Tag Archives: SEL

Emotionally Safe Learning Environments

5 Nov

This blog post was originally published in December 2011. Occasionally I revisit my old posts to see if I still agree with them. 🙂

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 to art as well as note taking!

I think today, in 2022, the learner-centeredness and focusing on supporting students’ emotional safety is more important than ever! But this may require a perspective change for educators and administrators. A big one. Shifting from perceiving students as disobedient, uncontrollable, mean, or acting out, to understanding that these behaviors are indicators of trauma in students’ lives.

We cannot deny the effects of trauma in our classrooms!

Students need our help, so that they can learn how to self-regulate, or to use better ways to get their needs met. SEL is important and necessary in education, but it may not be enough. I think in 2022 we all need to learn how to use Trauma Informed Practices to create emotionally safe learning environments. 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 feels like basic courtesy to me.

The central values of safety, co-operation, individuality, and responsibility help students to build a realistic self-image together with the teacher and classmates – and these all are central SEL skills we all need to be successful in the society. These values also 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 created in cooperation with students, and confirmed with the signatures of the teacher and students, before posting them on the wall for further reference.

Stress-free atmosphere is the first principle for creating an emotionally safe growing and learning environment. Focusing on learning process instead of the product helps to create the feeling of having enough time, which enables students to focus on their own learning instead of external factors that might disturb their concentration. This also supports learner agency. Knowing that their thoughts and ideas are valued helps students to 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.  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 automatically holds students accountable for their own learning and helps them realize how much they already have learned. Ungrading is a growing movement among teachers!

I mentor students pursuing their M.Ed. degrees In Learning Experience Design and Curriculum & Instruction, and try to follow my own advice. Therefore the most important question I ask every day is: How can I support your learning today?

What Learner-Centered Education Really Means

16 May

Learner-centered and emotionally safe pedagogy is an attitude or disposition. It is not a handbook of tips and tricks. It is being physically and emotionally present when a student needs us. It is also about focusing on the learning process instead of the product (worksheet, assessment, test score, etc.). It means  engaging in a dialogue, offering help and support, and answering the question every student asks: What’s in it for me? 

Personalization is one of the modern approaches in learning and teaching. However, it is important to remember that designing great learning experiences doesn’t require any special apps, programs or gadgets! We want it to based on Learner-centered pedagogy because it has a long history and it has proven to be very effective. At the simplest form learner-centered means that we are are focusing everything around students needs. (Image below: my starburst mirror in the making)

When I was making my starburst mirror few years back, I was thinking that this is how student-centered learning really works: keeping students in the center and carefully building the individualized support around them. This means purposefully designing the instructional process (teaching methods, lesson planning and classroom management) to meet students’ needs, focusing on supporting students’ individual learning process (learning and development and SEL) and using assessment data to support students’ individual learning processes. Please see TPK for more info about pedagogical knwoledge.

Some students need more support than others. We are not clones and should not be treated like ones, so it is important to abandon the outdated factory model, where learning is seen to be a product (of instruction and testing). To me, one the cringiest examples of the product thinking is seeing 28 pieces of identical “artwork” on classroom walls. Yes, students had learned to follow directions and create a copy of something, but the scary truth is that we will never creat the same competency when following somone else’s thinking. For deep learning to happen we must engage in our own thinking – this is what I learned while working for Head Start. Children were amazingly creative and learned so much every day while playing.

A major problem is that we still talk about learning and teaching like they were just one process. But learning and teaching are two different things! They are two different processes that are often put into the same frame of reference (education) and sometimes even happen in the same physical space (classroom) – but it would be foolish for us to imagine that students only learn at school! The “real” learning often happens after studying has been done, and the newly gained knowledge is used in real-life situations and combined with all the existing knowledge and experiences student have. This is what “deep learning” means: reconstructed personal understanding of the topic.

When we perceive learning as an in-built force within our students, the teaching job became instantly easier! Being a facilitator for learning and guiding  students to build their own knowledge is a huge step towards supporting learner agency. And it is truly learner-centered! 

