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Posts Tagged ‘reflection

Helping Learners Move Beyond “I Can’t Do This”

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I work part-time with elementary learners – with gifted learners during the school year and teaching maker education camps during the summer. The one thing almost all of them have in common is yelling out, “I can’t do this” when the tasks aren’t completed upon first attempts or get a little too difficult for them. I partially blame this on the way most school curriculum is structured. Too much school curriculum is based on paper for quick and one shot learning experiences (or the comparable online worksheets). Students are asked to do worksheets on paper, answer end-of-chapter questions on paper, write essays on paper, do math problems on paper, fill in the blanks on paper, and pick the correct answer out of a multiple choice set of answers on paper. These tasks are then graded as to the percentage correct and then the teacher moves onto the next task.

So it is no wonder that when learners are given hands-on tasks such as those common to maker education, STEM, and STEAM, they sometimes struggle with their completion. Struggles are good. Struggles with authentic tasks mimics real life so much more than completing those types of tasks and assessments done at most schools.

Problems like yelling out, “I can’t do this” arise when the tasks get a little too difficult (but ultimately are manageable). I used to work with at-risk kids within Outward Bound-type programs. Most at-risk kids have some self-defeating behaviors including those that result in personal failure. The model for these types of programs is that helping participants push past their self-perceived limitations results in the beginnings of a success rather than a failure orientation. This leads into a success building upon success behavioral cycle.

A similar approach can be used with learners when they take on a “I can’t do this” attitude. Some of the strategies to offset “I can’t do this” include:

  • Help learners focus on “I can’t do this . . .  YET.”
  • Teach learners strategies for dealing with frustration.
  • Encourage learners to ask for help from their peers.
  • Give learners tasks a little above their ability levels.
  • Emphasize the processes of learning rather than its product.
  • Reframe mistakes and difficulties as opportunities for learning.
  • Scaffold learning; provide multiple opportunities to learn and build upon previous learning.
  • Focus on mastery of learning; mastery of skills.
  • Avoid the urge to rescue them.
  • May need to push learners beyond self-perceived limits.
  • Build reflection into the learning process.
  • Help learners accept an “it’s okay” when a task really is too hard (only as a last resort).

moving beyond i can't

Focus on “I can’t do this . . .  YET.”

The use of “YET” was drawn from Carol Dweck’s work with growth mindsets.

Just the words “yet” or “not yet,” we’re finding give kids greater confidence, give them a path into the future that creates greater persistence. And we can actually change students’ mindsets. In one study, we taught them that every time they push out of their comfort zone to learn something new and difficult, the neurons in their brain can form new, stronger connections,and over time, they can get smarter. (Carol Dweck TED Talk: The power of believing that you can improve)

By asking learners to add “yet” to the end of their “I can’t do this” comments, possibilities are opened up for success in future attempts and iterations. It changes their fixed or failure mindsets to growth and possibility ones.

Teach learners strategies for dealing with frustration.

What often precedes learners yelling out, “I can’t do this” is that learners’ frustration levels have gotten a bit too high for them. Helping learners deal with their frustrations is a core skill related to their social-emotional development and helps with being successful with the given tasks.

The basic approach to helping a [student] deal with frustrating feelings is (a) to help them build the capability to observe themselves while they’re in the midst of experiencing the feeling, (b) to help them form a story or narrative about their experience of the feeling and the situation, and then (c) to help them make conscious choices about their behavior and the ways they express their feelings. (Tips for Parents: Managing Frustration and Difficult Feelings in Gifted Children)

You can help your [student] recognize that learning involves trial and error. Mastering a new skill takes patience, perseverance, practice, and the confidence that success will come. Instead of recognizing that failure is temporary, a [student] often concludes, “I’ll never succeed.” That is why encouragement is by far the most important gift you can give your frustrated [student]. Take her dejection seriously, but help her look at her challenge differently: “Never,” you might reply, “is an awfully long time.” Eventually, she’ll learn from your encouraging words to talk herself out of giving up. (Fight Frustration)

Encourage learners to ask for help from their peers.

