Tag Archives: effective teaching

Global education everywhere

27 Nov

Every child has a right to learn.  This makes education a global issue. I am glad we are cooperating in educational research and making the latest information available for everyone via internet. In my mind this makes education more global as we become more aware about different practices around the world.

Every teacher should be empowered to teach and to know they have choices. Comparing educational practices internationally may help us all to adapt better practices. I like to share the Finnish know-how of education, and  while I am excited to see yet another study highlighting Finland as the best country in education, I am also hoping  that the takeaways are much greater than just a simple ranking list.

Having data is not important, but knowing what to do with it!

New Pearson education study ” The Learning Curve”  provides 5 important talking points:

  1. No magic bullets – there are no quick fixes in education, long term joint planning is needed for sustainable education quality.
  2. Respect teachers – trust in your teachers and value them, because they are your professionals that schools cannot function without!
  3. Culture can be changed – find the positive elements in your educational culture and highlight them, then start building on that foundation.
  4. Parents are not the key – but they certainly should be your allies! We have a joint mission: student success.
  5. Educate for the future – empower students to learn. Focus education on how to  learn and how to think, because that improves transfer to all other areas of education.

I think these points are no news for people who are working on improving the quality of education around the world. It is very nice, though, to get additional affirmation for thoughts we have been posting  and discussing about.

The one very important message is about changing your culture. We often talk about students, how they are not clones and should not be treated like ones. Standards are not the solution. Educational systems have their distinctive characteristics, too, and thus global education must have a unique look in different countries, districts and schools.

The paradigm change for educational quality must start at all levels of education – we cannot afford to wait for someone else to change first. Sometimes it is hard to find opportunities to choose. But, I refuse to believe there would be a classroom/school/educational system/country with absolutely no choices for students/teachers/administrators/policymakers to make learning more meaningful – the least we can do is to choose a “can do”  attitude.

How could your class/school/district be global and unique at the same time? What are your positive elements?

Reflective practice

13 Oct

It is a fancy name for thinking about your workday, and processing the events in order to make better choices next time. Or, maybe I have a tendency to over-simplify things?

Educators make several instant and instinctive decisions during each and every workday.  Where do these judgments come from? How to be more aware about the reasoning behind these decisions?  Now, this is where the reflective practice steps in.

Reflecting upon choices not only increases the awareness about reasons behind certain decisions, but often also reveals other possible options. Recognizing these possible choices being available arises from the awareness of different practices – and this is exactly why having conferences and workshops, lectures and moocs, books and magazines discussing the best practices is so necessary. Yet, if participating or reading doesn’t transfer to the everyday work and life, one could rightfully ask whether it was time well spent.  Reflecting and implementing extend the benefits of any professional development.

The best and worst of reflective practice deals with emotions. You will explore areas that need improvement and those can invite you grow professionally, but you also will see your strengths and get to celebrate the success. And that actually is the main idea behind the stylish name of learning about your own teaching: being objective and finding out what works and why. Using the functional parts and discarding the unnecessary or harmful (even if it is something you are fond of) helps to improve your teaching practice

Some reflection happens in action while intuitively correcting your responses and “automatically” changing the way to interact with students.  Consciously thinking about the instructional materials and activities while doing the daily teaching, making mental notes about how well they work (or not) and planning for improvements is the foundation of reflective practice. To promote effective and student centered learning you need to think about the students’ point of view about the activities and materials as well.  Deeper reflection, the intentional improvement,  happens after you have done with teaching, and have time to think about your day.

A very simple way to begin your journey to professional reflection is to each day ask yourself these three questions:

1. What went excellently today and why?

2. What could have been better and how?

3. What do I want to change in my teaching?

Processing the events of your workday by writing these three things down either in a notebook or on computer makes it easier to focus on things you choose to improve and not go by the feeling, or become biased by an apparent success or failure. Exploring your own teaching by writing down some thoughts about the day, or at least the week, also creates a journal that reveals your own thinking habits and the way your teaching philosophy and practice have evolved during time. It allows you to get some necessary distance to what happens in the classroom, and see patterns and outlines of your own way of teaching, so that you can improve your practice.

This is the real accountability measure for a teacher, but because it requires ultimate honesty it cannot be implemented by someone else but the teacher herself/himself. Nor can it be forced. But, it can be supported and encouraged – just like learning.

And exactly like learning is a process, not a product, also teaching is a process, because being a teacher also means being a learner.

Is Learning a Product or a Process?

30 Sep

The answer to this simple but very important question defines not only your personal teaching dispositions and learning philosophy, but also the daily practices in your classroom.