We want to strive towards the next step in education: schools evolving to places where knowledge is socially constructed and contextually reinvented. We can do this is ANY given classroom  by offering choices for students and making their learning more meaningful. But this also presents the need for mutual intentionality and accountability – students coming to school with the intention to learn, teachers with the intention to support students’ individual learning. Not just meeting the standard of the learning objective of the day. Please understand that I am NOT against standards! But meeting them cannot be the ONLY goal of education.

The one thing that sustains my professional practice after a decade in Higher Ed is that I get to talk and email with my students, one at the time, and ask the most important question:

How can I help and support your learning process today?

Supporting adult learning and SEL

27 Feb

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

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

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

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

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

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

🙂

Nina

Learner agency thrives in an emotionally safe learning environment

11 Apr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References:

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

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

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

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

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 “power skills” like executive functions or relationship skills – SEL is an integral part of human development and needs to be embedded into curriculum and instruction instead of being taught as another school subject.

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

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

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

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

APA – Top 20 principles for k-12

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

Meaningful learning: essential factor – Novak article

Motivation and Self-Regulated Learning – Book

References:

[1] Zelazo, P. D. (2020). Executive Function and Psychopathology: A Neurodevelopmental Perspective. Annual Review of Clinical Psychology16. (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 Education7(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’ lifelong learning process.  The term “deep learning” resulted from the original phenomenograhpic research where researchers found out students having different approaches to learning [1]. These approaches describe how learners perceive tasks – 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 “a 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” [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 – 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 – 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., & Säljö, R. (1976). On Qualitative Differences in Learning: I—Outcome 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 Education1(8), 1.

3 Superior Strategies for Supporting Online Learning

22 Mar

Learning happens in interactions.  It is not an event, but an ongoing process (Stahl et al., 2010). Online learning presents great opportunities for individual and productive learning interactions. therefore learning experience design should be built around intereactions. Obviously, there may be some serious problems, too, such as not noticing when students are struggling. Most problems get solved when we focus on supporting students’ learning process and build our communications around that support.

When we consider the first part of learning process to be interactions between the learner, content, and environment, and the second part being internal acquisition and elaboration (Illeris, 2003, p. 398), it seems obvious that the core strategies for great online education focus on supporting these two processes. I have found the following three superior strategies to be the most helpful ones during the last 8 years of my online practice.

  1. Strive for user-friendly content delivery – make it easy for students to know what to do and where to find necessary information.
  2. Decidedly support students’ self-regulated learning – the learning process is very individual and we can help students to design better learning experiences for themselves.
  3. Favor asynchronous learning activities – we want to differentiate students learning experiences, and accommodate differnet needs and previous knowledge with asynchronous activities.

Learning is such a personal experience. When our students have successful learning experiences they are more likely to want to learn more. The three strategies above agree with the framework of Teacher’s Pedagogical Knowledge (Sonmark, et al., 2017), addressing all three areas of our necessary professional competence: Instructional Process (teaching methods, lesson planning and classroom management), Learning Process (learning & development and dispositions), and Assessment (evaluation and diagnosis procedures & data and research literacy). More about the strategies below!

3 Superior Strategies for Supporting Online Learning: 1.	Strive for user-friendly content delivery 2.	Decidedly support students’ self-regulated learning 3.	Favor asynchronous learning activities

First strategy: make learning easier by providing choices for engaging with the content. Curriculum usually dictates the content to be learned. Delivering content is the easiest problem to solve while transferring to online learning. We can share documents and record presentations, provide worksheets and self-assessments. It is important to honor students’ different preferences for obtaining information, some prefer watching videos, others like to read or listen. Keep videos short. Make sure to provide a transcript for a video or podcast – especially when instructing adults. We read much faster than anyone can talk.

Often online learning includes using a Learning Management System, LMS. As educators we have to become proficient users of the LMS, in addition to the foundational competencies of Teachers’ Pedagogical Knowledge, otherwise online teaching becomes very cumbersome. Obviously, students have different previous exposure to online environments, so remembering to offer help for navigation is the crucially important first step. Series of walk through documents or short videos is better than one or two long videos. We want to be sure to provide just-in-time support to make it easy for students to navigate the syllabus and their learning materials.

