages, too. By letting students choose which assignment they want to start with helps them understand their personal preferences.  Also, having a strong structure in the assignments allows the content to be more individualized. I think the ways of introducing more choices in learning environments are virtually infinite, if there is the will to make the change to happen.

My personal credo about best teacher being the one who makes herself unnecessary by empowering students become autonomous learners carries my values within it.  I believe, that only by allowing students practice making good choices in an emotionally safe learning environment where their opinions or beliefs are never ridiculed, we can help the next generation reach their full potential and become critical thinkers. There is no shortcut to wisdom.


31 Dec

You know how we don’t see things as they are, but how we are?  And sometimes we have hard time understanding, because the new information doesn’t seem to fit in? The same goes with your students, of course, and even more so because they have not yet learned to recognize their own filters.

Being able to help students create their own worldview is quite amazing. We as teachers are trusted with great responsibility! Being significant adults in our students’ lives we are also co-creators of their futures, and that makes me feel very humble and honoured, indeed.

One essential thing to teach your students as an all round survival skill is the ability to choose some of your own filters.

My current chosen filter is the 3C – approach for learning and teaching. It stands for cognitive, constructive and cooperative learning, and it empowers students to become autonomous learners. It places the student into the nexus of learning and helps them understand what and why they learn and become accountable for their own learning.

I strongly believe that these three components are also essential for good quality teaching.

Without cognitive part your students will never become critical thinkers – because there is nothing for them to think about, they are just asked to pass and perform.

Without constructive part students will never understand their own learning and become active learners – because knowledge is imparted to them, and someone else decides about the truth.

Without co-operational part students will never find learning meaningful and important – because they are objects in their own learning, performing learning tasks dictated by others.

Looking forward into the future (on this last day of 2011), and wondering what today’s students will grow into.  But that is the teacher’s job always: prepare students for the unknown future.

How do you want to equip your students for their journey?

Emotionally Safe Learning Environment

28 Dec

Student centered and emotionally safe pedagogy is an attitude.  It is not a handbook of tips and tricks, to help us survive our days.  It is being physically and emotionally present when the student needs us. It is also thinking more about the process than the product. And in these classrooms the focus is in creating, not copying, no matter what the task is – this applies art as well as note taking!

Emotionally safe classrooms are flexible by their nature and they have rules that are consistent and justified. Ordering other people arbitrarily around is only a way to show your power over them.  Being considerate is generally understood as a virtue, and showing the same politeness to children does not go without rewards. Treating students as individual human beings sounds like basic courtesy to me.

The central values of safety, co-operation, individuality, responsibility and building of realistic self image together create the foundation for an emotionally safe learning environment.  Most often these values are expressed in the classrooms and discussed with the students.  Ideally the wording of the rules is co-operationally created, and confirmed with the signatures of the teacher and students, and then posted on the wall for further reference.

Stress-free atmosphere is the first principle for creating an emotionally safe growing and learning environment. Creating the feeling of having enough time enables students to focus on their own learning instead of external factors that might disturb their concentration.  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 the feedback becomes a natural part of the learning process, and thus stops being scary.  While utilizing students’ daily self-evaluation and teacher’s verbal comments, the feedback system actually becomes a tool for the students to control their own learning.  This system also automatically holds students accountable for their own learning and helps them realize how much they already have learned.

Finding the Balance for More Effective Teaching

28 Dec

Imagine a wheel, like a bicycle wheel. What would the ride feel like if there were bumps on the wheel? Yet that is how we tend to emphasize only one aspect of learning and teaching in our classrooms.

Finding a balance is not always easy. After all, we have so very many details to include to our daily classroom teaching that it is sometimes hard to keep our thoughts straight. Here is a very simple 1-2-3 tool for checking the balance. It covers the most important areas of classroom teaching, no matter what level or grade you are working with.

1. Co-operate. Provide emotional support in the classroom. It helps your students learn, because they feel safe and more comfortable (read Mazlow if you don’t believe just my words). Be aware of learning problems, as well as the social ones, and address them in timely manner. Emotionally safe learning environment is the first premise for good quality teaching.

2. Be constructive. Create or adapt a classroom management system which is compatible with your own values and ideas about good teaching. Having extremely clear expectations for students cuts down the need of behaviour management – when student know what they are supposed to be doing creates lots of opportunities for the teacher to compliment them for their dedication and participation. Maximize the learning time by providing autonomous learning choices after finishing a task.

3. Strengthen the cognitive learning. Cater for concept development by asking lots of open ended questions and teaching your students ask those questions, too. Make sure to stop to listen to the answers. Provide feedback during the learning process instead of evaluating only the end result. This is the most important single thing enhancing their learning. Only those mistakes that are allowed to be corrected can help students learn more.

These steps also empower your students to move towards autonomous learning, because they focus more on learning than on teaching. And that is how it should be. After all, we are in the classroom to help our students learn, are we not? And one part of helping could be providing them a bit smoother ride.