When learning is viewed as a product, and the same performance measures apply to all students, instruction can be reduced to cookie-cutter teaching: same pieces of information delivered and same level of support provided is sufficient for all students. This is also visible in classroom practices: providing students with an example of the ready product and asking them (more or less) to copy that – whether it is an art project, notes, homework, essay or something else. There is not much room for individualization or differentiation, because the finished products are the measurement showing that learning has happened – which of course is not reality, but may greatly satisfy administrators and policymakers. What surprises me is how heavily behaviorism is still emphasized in education.

In a product-centered learning environment the goal focuses on completing activities – worksheets, charts, pre-designed projects, and any other “canned” activities – that are either teacher-made or provided by the publisher of the curriculum. The important part of completing these tasks is getting them right because these products are usually graded! Assessment reflects memorization and regurgitation. Skilled and obedient students comply with these requests and try hard to get their tasks done right, yet there are many students who just leave them undone. Completed products may show the “level” of each student, and let the teacher know who needs more practice in writing, multiplication or something else, but they don’t tell when the student acquired the skill, or if s/he has more advanced knowledge or competence of the topic.

Learning as a product can also refer to surface approaches in learning, where learning is a) quantitative increase in knowledge, b) memorizing information to be reproduced, and c) acquiring facts, skills and methods to be used later. [1] When learning is seen as a product of instruction, students’ agency is reduced to being a recipient of information transfer. This may cause detachment and diminishing learning motivation.  In such environment “worksheets are crutches, used primarily as tools to teach to a test, and this creates a vicious cycle of bad education.”[2] Pre-designed materials are handy and easy to use, but they often lead to surface learning simply because they were designed for another group of students in different educational setting with diverse connections to the subject. Your group of students is unique! They deserve instruction designed for them!

What about viewing learning as a process? Many things will change from the previously described environment: the first premise is that because students begin their daily/weekly/yearly learning from different levels of knowledge and understanding, they also will end up in different levels of competency. And that is okay, honestly. We are not clones. Students shouldn’t be treated like ones.

The goal of 21st Ccentury education is to create life-long learners. “Fixed procedures for teaching are insufficient because learning is not a one-way process” [3]. The curriculum and instruction must promote the attitude of continuing interest to learn [4]. This aligns with contemporary research of viewing learning as a process instead a product, as a sustainable choice for knowledge societies where individual, ongoing learning is crucially important. When learning is understood primarily as a process of acquisition and elaboration of information [5], the natural consequences in the classroom are ongoing differentiation and individualization. Assessment becomes an individual quest to compare your own current achievement to your previous level of proficiency or competency – instead of comparing your learning against the achievements of your peers. Evaluations are extremely non-punitive by nature: mistakes and second attempts are not only allowed but treasured, because they show the growth in deeper understanding and the height of the learning curve. Isn’t this the recipe for providing the experiences of success for each and every student? And from educational research we already know how important that genuine thrill of achievement is for intrinsic motivation to learn [6].

Worksheets, exercises, activities and even homework are individualized, because learners have diverse needs and the teacher wishes to accommodate every student’s needs. As you can imagine there is not much need for cookie-cutter activities in these classrooms, but flexibility for students to choose within well-defined limits and pick activities they find meaningful or are interested in doing. I have heard people say how students will not do what they need to do, but what pleases them. Funny enough, students who get to choose usually learn much more than those forced into performing and producing, and they often pick tasks that are almost too hard for them. The same phenomenon happens when you let students choose their homework, from an appropriate selection, of course – and it is harder for even an under-performing student to explain why s/he didn’t do the homework s/he got to choose. This supports students’ growth towards self-regulated learners!

Approaching learning as an individual process helps us refocus learning and teaching: the student is in the nexus of her/his own learning, and the oh-so-tiring power struggle is minimized.  I know most of my teachers and readers are bound to the state/national/other high stakes testing – yet,  approaching learning as a process is applicable everywhere, because independent learners also perform better in the tests. Independent learners often engage in deep learning, and perceive learning as making sense (or abstracting the meaning) or interpreting and understanding reality in a different way [1]. It seems that overemphasizing competition in education leads to the perception of learning as a product and pushing the teacher-centered instructional model, instead of emphasizing the individual learning process. Learner-and learning-centered practices are focusing on supporting the ongoing learning process. This is an important part of viewing learning as a process vs. product, and a sustainable choice for knowledge societies where individual, ongoing learning is crucially important.

Which way do you want to teach? What are your teaching dispositions and philosophy?

Also visit the page Process or Product?

Summary

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. 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.