I must tell both my gifted students and my summer campers several times a day to ask one of their classmates for help when they are stuck. I have a three before me policy in my classrooms, but sometimes when I tell them to ask for help, they look at me like I am speaking another language.  It makes sense, though, as they often have been socialized via school procedures to ask the teacher when they get stuck.

The following poster is going up in my classroom this coming year to remind them of the different possibilities for getting help if and when they get stuck on a learning task:

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The bottom line becomes facilitating learner self-reliance knowing that these are skills learners can transfer to outside of school activities where there often is not a teacher to provide assistance.

Emphasize the processes of learning rather than its product.

School curriculum often focuses on the whats of learning – the products – rather than the hows of learning – the processes. When the focus changes to the process of learning, learners are less apt to feel the pressure to create quality products. “Research has demonstrated that engaging students in the learning process increases their attention and focus, motivates them to practice higher-level critical thinking skills and promotes meaningful learning experiences” (Engaging students in learning).

The biggest step an educator can take to implement a process-oriented learning environment is to let go of expectations about what a product should be. Expectations can and should be around learning processes such as: following through to the task completion, finding help when needed, trying new things, taking risks, creating and innovating, tolerating frustration, and attempting alternative routes when one route isn’t working.

Reframe mistakes and difficulties as opportunities for learning.

I’ve blogged about normalizing failure and mistake making in The Over Promotion of Failure: 

I reframe the idea of failure, that oftentimes occur within open-ended, ill-defined projects, as things didn’t go as originally planned. It is just a part of the learning process. I explain to my learners that they will experience setbacks, mistakes, struggles. It is just a natural part of real world learning. Struggles, setbacks, and mistakes are not discussed as failure but as parts of a process that need improving.

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Contrary to what many of us might guess, making a mistake with high confidence and then being corrected is one of the most powerful ways to absorb something and retain it. Learning about what is wrong may hasten understanding of why the correct procedures are appropriate but errors may also be interpreted as failure. And Americans … strive to avoid situations where this might happen. (To Err Is Human: And A Powerful Prelude To Learning)

Scaffold learning; provide multiple opportunities to learn and build upon previous learning.

Many maker education, STEM, and STEAM activities require a skill set in order to complete them. For example, many of the learning activities I do with my students require the use of scissors, tape, putting together things. Even though some of the learners are as old as 6th grade, many lack these skills. As such, I do multiple activities that require their use. Learners are more likely to enjoy, engage in, and achieve success in these activities if related skills are scaffolded, repeated, and built upon.

In the process of scaffolding, the teacher helps the student master a task or concept that the student is initially unable to grasp independently. The teacher offers assistance with only those skills that are beyond the student’s capability. Of great importance is allowing the student to complete as much of the task as possible, unassisted. The teacher only attempts to help the student with tasks that are just beyond his current capability. Student errors are expected, but, with teacher feedback and prompting, the student is able to achieve the task or goal. (Scaffolding)

 By allowing students to learn from their mistakes, or circling back through the curriculum will allow more students to access your instruction and for you to have a better understanding of where they are at with their learning.  Let’s face it, learning can be messy and if you try to put it into a simple box or say a single class period and then move on, it isn’t always effective.  (Strategies and Practices That Can Help All Students Overcome Barriers)

Focus on mastery of learning; mastery of skills.

Sal Khan of Khan Academy fame has a philosophy that focuses on mastery of learning and skills that is applicable for all types of learning:

A problem, Khan says, is the next block of material builds on what the student was supposed to learn in the last lesson, and it’s usually more difficult to pick up. So a student learns only 75% of the material, we can’t expect that student to master the next section.

When students master concepts and learn at their own pace — all sorts of neat things happen. The students can actually master the concepts, but they’re also building their growth mindset, they’re building perseverance, they’re taking agency over their learning. And all sorts of beautiful things can start to happen in the actual classroom. (Sal Khan TED Talk Urges Mastery, Not Test Scores In Classroom)

This approach puts forward the notion that students should not be rushed through to more complex concepts without having the foundational knowledge needed to successfully transition to the next level.

