Tag Archives: SEL

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. ūüôā

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 ‚ÄúGood job!‚ÄĚ and move on ‚Äď but that would not help my students to learn more.

References:

[1] Smith, N.C. (2017). Students‚Äô 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‚ÄĚ what‚ÄĚ and‚ÄĚ why‚ÄĚ 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/

Using SEL to support learner agency

22 Jan

Learner agency (students’ voice and choice in their own learning) has gained wonderfully much interest in education around the world during the past few years.

Alas, sometimes I see learner agency being expressed as something students either have or don’t have – yet, agency is truly the capacity to choose our responses to problematic situations [1]. It is not up to us as educators to start scoring learner agency, or dividing students based of whether they have agency or not. And, according to my research, learner agency may sometimes appear negative, especially when students choose to disengage – often to object the structure of instruction.

Students can perceive their learner agency as Detachment, Belonging, Synergy or Unbound.

Detachment can happen more easily when students perceive that their learning has no real-life connections, or when they are just going through the motions to earn a grade. There is very little or no learning going on, and students may engage in surface learning strategies.

The good news is that we CAN support learner agency with our instruction and classroom management and help students to belong, find synergy and become unbound learners. Choosing to teach with respect towards students and support students’ ownership of their own learning is a good start! Social- emotional learning (SEL) provides great tools for supporting learner agency. CASEL framework has identified 5 areas in SEL:

  • self-awareness
  • self-management
  • social awareness
  • relationship skills
  • responsible decision making

These are not something new and surprising, teachers throughout the time have focused on supporting these areas in their classrooms. And we know from decades of research how successful students already use all these skills – I am thinking all the research about self-regulation and co-regulation, engagement and participation, executive functions, metacognitive skills, and so forth. All SEL skills are necessary for successful learning, but too often they are not taught throughout formal education. And children arrive to school with different skillsets of SEL, some will need more help than others.

By embedding the SEL skills to our instruction and classroom management we are helping students to better engage in their own, individual learning process. And this is why embedding SEL is so crucially important! They should not be an additional curriculum, but learned within every school subject and project. The classroom applications for embedding SEL are quite self-evident:

  • Supporting students’ self-awareness means that we address their thoughts, beliefs, emotions and motivations regarding the learning experiences students have.
    • Providing information is just one part of the teaching-learning exchange
    • Addressing students’ questions and validating their thoughts immediately deepens the learning experience
    • Helping students to deal with their emotions during learning process further improves the learning experience – getting new or contradicting information is hard for all of us!
  • Supporting students’ self-management means that we help students to take initiative and cope with their emotions and thoughts, and we also provide guidance for stressful situations.
    • We have all had students with advanced self-management skills, and also students who haven’t really been exposed what self-management means. Balancing different student needs is always challenging, and it will always be challenging because we are individuals with different personal histories. Supporting students’ self-regulation is just a part of being an educator!
    • Some students need more support in taking initiative than others, it may be a part of their personality. Too often I see extroversion being rewarded over introversion – even though one is not a better personality trait than the other!
  • Supporting students’ social awareness means that we model empathy and compassion, recognize (and verbalize) situational demands and opportunities, and help all students to take perspective
    • Understanding the perspective of another person is a fundamental skill in the society, and we can choose to teach this with all classroom interactions. Think-pair-share is a great start!
    • Discussing why some things are harder to learn than others is important, because it relates directly to the mindsets we have. And verbalizing that we all struggle with something builds better communication and learning skills for the future.
  • Supporting students’ relationship skills means that we emphasize cooperation, communication and proactively teach students to seek help and offer help to others
    • Engaging in dialogue is important. And dialogue is VERY different from discussion, because in dialogue we are actively trying to understand what the other person is trying to express (not focusing on building our own argument).
    • Cooperative education is learning-centered, meaning that everything we do is focused on supporting students’ learning process and understanding the big picture – instead of cramming tons of details to be forgotten after the test or engaging in busywork.
    • Learning happens in interactions – so providing more opportunities for meaningful interactions is important!
  • Supporting students’ responsible decision making means that we teach students how to make good decisions, first with smaller things and about personal behaviors and social interactions, but also increasingly more complex decisions.
    • Choosing is a skill that can (and must) be learned in a safe environment.
    • Only through making choices we can train our own executive functions [2] – EF doesn’t develop if we are always told what we need to do.
    • Too many (and too big) choices can be detrimental – knowing students’ personal preferences will help us to support them learning to choose.
    • Adding choices also communicates to our students that we believe they can learn, and that we are there to help, if needed.