My book about supporting learning process: Choosing How to Teach

Have questions or want to chat about learning process? Please Tweet or FB about it!

 

Research about learning as a process:

We often talk about learning without defining what it means. This causes confusion! For the sake of clarity, I am using the definition of Illeris (2003) while discussing the learning process: “external interaction process between the learner and his or her social, cultural or material environment, and an internal psychological process of acquisition and elaboration” (p. 398).

Definition of learning as a process as seen on Lachman (1997) [7]: First, learning may not include a change in behaviour (this would exclude classical conditioning). Second, it is important not to confuse learning with the product of learning. Observable change is a product (p. 477).

Barron et al. (2015) [8] discuss how disciplines differ in their specific definitions of learning for pragmatic reasons, but it is possible to reconcile most of these definitions by reference to a common theoretical framework: learning as a structured updating of system properties based on the processing of new information (p. 406).

 

[1] Säljö, R. (1979) ‘Learning in the learner’s perspective. I. Some common-sense conceptions’, Reports from the Institute of Education, University of Gothenburg, 76.

[2] Barnes, 2013, ASCD Express, Vol. 8, No. 11. http://www.ascd.org/ascd-express/vol8/811-barnes.aspx

[3] Cresswell, J. (2016). Disengagement, Pedagogical Eros and (the undoing of?) Dialogic pedagogy. Dialogic Pedagogy: An International Online Journal4. DOI: 10.5195/dpj.2016.182   http://dpj.pitt.edu

[4] Noddings, N. (2013). Curriculum for the 21st century. In D.J. Flinders & S.J. Thornton (Eds.). The curriculum studies reader (4th ed.) (399-405). New York, NY: Routledge Falmer.

[5] Illeris, K. (2003). Toward a contemporary and comprehensive theory of learning. International Journal of Lifelong Education, 22(4), 396-406.

[6] American Psychological Association (APA), 2015.  http://www.apa.org/ed/schools/teaching-learning/top-twenty-principles.aspx

[7] Lachman, S. J. (1997). Learning is a process: Toward an improved definition of learning. The Journal of psychology131(5), 477-480.

[8] Barron, A. B., Hebets, E. A., Cleland, T. A., Fitzpatrick, C. L., Hauber, M. E., & Stevens, J. R. (2015). Embracing multiple definitions of learning. Trends in neurosciences38(7), 405-407.

HOW instead of WHAT

9 Sep

Why do we so often emphasize the frames or structure over deep understanding? Knowing what something is only takes you so far. Isn’t knowing how something works or how it is connected much more valuable than just knowing it exists? And the very same principle applies to teaching: understanding how to help your students learn makes a real difference for both the effectiveness of learning and for classroom management, too.

Patricia Buoncristiani discusses this in beautiful details, and reminds us about the importance of improving teacher education: http://thinkinginthedeepend.wordpress.com/2012/09/09/its-not-the-kids-fault/

She says how effective teachers employ good strategies:

“Above all this, these teachers know how to engage their kids in activities that grab their intellects, their senses and their emotions.

They also know that if they can effectively teach their students how to think skillfully, they will be able to approach everything that goes on in the classroom from an intelligent, thoughtful point of view. By teaching the behaviors that characterize thoughtful, successful people their students will know how to listen with empathy, to manage their impulsivity, to think and work interdependently.

Where do our teachers learn all this? In my experience teacher education programs today offer very little explicit teaching about the HOW of teaching. They focus on the WHAT.

And I cannot but wholeheartedly agree. Knowing how to create an optimal learning environment in your classroom makes a huge difference. How could we help more teachers achieve this (while waiting for the teacher education to be improved)?

Less Teaching – More Learning

11 Aug

Fixed mindset is a scary thing. It prevents us from seeing/hearing other options or opinions than the ones we have already selected. And if this option happens to be the idea of the teacher being the main source of information for students, I can understand how ridiculous learning facilitation sounds. Yet, in today’s world we have more information available than ever before and it would be unwise for any teacher to imagine this fact NOT having an effect on teaching practices.

 

We can’t (and shouldn’t) keep students in a vacuum where they don’t hear anything that is in contradiction to what they are being taught. This could only happen in a totalitarian world where just a single one truth (or correct answer) is accepted (Nina’s personal note: somehow this always makes me think about multiple choice testing, I am sorry!). This transfer of static facts is hardly learning, even though it can be teaching: transmitting our culture to the next generation.  Of course, one purpose of formal education IS to preserve the culture. Yet the other, equally important purpose is to prepare students to face the world we know nothing about, the future.  In today’s world, where the amount of  information doubles with increasing speed, it is important to build strong thinkers and lifelong learners.  And learning starts from wondering.