Khan believes we should be teaching students to master the material before moving on, ensuring that students are given as much time and support as they need to tackle each new concept before trying to build upon it. As Khan says, you wouldn’t build the second floor of a house on a shaky foundation, otherwise it will collapse.

Mastery learning:

  • Reframes a student’s sense of responsibility, where performance is viewed as the product of instruction and practice, rather than a lack of ability.
  • Encourages a student to persevere and grasp knowledge they previously didn’t understand.
  • Gives students the time and opportunity as they need to master each step, instead of teaching to fixed time constraints.
  • Provides feedback and assessment throughout the learning process, not just after a major assessment. (Teaching for mastery)

     

Give learners tasks a little above their ability levels.

Giving learners tasks a little above their ability levels is actually a definition for differentiated instruction. It also helps to insure that new learning will occur; that learners will be challenged to go beyond their self-perceived limitations. ‘People can’t grow if they are constantly doing what they have always done. Let them develop new skills by giving challenging tasks” (15 effective ways to motivate your team). As learners overcome challenges, they will be more likely to take on new, even more challenging tasks.

Avoid the urge to rescue them.

I’ve had learners cry (even as old as 6th grade), get angry, sit down in frustration. Educators, by nature, are helpers. The tendency is for them to rescue learners from the stress and frustration of reaching seemingly unsurmountable challenges. But, and this is a big but, if educators do rescue them, then they are taking away learning opportunities, the possibility of the learner achieving success on his or her own.

May need to push learners beyond self-perceived limits.

This is the next step after not rescuing learners. The educator may have to push, encourage, cajole, coax, persuade, wheedle learners to go beyond what they thought possible. It is similar to a coach who really pushes her or his athletes. Sometimes it appears mean or callous. The big caveat to being successful with this strategy is that the educator must first have a good relationship with the leaners; that learners really understand that the educator has their best interests at heart.

Build reflection into the learning process.

Time needs to be built into the day or class period where students reflect on what they’ve learning and make meaning of it.  This helps with processing information as they reconcile it with their prior knowledge and work to make the information stick.  This is a great opportunity for thinking to be clarified, questions to be sought, or learning to be extended.  (Strategies and Practices That Can Help All Students Overcome Barriers)

Help learners accept an “it’s okay” when a task really is too hard (only as a last resort).

Yep – this is absolutely the last resort.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

July 24, 2017 at 11:47 pm

Documenting and Reflecting on Learning

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I am a strong proponent of encouraging learners of all ages to engage in reflective practice.

Learners do not just receive information only at the time it is given; they absorb information in many different ways, often after the fact, through reflection. The most powerful learning often happens when students self-monitor, or reflect. Students may not always be aware of what they are learning and experiencing. Teachers must raise students’ consciousness about underlying concepts and about their own reactions to these concepts. ETE Team

Documenting Learning

Silvia Tolisano sees documenting learning as:

  • a process of intentional documenting serves a metacognitive purpose
  • a creative multimedia expression (oral, visual, textual)
  • a component of reflective practice
  • taking ownership of one’s learning
  • a memory aid
  • curation
  • being open for feedback  (Documenting FOR Learning)

http://langwitches.org/blog/2014/07/01/documenting-for-learning/

Blogging as a Form of Documenting Learning and Reflection

I find blogging to be a one of the most powerful ways to documenting learning and engage in reflective practice.

Blogging has its own unique benefits as Sylvia Duckworth’s Sketchnote summarizes:

Top-10-Reasons-for-Students-to-Blog-Sylvia-Duckworth-CC-BY-flickr

Experiential, STEM, STEAM, and maker education are the focus of my gifted education classes. The learners in my gifted education classes have access to Chromebooks.  Having learners take pictures of their artifacts and describing what they did is a standard practice in my classes.