All the five SEL elements are organically present in our lives, in our societies. Classroom learning shouldn’t be an exception of this. Choosing to teach with the focus of supporting students’ learning process also helps us empower our students to learn more on their own.

Helping students to learn how to make responsible choices is a crucially important life skill. Let’s not waste our opportunity to support their agency by embedding SEL strategies to our instruction and adding more students’ voice and choice to every learning interaction!

References:

[1] Emirbayer, M., & Mische, A. (1998). What is agency? American journal of sociology, 103(4),
962-1023. Retrieved from: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/231294.

Biesta, G., & Tedder, M. (2007). Agency and learning in the lifecourse: Towards an ecological
perspective. Studies in the Education of Adults, 39(2), 132-149.

[2] 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 bulletin, 134(2), 270.

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

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 ‚Äúpower skills‚ÄĚ like executive functions or relationship skills ‚Äď 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‚Äôs 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.

The problem with strategic learning approach

20 Sep

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

[1] Marton, F., & S√§lj√∂, R. (1976). On Qualitative Differences in Learning: I‚ÄĒOutcome and
process. British journal of educational psychology, 46(1), 4-11.

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

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

The Power of Positive Regard

1 Mar

There are lots and lots of expectations for teachers today, one of them being our teaching dispositions. We are asked to check our own biases, exhibit the belief that everyone can learn and be ready and willing to differentiate to support our students’ individual needs. In addition to everything else.

The singlehandedly easiest way for me to keep my sanity while supporting my students, is to have an Unconditional Positive Regard towards each  and every one of them. It simply means isolating the behavior from the person and accepting and supporting people as they are, instead of expecting them to be what I wanted them to be.

The practical way is to always assume that the student had a good intention, whatever the results, or whatever they say or do. It has required practice to start and keep on using it, and withhold my thoughts of judgment. Even today, while engaging in discussion with students, I keep on reminding myself that I do not know what are my students’ lived realities and how they perceive their own learning. My only choice is to ask them to share their thoughts with me, and try my hardest not to assume things. I first learned about the uncoditional positive regard while earning my masters/teaching degree in Finland.

The concept of unconditional positive regard was developed by psychologist Carl Rogers, who emphasized individual choices in his person-centered counseling practice. The learner-centered educational practice carries the same ideas of supporting students’ congruence (self-image being similar to ideal self) by showing genuine interest towards learners and practicing unconditional posive regard in teaching-learning interactions. The learner-centered philosphy builds on the humanist worldview emphasizing construction of meaning and knowledge from individual experiences. I have found following learner-centered approach to be an easy and productive practice in my work as an educator.

The table below displays the three main categories of my learner-centered practice. The categories (following Rogers’ theory) are: striving to be genuine in order to build authentic dialogues, practicing unconditional positive regard to remind students that they do not have to achieve to be accepted, and using empathetic understanding to communicate my attempt in understanding student’s situation. After these basic needs are met, it is easier to discuss the academic questions my students have.

A tabledisplaying Genuineness, Unconditional Positive Regard and Empathetic Understanding as Learner-centered practices adopted from person-centered therapy.