Online learning environment can sometimes become a barrier for learning. Therefore, it is important to step out of our own comfort zone with the LMS, and try to see it with the eyes of someone who encounters it for the first time. Are learning materials organized in a user-friendly way? Does the navigation make implicit sense to a person who encounters it for the first time? How can we help all students to navigate their new learning environment? These questions are equally important if we are just providing the learning materials over a website. In situations with great learner diversity it may be best to create a checklist for required activities and another list for additional supporting documents. And, most importantly: make sure to be willing and available to help.

Second strategy: Support self-regulated learning (Zimmerman, 2000). The greatest mistake while switching to online learning is the attempt of mimicking seat-based education where instructor talks and students sit and listen (an approach created without modern knowledge of how learning happens and how it can best supported). First rule of effective education is this: learning process is individual – so, focus your efforts on supporting students’ learning process. While we all DO learn the same way, through acquisition and elaboration, our concept development and preferred constructs for connecting new information to our existing knowledge are very diverse. We all have our own mental models of the world and keep adding information to our own knowledge base. Information that is not personally assimilated or accommodated will simply be forgotten, as it doesn’t become a part of our knowledge structure. Therefore, supporting students’ learning process and being available to answer questions IS the path for effective online education.

Self-regulated learning cycle guides students through the three crucial parts of learning: Planning – Performance – Reflection. The planning phase (forethought) includes analyzing the tasks and setting the process and completion goals. Planning for our own learning is an advanced skill, and we cannot expect students to master it immediately. Providing support for planning is crucially important in the beginning!, because students may not have any experience of designing their own learning experiences. The performance phase relies on self-monitoring, so that we are aware of our own learning process and can compare it to the expected outcomes. Rubrics are the best possible formative assessment tool for online learning, because they show students the criteria for grading. The use of rubrics in formative assessments has been shown to support students’ learning in recent educational research (eg. Panadero, Jonsson & Botella, 2017; Kasimatis, Kouloumpis, & Papageorgiou, 2019; Ajjawi, Bearman & Boud, 2019). The third phase of learning process also relies on rubrics because looking back to the choices made in the current cycle, and having an open dialogue about choices for the next learning cycle, is the very moment for effective self-regulated learning to emerge. Engaging in individual discussions about the rubric with each student is easier in the online learning environment than in the classroom. It can be a chat or a phone/webcam discussion with online collaboration over the documents comparing the rubric and student’s performance. The important part for the instructor is to listen and learn more about how the student thinks, to best support them during the next learning cycle. The planning part in the next learning cycle benefits from the foundation a dialogue provides. So, make sure to be available to help.

The third strategy: favoring asynchronous learning is great! We all learn in different pace, depending on our previous knowledge and thinking patterns. Learning doesn’t happen like manufacturing items on a conveyor belt. Learning process has spurts and halts, and sometimes looping back to already learned content is necessary, because we need to review or relearn things. The great thing about online learning is that we all can take as much time as we need to complete a learning activity – and students don’t have to feel bored or anxious because they need more or less time for the task than others. Yes, there can and should be times when the whole class checks in, or when a sub task must be ready for a small group assignment. But it doesn’t mean everyone have to sit still if they have already completed it, they can go for a short walk before engaging the next session, or do something else to invigorate themselves. Encouraging students to take several short breaks during the day is very important. I still believe that Finnish model of taking a 15-minute break after every 45-minute lesson was a great way to keep my students engaged and ready to learn. Favoring asynchronous learning activities allows us to support students’ individual needs. So, make sure to be available to help.

Bottom line: Online education has the potential to become students’ best or worst learning experience. We can make it to become the best one, by adapting practices that focus on supporting each individual student’s learning process. Therefore, make sure to be available to help.

😊

Nina

Ajjawi, R., Bearman, M., & Boud, D. (2019). Performing standards: a critical perspective on the contemporary use of standards in assessment. Teaching in Higher Education, 1-14.