Sometimes I list vocabulary words I ask learners to include in their blogs. For example, for a design challenge, I asked learners to include the following vocabulary:

  • design thinking
  • communicate
  • empathy
  • tolerance

Here are some example blog posts from 6th grade students:

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Blogging, as opposed to keeping a hand-written journal of classroom experiences, has unique advantages in my classroom:

  • Learners can easily include photos of their work.
  • Work is easily reviewed and edited for errors.
  • Learners’ classmates can easily view and comment on one another’s work.
  • Blogging acts as a formative assessment whereby I, as the educator, get an opportunity to learn what elements of the projects were significant for my learners.

A Picture Tells So Many Stories

Because my classroom activities are high engagement, learners become totally immersed in the activities. They aren’t interested in taking photos during the activities. Also due to the student-centric nature of the learning activities, my role becomes that of facilitator walking through the classroom and visiting with individual groups of students to find out what they are doing, answer questions, give feedback. This guide-on-the-side role allows me to take lots of photos of the students. In essence, then, I become the official photography documenting student learner so they and their parents have an archive of the school year’s activity. We review these photos throughout the school year as a form of reflection. It’s fun to hear the learner comments exclaiming joy and amazement in what they learned earlier in the school year.

Here are links to photos I took for my two gifted classes and posted to a shared folder on Google Photos during the 2016-17 school year:

A Final Reflection

As a way to wrap-up the school year, learners should be given the opportunity to review their work from the past school year. For my learners, I asked them to look through all of the photos I took and the blog posts they wrote and choose between 5 and 10 of their most favorite and best projects. (It was great listening them express their delight in reviewing all of the projects they completed during the school year.) After selecting these, learners were asked to create a presentation of their chosen works using one of the following options:

They then presented their work to their peers and a group of adults: parents, school officials, visitors to the school.

A few afterthoughts about this final activity:

  • Throughout the school year, learners were asked to present their learning in front audiences. One of the students has a dual diagnosis – gifted and Asperger’s. This student wouldn’t even talk to the group at the beginning of the year. Loved the confidence shown during the final presentation.
  • The final presentations gave me, as the educator, a type of program evaluation where I got the opportunity to learn the most significant classroom projects from my learners’ perspectives.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

May 21, 2017 at 5:42 pm

The Over Promotion of Failure

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Almost daily I see posts on social media by educators promoting the benefits of failure. It often seems that there is a push to intentional embed failure into instructional activities. This always rubs me the wrong way. Failure has almost universal negative connotations. It doesn’t feel good and sometimes it is extremely difficult, if impossible, to recover from big failures.

For the past several years we’ve been bombarded with advice about the “wisdom of failure.” Books by business giants and self-help gurus tout the importance of learning from mistakes. The problem with the focus on failure is that failure is a weak process when put up directly against its counterpart: success.

I want to be clear that I’m not against learning from failure. It’s certainly useful that humans have the rare biological luxury of being able to learn, non-lethally, from our failures — we can remember them, share stories about them, even laugh about them. And all the stories and lessons about what you can learn from failure represent real opportunities to do better. The problem is that none of the advice and literature on failure fairly compares learning from failure to learning from success.

We have to ask how abundant or common are useful failures compared to useful successes? If opportunities for learning are rare, it’s hard to make a practice out of them. Unfortunately, truly useful failures that change our thinking (as opposed to merely stupid failures that just confirm what we already should have known) are relatively rare. (http://www.businessinsider.com/we-learn-more-from-success-than-failure-2014-6)

Focusing on success in practice does not translate in attempting to craft learning experiences into ones whereby learners have no struggles; achieve success or desired results on first attempts and iterations. In fact, I believe that authentic learning experiences should require multiple iterations prior to their successfully completion. This mimics real life learning.

The expectation then becomes that learners will struggle with their tasks, that they will focus from what went right and build upon these elements to have increasingly successful iterations within their process of learning the given task. I reframe the idea of failure, that oftentimes occur within open-ended, ill-defined projects, as things didn’t go as originally planned. It is just a part of the learning process. I explain to my learners that they will experience setbacks, mistakes, struggles. It is just a natural part of real world learning. Struggles, setbacks, and mistakes are not discussed as failure but as parts of a process that need improving. The focus becomes on what went right and on how learners can increase those aspects that were successful. The underlying learning principle becomes success breeds more success.

