Educators as Lead Learners
I have discussed educators as model learners before:
The educator’s role has or should change in this age of information abundance or Education 2.0-3.0. The educator’s role has always been to model and demonstrate effective learning, but somewhere along the line, the major role of the educator became that of content and knowledge disseminator. Now that in this information age content is freely and abundantly available, it is more important than ever to assist learners in the process of how to learn. (Educator as Model Learner)
The goal of this post is to encourage educators not only to adopt the mindset of the educator as a lead learner but also to model, demonstrate, and teach his/her learners the process of learning how to learn new “things”.
In our schools, “the emphasis is on what students need to learn, whereas little emphasis—if any—is placed on training students how they should go about learning the content and what skills will promote efficient studying to support robust learning,” writes John Dunlosky, professor of psychology at Kent State University in Ohio. However, he continues, “teaching students how to learn is as important as teaching them content, because acquiring both the right learning strategies and background knowledge is important—if not essential—for promoting lifelong learning.” (Smart Strategies That Help Students Learn How to Learn)
To effectively do so, though, the educator needs to understand and be able to articulate and demonstrate the process of learning, him or herself. It is a mistaken assumption that educators know how to do so. The learning process can be made overt through recording and clearly articulating the steps, procedures, and/or strategies for doing so. To learn and model this process, I recommend that educators pick something new to learn and practice doing the following:
- Explicitly state and record the metacognitive process while learning.
- Demonstrate and articulate the actual steps of learning.
- Record the stages of artifact development.
- Understand and embrace the iterative process of learning.
- Use and demonstrate the self-evaluative reflection process.
Deep Understanding of Metacognitive Processes The educator should be familiar with and able to demonstrate metacognitive processes. “The most effective learners are metacognitive; that is, they are mindful of how they learn, set personal learning goals, regularly self-assess and adjust their performance, and use strategies to support their learning” (http://sites.cdnis.edu.hk/school/ls/2011/05/12/teachers-as-lead-learners/). Developing one’s on metacognitive skills begins with developing an awareness of one’s own thought processes while learning new things. Once this awareness is developed, the steps of learning can be more clearly articulated.
Articulate and Showcase the Actual Steps of Learning If learning is understood as a process – one that goes from not knowing to one of knowing, then educators should know, understand, and clearly articulate the steps to that process. Granted, learning different things requires some different strategies, but there are some steps that cut across disciplines. For example, some of these steps include how one does the following:
- How do I gather information about what it is that I want to learn?
- What are the steps am I taking to learn?
- How do I know if I am adequately acquiring the knowledge, skills, etc., related to that learning?
- What do I do when I get stuck?
- What do I do when I need help?
So related to the metacognitive process, if the educator records the steps to their learning process, this can help make it more overt and obvious.
Understand and Embrace the Iterative Process of Learning The following video discusses that “effective” learning is often iterative which involves prototyping, testing, failing, tweaking, and then repeating this cycle.
The educator as a lead learner normalizes, embraces, models, and reinforces the iterative process of learning.
Record the Stages of Artifact Development This strategy can be especially useful if the goal is to create or make something. It can include writing something, learning a new skill, and making something (as in Maker Education). Too often education techniques focus on exemplary models. This gives the message that perfection is expected – not respecting that there are several stages, often several prototypes or iterations on the road towards perfection. Recording those iterations as artifacts through images, pictures, descriptive narratives will support and reinforce learning as a process.
Use and Demonstrate the Self-Evaluative Reflection Process
The authors [of this research] argue that learning from direct experience can be more effective if coupled with reflection—that is, the intentional attempt to synthesize, abstract, and articulate the key lessons taught by experience. The results reveal reflection to be a powerful mechanism behind learning, confirming the words of American philosopher, psychologist, and educational reformer John Dewey: “We do not learn from experience … we learn from reflecting on experience.” (Learning By Thinking: How Reflection Improves Performance)
Another strategy, intimately connected with the others presented in this post, is engaging in periodic self-evaluative reflection. It involves the revisiting the following question throughout the learning process, “What criteria am I using to assess the “goodness” and accuracy of my learning? In the absence of meeting that criteria, what do I do to adapt my strategies to meet this standard?”
Knowledge of one’s learning process can (and should) be used as part of an educator’s professional development. If done as such, it teaches and reinforces:
- The importance of learning new things; the importance of being a lifelong learner.
- The process of learning so this process can be more easily described and reinforced with students;
- The importance of a growth mindset; that growth is possible during any time of one’s career.
It is important to realize the implications for our students of our own critical reflection. Students put great store by our actions and they learn a great deal from observing how we model intellectual inquiry and democratic process. Given that this is so, a critically reflective teacher activates her classroom by providing a model of passionate skepticism. As Osterman (1990) comments, “critically reflective teachers – teachers who make their own thinking public, and therefore subject to discussion – are more likely to have classes that are challenging, interesting, and stimulating for students” (p. 139). Stephen Brookfield