 

I can see how having just one single correct answer feels safer than having too many choices – but we really need to teach students how to choose wisely, because we cannot contain them from information outside. Their foundation for thinking and comparing must be wide  and solid enough to sustain observing foreign ideas, and the framework of their learning must be strong enough to allow flexibility. Having the freedom to explore, but also safety to return is the same strategy a safely attached two-year-old uses: gradually moving in larger circles away from the parent, but returning to her/his lap when needed. How can we foster this same combination of freedom and safety in education?

 

While attending the AERO – Education Revolution Conference last weekend I admired the way different teaching-learning disciplines came naturally together. Differences were not emphasized, but the things we all shared: lifelong learning, free sharing of information and using communication for understanding.  Negotiating the meaning of a word or concept happened frequently and spontaneously, because I cannot expect others to understand my subjective connotations. Why are we not using this tool more in education? I think we should.

 

Our students may be using the same words we do, but their understanding about it differs from ours, I can guarantee this. And because we are not attempting to create clones (I sure hope we aren’t!) , we should create lots of opportunities for negotiating the meaning (=personalized understanding) of the concepts that belong to our curricula, and thus provide students with the opportunities to reflect and create connections to existing knowledge and understanding. While thinking about student motivation to ponder and participate, one simple thing becomes clear to me. The ultimate question in investing my time and my effort in thinking and learning usually is: What’s in it for me?

 

What do you do to provide your students with this one important piece of making their learning more meaningful? How do you help them wonder?

 

 

 

 

Effective learning – what are the ingredients?

19 Jul

Creating a truly learner centered educational environment requires quite a few thoughts even before the learning-teaching interaction begins. You as teacher must make a choice of the frame of reference to be used. Sometimes this choice is an unintentional one – especially if you have not reflected upon your own learning philosophy.

To promote effective learning you should think about the learning environment (both emotional and physical) to ensure there are no obstacles for learning. Students prior knowledge plays a major part in their learning, and if you start teaching where the curriculum tells you to start, you may be passing by their actual horizon of understanding.

Some students arrive to the class ready to learn – others do not. Finding gentle ways to increase the readiness, and decreasing the fears, anxieties and misconceptions of students ensures a less bumpy ride towards the mutual goal: effective learning. Also, an aptitude for learning is highly individual among students in any given group. You as their teacher can either help students to become more interested in what they are learning – or simply communicate about passing the test as a measurement of education and learning itself not being important. Imagine how huge difference there is in between those two approaches! Yet we sometimes non-verbally communicate about passing/performing instead of learning.

Students’ own goals and their motivation to learn are also related to the learning aptitude. Certain (widely accepted) classroom practices actually cater for extrinsic motivation (i.e. performing tasks for a reward), which does not help your students to become lifelong learners. The last piece in this picture of effective learning is the quality of teaching – actually just one sixth of all the important ingredients of  effective learning, but too often highlighted as the only measurement of education excellence.

This all, among other topics, are discussed in my new book: Choosing How to Teach & Teaching How to Choose: Using the 3Cs to Improve Learning. It is already available on Amazon  and Barnes & Noble. Of course they are the same things I will be sharing in the AERO conference  in Portland, OR, August 1-5, 2012, where Sir Ken Robinson is one of the keynote speakers. I am quite excited!! 🙂

3Cs for better teaching and learning

8 Jul

The cognitive approach combined with the constructive and cooperative practices enable effective teaching and meaningful learning.

C1 –Cognitive approach makes teaching and 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 behavioural patterns. The individual way we approach learning and whether we believe in our abilities are huge processes that are running all the time behind student performance. This is why I believe it is important to build strong learners.

C2 – Constructive practice emphasizes the students’ need to construct their own understanding. 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.

C3 – Cooperative learning engages not only the whole student in her/his learning, but also the whole class (or school, or even a district!) into the learning process. Teaching and learning become meaningful for both teacher and students, because there is no need for the power struggle in the classroom: why would a student rebel against the rules s/he has been creating? Wide range of different teaching and learning strategies can be utilized, and there is much more time to teach and learn!

Deep learning (or “syväoppiminen”, as I learned the term while studying for my M. Ed. in the University of Jyväskylä, Finland) helps brain to reconstruct the long-term memory, and stores the learned content quite permanently. Its counterpart, shallow learning, only stores learned items to our short-term memory and they get discarded after a while whey they are not needed anymore. Think of cramming for a remember-every-small-detail – type exam. The difference between these two types of learning is huge – one builds for life, other is for temporary use. And in educational settings we are always dealing with both types of learning.