Learning from success is an active process that needs to become part of an organization’s culture. You just need to ensure that at least some of your “after action” reporting is dedicated to what went right. Even an event that was largely a failure probably has some small successes that need to be shared. (http://www.businessinsider.com/we-learn-more-from-success-than-failure-2014-6)

Within this framework, learners then reflect on their learning experiences coming from a place of success with questions such as:

  • What specific actions did you take that were successful within your learning task?
  • What did you do to decrease your liabilities during your learning task?
  • What personal and social resources did you draw upon if and when you reached an impasse with your learning task?
  • What strategies did you use to self-regulate your setbacks and frustrations if and when they occurred during  your learning task?
  • What did you see as your major strengths during the learning task?
  • What aspects of your learning will you take into future learning experiences in order to increase your chances of being successful with similar tasks?

successreflection

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

April 30, 2017 at 9:06 pm

A Framework for Implementing Maker Education Activities Presentation

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I am facilitating two mini-workshops at ASCD Empower 17 and the 2017 ASCD Conference on Teaching Excellence on using a framework for implementating maker education activities. The description for my session is:

Providing a framework for maker activities helps ensure that their use is intentional and that meaningful learning is extracted from these experiences. The educator, using such a framework, becomes proactive in framing or frontloading the maker experiences and in debriefing or processing them to increase the chances that learning occurs. Framing or frontloading is making clear the purpose of an activity prior to actually doing it; it helps to set purpose and intention for the activity. Reflecting on the maker activities can occur through a variety of methods: talking, writing, sketching, and using technology such as Web 2.0 tools and social media. During this interactive presentation, participants will experience this framework through maker activity that is introduced through framing or frontloading and then by directly using reflection techniques upon completion of the activity.

The slides for my session:

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

March 24, 2017 at 4:46 pm

Documenting Learning

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As I’ve discussed in numerous posts, I am an experiential educator. I believe in and promote learning-by-doing and hands-on learning. I approach experiential learning from a cycle of learning which includes reflecting on and analysis of things done through learning-by-doing.

CycleofLearninghttps://usergeneratededucation.wordpress.com/2016/01/13/a-natural-and-experiential-cycle-of-learning/

Reflection, as part of the experiential learning cycle, is often as or even more important than the making itself.

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A recent research study published via Harvard Business Review concluded 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.
  • Reflecting on what has been learned makes experience more productive.
  • Reflection builds one’s confidence in the ability to achieve a goal (i.e., self-efficacy), which in turn translates into higher rates of learning. (http://hbswk.hbs.edu/item/7498.html)

I am excited about the current trend towards maker education but I believe it needs to embrace a full cycle of learning including engaging in reflection. Reflection within the maker movement and maker education can occur through a process of documenting learning.

Document4Learning

Documenting learning can take on many forms:

  • writing a blog
  • doing a photo essay which includes
  • creating a video
  • making a podcast
  • doing a class wiki
  • doing a backchannel through Twitter with a hashtag or a platform like TodaysMeet
  • making Sketchnotes and/or mindmaps
  • using apps such as Seesaw or Educreations

The key is to offer the learners choices. This builds in and honors more personalized means of reflective learning.

Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano created the following infographic that describes some strategies for documenting for learning.

documenting-for-as-learning-tolisano2

http://langwitches.org/blog/2015/11/22/a-conversation-about-documenting-for-and-as-learning/

 

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

April 8, 2016 at 9:37 pm

Maker Education and Social-Emotional Development

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Planning educational activities that incorporate social-emotional learning has broad benefits. Research shows that SEL can have a positive impact on school climate and promote a host of academic, social, and emotional benefits for students. Durlak, Weissberg et al.’s recent meta-analysis of 213 rigorous studies of SEL in schools indicates that students receiving quality SEL instruction demonstrated:

  • better academic performance: achievement scores an average of 11 percentile points higher than students who did not receive SEL instruction;
  • improved attitudes and behaviors: greater motivation to learn, deeper commitment to school, increased time devoted to schoolwork, and better classroom behavior;
  • fewer negative behaviors: decreased disruptive class behavior, noncompliance, aggression, delinquent acts, and disciplinary referrals; and
  • reduced emotional distress: fewer reports of student depression, anxiety, stress, and social withdrawal. (http://www.casel.org/social-and-emotional-learning/outcomes/)

Daniel Goleman and CASEL has identified five interrelated sets of cognitive, affective, and behavioral competencies:

  • Self-awareness: The ability to accurately recognize one’s emotions and thoughts and their influence on behavior. This includes accurately assessing one’s strengths and limitations and possessing a well-grounded sense of confidence and optimism.
  • Self-management: The ability to regulate one’s emotions, thoughts, and behaviors effectively in different situations. This includes managing stress, controlling impulses, motivating oneself, and setting and working toward achieving personal and academic goals.
  • Social awareness: The ability to take the perspective of and empathize with others from diverse backgrounds and cultures, to understand social and ethical norms for behavior, and to recognize family, school, and community resources and supports.
  • Relationship skills: The ability to establish and maintain healthy and rewarding relationships with diverse individuals and groups. This includes communicating clearly, listening actively, cooperating, resisting inappropriate social pressure, negotiating conflict constructively, and seeking and offering help when needed.
  • Responsible decision making: The ability to make constructive and respectful choices about personal behavior and social interactions based on consideration of ethical standards, safety concerns, social norms, the realistic evaluation of consequences of various actions, and the well-being of self and others. (http://www.casel.org/social-and-emotional-learning/core-competencies)

Maker Education and Social Emotional Learning

Maker education, when planned around skills acquisition, can enhance social-emotional development.

Self-Awareness: Making in all its forms requires a full range of skills including cognitive, physical, and affective skills. Given this need for multiple and diverse skill set, effective and successful making comes from an accurate assessment of one’s strengths and limitations as well as having optimism and confidence that challenges can be overcome within the making process. Example questions related to self-awareness and making include:

  • What strategies am I using to increase my awareness of my emotions and how they influence my performance during the making-related tasks?
  • What are my strengths given this particular making task?
  • What are my limitations and how can I use my strengths to overcome them?

Self-Management: Making, especially making something new, often includes developing goals on the fly, revising those goals, and managing frustrations as the maker works through and learns new skills, processes, and knowledge related to that make. Example questions related to self-management and making include:

  • What processes am I using to develop, assess, and revise my goals while making?
  • What strategies am I using to manage any frustrations or failures that are occurring during making my project?

Social awareness:   A key area of social awareness is that of empathy – good listening and understanding the perspective of others. For many, design thinking goes hand-in-hand with the maker movement and maker education. Not all making is about attempting to design solutions to community and world problems, but building in that aspect has the potential to create more meaningful maker projects.

Making is a fantastic way to engage many students, but it’s only the first step toward an even greater revolution. The future of education cannot be about giving students the skills to fill jobs; it must be about giving them the skills to create jobs. This requires more than technical skills, it requires empathy, context and innovation. The heart of innovation is not technology, but people. Great innovators are able to deeply understand human needs and create useful solutions. Innovation simply requires empathy and experimentation. (http://www.forbes.com/sites/singularity/2014/07/29/beyond-the-maker-movement-how-the-changemakers-are-the-future-of-education/#328fd30c3b84)

Some example projects of making with useful solutions include:

Sample assessment questions for social awareness and making include:

  • What strategies am I using to find out the perspectives and ideas of potential users of my project?
  • How am I insuring that I am addressing the needs of diverse population of potential users of my project?

Relationship skills: The power of being a maker is amplified when one works collaboratively on projects, gets help from others, and shares findings with others. Example self-assessment questions for relationship skills and making include:

  • How am I using others to help me with my project?
  • How are my peers and I collaborating ?
  • Am I asking for help if and when I get stuck making my project?
  • How am I sharing my ideas with others?

Responsible decision making: Responsible decision making includes considering how one’s decisions surrounding making: (1) affects the safety of oneself and one’s peers, (2) is respectful of the rights of others, and (3) is done with the understanding of the possible of larger consequences for self and others.