 

The table is not meant to be a walkthrough of a disussion. It is just a collection of examples from my discussions with my students, and my recent  aha!-moments, like the difference between being kind instead of being nice (I learned this from my colleague’s presentation, and my mind was blown!). I had never before considered the difference! ūüôā Here is the short explanation: While being kind I engage in the important (but hard) dialogue about learning, helping my students to understand their own learning process and how they can either help or hinder their own learning. If I were to be just nice, I could say “Good job!” and move on – but that would not help my student to learn more.

The table categories (genuineness, unconditional positive regard and empathetic understanding) are also important parts to my 3C- approach to learning and teaching.  The way I do it combines the cognitive and constructive practices in a cooperative learning environment. Cognitive practice includes helping students to learn about learning, but also become more knowledgeable of their own worldview, thinking and metacognitive skills.  Constructive learning and teaching focus on collaborative meaning-making, gaining skills and understanding concepts. Cooperative teaching and learning build the emotionally safe learning environment, where interactions are held in high value, students can ask questions and engage in non-punitive assessments that support the learning process

Cognitive, constructive and cooperative learning in a Venn diagram.

Engaging in dialogue is essential for learning because dialogue is collaborative meaning-making by nature. It is about equal participants engaging in an attempt to understand the viewpoint of other(s) and defining the meaning in the social setting. Such dialogue is about creating new understanding together, and in that sense it denotes very constructive ideas of learning. The essential condition for dialogue to happen is equality. My truth cannot be better than your truth. In a safe learning environment, where students dare to ask questions and challenge their own beliefs, dialogue can be a very powerful tool for deep learning.

The power of positive regard lies in building trust between teachers and students, which then enables the dialogue to happen. If I don’t listen what my student is saying, I am just lecturing to a captive audience, wasting my opportunity to make a difference.

 

 

—–

American Psychological Association, Coalition for Psychology in Schools and Education. (2015). Top 20 principles from psychology for pre K‚Äď12 teaching and learning. Retrieved from http:// http://www.apa.org/ed/schools/cpse/top-twenty-principles.pdf

Client-centered therapy: https://dictionary.apa.org/client-centered-therapy

Kindness indicates an ethical significane:  https://www.scu.edu/the-big-q/being-nice-vs-being-kind/

McLeod, S. A. (2014, Feb 05). Carl Rogers. Simply psychology: https://www.simplypsychology.org/carl-rogers.html

Rogers, C. (1959). A theory of therapy, personality and interpersonal relationships as developed in the client-centered framework. In (ed.) S. Koch, Psychology: A study of a science. Vol. 3: Formulations of the person and the social context. New York: McGraw Hill.

 

Learning process and contextual wellbeing

4 Jan

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

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

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

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

N3C

 

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

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

C3¬†‚ÄstCooperative learning¬†is about holistic engagement in the learning process. The guiding principle is to have¬†learning-centered orientation in instruction and support. Students learn from each other and engage in collaborative meaning-making. Every student has their own strengths and areas to grow, and growth mindset is openly discussed in class. Teaching and learning become meaningful for both teacher and students, because there is no need for the power struggle when interactions are based on respect and compassion. From students‚Äô perspective cooperative learning is about respecting the views of others and behaving responsibly while being accountable for your own learning.¬†At best this leads to learning enjoyment, which is a prerequisite for life-long learning: why would we keep on doing something we don‚Äôt like? In 21st Century nobody can afford to stop learning.

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

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

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‚Äôs 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 ‚Äď have choices and be an agent of one’s own life and learning
  • Competence ‚Äď reach goals and move towards meaningful growth
  • Relatedness ‚Äď 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/

Why choices are SO important for learning process

14 Jun

 

While doing my research about learner agency, I interviewed high school seniors about their learning experiences. Students’ common perception regarding learner agency was that they do not have enough choices to engage in their learning during their school days. This makes no sense! Students must learn how to make good choices during their K-12 experiences. That is a major part of human development.

So why don’t we offer enough choices in classroom?