While reading about the “summer learning loss”, I cannot but think that those forgotten things were never deep learned. And because re-re-redoing things is extremely frustrating for both teachers and students, I wish more teachers intentionally chose how they teach and aimed for deep learning. 3Cs are one way of focusing on deep learning. They are easy to use and applicable in all levels of education – they are equally important in early childhood education as they are for people pursuing their masters or doctorates. Very few of us (humans) enjoy experiencing someone to use unnecessary power or control over us.

How do you provide your students with meaningful learning experiences?

Keep on learning!

15 May

An educator can never cease to learn – but what makes learning meaningful to us?

We know how important (free) play is for children and how much it contributes to their learning – I think the dynamic way of play is the main contributor there (don’t have any data about this, but to me it seems like common sense: being able to control the play and make sense of the sensory feed related to it).  And I assume that is what fascinates adult learners, too, the ability to connect ideas in a playful way.

Every day we gain more information about how learning happens: with imaging techniques researchers are able to track what areas in our brain are active during learning. We know how each brain is different, and how learning is individual, and how different people manage and manipulate the knowledge in unique ways.

How about teaching? Are we still using the same teaching methods that were common hundreds of years ago? Teaching and learning are like the two opposite sides of a coin – inseparable but opposite. We educators must learn to match our teaching styles with the dynamic view of knowledge, and find new ways for facilitating our students’ learning.

Teaching is about communicating one’s own knowledge and understanding of the subject to students who either absorb it as is, absorb it with internal modifications, or discard it. Learning is about constructing a worldview. Facilitating students’ learning means helping our students to construct their own understanding of the subject, and negotiating the meaning of the words and concepts with our students until it makes sense to them.

We teachers don’t like to have someone to come and tell us what to do. Very few students like that either. To have an effective educational system, we must understand that effective teachers are simply facilitators of students’ individual learning processes – and the ones who incite the spark of lifelong learning.

Of course, if you have lost the passion of learning you cannot transfer that to your students either. Facilitating our own learning is the beginning.

What do you need to do to find the old flame, and fall in love with learning again?

Lifelong learning

3 Apr

Information superhighway ‘bypassing adult learners’ — new study

Does it really surprise any education professionals to read how online technology has not helped people to become lifelong learners? And how the childhood experiences about learning and education are the  most significant predictors for the future interest in learning?

“Learning in later life appears to be primarily linked to positive attitudes to education that are usually formed during compulsory schooling. This means that young people who experienced early educational failure or felt alienated by the school system are very unlikely to participate in education as adults regardless of the opportunities available or potential benefits.” says Dr. Patrick White.

Don’t get me wrong. I like (learning) technology, and am hopelessly hooked to my computer, smartphone and even kindle. What worries me, though, is how different gadgets or software programs are presented as the ultimate answer for fixing education and mending the problem of falling grades and detached students. Technology is just a tool – how we use it makes all the difference.

Providing meaningful learning experiences for students takes the power struggle away from classrooms. This can be done with or without the technology. While working as an Academic Coordinator I used to say how teachers are my most important teaching tools, and I still think that being the reality of teaching and learning. It doesn’t help to have a fancy building with all the latest gadgets in every classroom if I don’t have teachers. But having my teachers willing to make learning a meaningful experience for students my school would be operational even without classrooms or any equipment. Teaching IS a contact sport.

If we wish to foster lifelong learning our students must be involved with worthwhile activities so that they can find learning interesting and rewarding. The negative attitude is the biggest challenge for lifelong learning. Empowering students to use their thinking skills (with or without technology) caters for positive approaches to learning. This is already a recognized and valid practice in Early Childhood Education where play is an important way for making learning an adventure student wants to repeat.

What could you do to foster lifelong learning?

Explaining the Finnish Miracle – Part Two

15 Mar

Explaining the Finnish Miracle – Part Two

Excellent multidimensional explanation about Finnish system! Please read!

It also contains the broader view of curriculum being the practical and helpful guiding tool for intentional teaching and learning – yet providing flexibility for individual schools and teachers to make learning happen in an individualized way. It is the true work plan. Not something publishers are selling, but a tool created for your school and your students.

Mentioning the corridors etc. as important places for learning made me miss the days I was teaching elementary in Finland, and often sent students to study in small groups to different places (like corridors) within the school building … sometimes we used stairs or dressing rooms as small group spaces. Students completed their assignments and returned to classroom to ask for more…. 🙂  But nobody was worried about them going missing, as they were highly accountable for their own learning.