Illeris, K. (2003). Towards a contemporary and comprehensive theory of learning. International journal of lifelong education22(4), 396-406.

Kasimatis, K., Kouloumpis, D. & Papageorgiou, T. (2019). Cultivation of 21st-century skills: Creating and implementing rubrics for assessing projects. New Trends and Issues Proceedings on Humanities and Social Sciences. [Online]. 6(7), pp 180-188. Available from: www.prosoc.eu

Panadero, E., Jonsson, A., & Botella, J. (2017). Effects of self-assessment on self-regulated learning and self-efficacy: Four meta-analyses. Educational Research Review22, 74-98.

Stahl, S. M., Davis, R. L., Kim, D. H., Lowe, N. G., Carlson, R. E., Fountain, K., & Grady, M. M. (2010). Play it again: the master psychopharmacology program as an example of interval learning in bite-sized portions. CNS spectrums15(8), 491-504.

Sonmark, K. et al. (2017), “Understanding teachers’ pedagogical knowledge: report on an international pilot study”, OECD Education Working Papers, No. 159, OECD Publishing, Paris. http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/43332ebd-en

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

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! 🙂 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.

 

 

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American Psychological Association, Coalition for Psychology in Schools and Education. (2015). Top 20 principles from psychology for pre K–12 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.

 

Self-efficacy for deeper learning

28 Apr

While trying to think how to best support my adult learners and help them to have stronger self-efficacy beliefs, I realized that I had to figure out the differences and similarities between efficacy and other similar concepts.

We all have an academic self-concept. Often this is an aggregated judgment of our perceived ability in an academic domain, based on our past learning performance. [1]  I am thinking of all the times when I have heard a student say that they are not good at math or languages, or that they are poor test-takers. Academic self-concept is our self-perception of our skills and competencies.  These beliefs can be either empowering or restrictive for deeper learning.

Learning achievement is firmly tied into learning dispositions, which is the way we all as students engage in and relate to the learning process. Sometimes dispositions are shrunk to the word “attitude”, which seems quite inadequate to describe all the different processes related to how we choose engage in learning experiences. Deep engagement in learning is a function of a complex combination of learners’ identities, dispositions, values, attitudes and skills [2].

The American Psychological Association uses the concept of emotional well-being to describe parts of school satisfaction and being successful in learning [3]:

The components of emotional well-being include sense of self (self-concept, self-esteem), a sense of control over oneself and one’s environment (self-efficacy, locus of control), general feelings of well-being (happiness, contentment, calm), and capacity for responding in healthy ways to everyday stresses (coping skills).

Fortunately, self-efficacy develops throughout our lives. It is not as an isolated construct, but as an important part of our development, dispositions and agency.  It seems that by focusing on strengthening learner agency, we also support other components of deep learning engagement. Students’ subjective learning experiences in the everyday classroom context are the building blocks of their academic self-images and self-efficacy beliefs.

Emphasizing and increasing learner agency is easy: listen to students and provide them with choices for deep learning engagement – no busywork! Distinguishing learning experiences from the experience of being taught is an important starting point. When students have meaningful learning experiences, this contributes to their school satisfaction, in addition to supporting their self-efficacy.

In a knowledge society learning cannot end with a graduation ceremony. It has to become a personal process of growth in order to engage with the change that constantly occurs in the modern world.  To achieve this, the role of engagement in one’s own learning cannot be overemphasized.

Fortunately, as educators we can support our students’ agency and self-efficacy beliefs. Every day and in every classroom. If we choose to do so. I hope we all do!

 

 

[1] Bong, M., & Skaalvik, E. M. (2003). Academic self-concept and self-efficacy: How different are they really?. Educational psychology review15(1), 1-40.

[2] Shum, S. B., & Crick, R. D. (2012, April). Learning dispositions and transferable competencies: pedagogy, modelling and learning analytics. In Proceedings of the 2nd international conference on learning analytics and knowledge (pp. 92-101). ACM.

[3] Coalition for Psychology in Schools and Education. (2015). Top 20 principles from psychology for preK-12 teaching and learning. American Psychological Association