I believe there are many answers to this question. The first that comes to mind is scary: we teach the way we were taught. There is a great chance for behaviorism being the predominant learning theory used in that classroom.  Yet, it is generally accepted that intrinsic motivation is important for successful learning [1]. Trying to build effective instruction is very hard, if we keep on ignoring what research shows about teaching and learning!

Teachers who have experimented with letting students decide which tasks they would work on in the classroom report results of students finishing more tasks and being more engaged.¬†Furthermore, we have decades of educational research about benefits of learner-centered classroom practices being superior to operant conditioning and rote memorization. Students need autonomy to build critical and creative thinking skills that will enable them to practice perspective-taking as a part of their everyday learning experiences [2]. Having choices allows students to perceive that they have control over their own learning ‚Äď 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 ‚Äúteaching to the test‚ÄĚ, 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‚Äô interest in learning ‚Äď 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.¬† ūüôā¬† 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¬†‚Äď and using what they learn to build their worldviews. School is ‚Äďor shouldn‚Äôt 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 bulletin, 134(2), 270.

[2]¬†¬†American Psychological Association. Coalition for Psychology in Schools and Education.(2015).¬†Top 20 principles from psychology for preK‚Äď12 teaching and learning.¬†https://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 psychologist,¬†48(2), 90.¬†¬†and¬† ¬†Bollmer, J., Cronin, R., Brauen, M., Howell, B., Fletcher, P., & Gonin, R. (2016). stage‚Äďenvironment 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 inquiry,¬†11(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‚Äôs 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 ‚Äď 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‚ÄźDevelopmental Theory Support Design of Adaptive Learning?.¬†Mind, Brain, and Education,¬†10(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‚Äď39). San Diego, CA: Academic Press.

 

 

Instruction that supports learning process

30 Apr

Education is about looking both into the past and into the future, which is why it also has two opposite purposes: to ensure cultural progression and to prepare students for their unknown future.

Cultural progression is necessary for societies to have members who will know about the past (history) and the traditions (culture), but emphasizing the traditional ways of doing things may cause difficulties for students to learn for the future. Yet, not knowing the history could cause us to repeat the mistakes of the past generations. For anyone engaging in instruction this is just one of the many dichotomies of the teaching-learning situation. Finding balance is important because both past and future are necessary in understanding the process.

Modern educational theory and practice are built on the premise of education being the process for students to ‚Äúdevelop their rational faculties so that they become capable of independent¬†judgement‚ÄĚ(1). This requires for students to engage in three-dimensional learning process and grow their skills, knowledge and understanding.

It is important for every teacher to know the values and ideas behind the instructional practice they use in helping students to learn. I tend to move towards the humanist worldview of learning and teaching, where knowledge is seen subjectively constructed.  I have hard time believing in knowledge being measurable, objective or free of values. Data can be that, and some information may be objective, but those only become knowledge when they have been processed through our own experiences and understanding, i.e. personally constructed during the learning process.

 

Humanist vs Mechanist

Also, learning can be so much more than just a change in one’s behaviour, ¬†as it is seen in the mechanist worldview! To fully support the learning process, and to improve students’ academic performance,¬†it is important to combine all three teaching paradigms in the humanist worldview.

The way I do it combines the cognitive and constructive practices in a cooperative learning environment. Cognitive practice includes helping students to learn about learning, but also becoming more knowledgeable of their own worldview, thinking and metacognitive skills.  Constructive learning and teaching  focus on collaborative meaning-making, gaining skills and understanding concepts. Cooperative teaching and learning build the emotionally safe learning environment, where interactions are held in high value, students can ask questions and engage in non-punitive assessments that support the learning process.

3C triangle

Instruction that supports the learning process helps students to become skillful and nimble life-long learners. Skillful learners understand the past and are able to reflect on their own learning, but they are also able to adjust their knowledge to meet the requirements of the future.

 

________________________________________________

[1] Biesta, G., & Tedder, M. (2006). How is agency possible? Towards an ecological understanding of agency-as-achievement. University of Exeter School of Education and Lifelong Learning, Working Paper, 5.