  • What am I doing to keep my peers and me physically safe during the making of my project?
  • How am I making decisions that draw upon my own and my peers’ creativity, innovation, and insights?
  • What are the consequences of my actions on my peers and me during making my project?
  • What past projects are informing my decisions for this project?
  • How am I considering the humanitarian and ethical ramifications or consequences of my project?

The following infographic lists all of these questions. Questions should be selected and presented based of the types of maker projects, the goals of the maker projects, and the age of the makers.

makng and SEL

 

A Natural and Experiential Cycle of Learning

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Given this era of learning where information is abundant and easily accessible, it is even more important than ever to help learners understand the learning process. As such, one of the major responsibilities of an educator in this era of education is to make the learning process overt and intentional so learners develop skills for becoming more effective learners. To do so, though, educators need to explore and deeply understand the processes and cycles of learning. Real life learning or learning outside of school usually doesn’t entail studying textbook materials and then taking tests to assess learning.

I’ve discussed the learning cycle in The Flipped Classroom: The Full Picture, the need to provide context to learning, being intentional with students about the metacognitive process, and the importance of reflection in the learning process. These ideas and the works of John Dewey, Carl Rogers, and David Kolb provide the foundation for a natural and experiential cycle of learning presented in this post:

An educative experience, according to Dewey, is an experience in which we make a connection between what we do to things and what happens to them or us in consequence; the value of an experience lies in the perception of relationships or continuities among events. Before we are formally instructed, we learn much about the world, ourselves, and others. It is this natural form of learning from experience, by doing and then reflecting on what happened, which Dewey made central in his approach to schooling. (http://education.stateuniversity.com/pages/1914/Dewey-John-1859-1952.html#ixzz3x3JsjkBP)

The famous psychologist and a founder of humanism, Carl Rogers, also emphasizes the importance of experiential learning:

Rogers distinguished two types of learning: cognitive (meaningless) and experiential (significant). The former corresponds to academic knowledge such as learning vocabulary or multiplication tables and the latter refers to applied knowledge such as learning about engines in order to repair a car. The key to the distinction is that experiential learning addresses the needs and wants of the learner. Rogers lists these qualities of experiential learning: personal involvement, self-initiated, evaluated by learner, and pervasive effects on learner. To Rogers, experiential learning is equivalent to personal change and growth. Rogers feels that all human beings have a natural propensity to learn. According to Rogers, learning is facilitated when: (1) the student participates completely in the learning process and has control over its nature and direction, (2) it is primarily based upon direct confrontation with practical, social, personal or research problems, and (3) self-evaluation is the principal method of assessing progress or success. Rogers also emphasizes the importance of learning to learn and an openness to change. (http://www.instructionaldesign.org/theories/experiental-learning.html)

David Kolb proposes that experiential learning has six main characteristics:

  • Learning is best conceived as a process, not in terms of outcomes.
  • Learning is a continuous process grounded in experience.
  • Learning requires the resolution of conflicts between dialectically opposed modes of adaptation to the world (learning is by its very nature full of tension).
  • Learning is a holistic process of adaptation to the world.
  • Learning involves transactions between the person and the environment.
  • Learning is the process of creating knowledge that is the result of the transaction between social knowledge and personal knowledge. (http://www.nwlink.com/~donclark/hrd/styles/kolb.html)

Too often in way too many school settings of all grades and levels; concepts, ideas, and skills are presented as abstract concepts. Students can learn these concepts theoretically but not with deep understanding. Deep understanding often requires learners to intimately interact with the material and for them to interact intimately with material, they need to learn about and know the material experientially.

Kolb conceptualized learning as a cyclical model.

Effective learning is seen when a person progresses through a cycle of four stages: of (1) having a concrete experience followed by (2) observation of and reflection on that experience which leads to (3) the formation of abstract concepts (analysis) and generalizations (conclusions) which are then (4) used to test hypothesis in future situations, resulting in new experiences. (http://www.simplypsychology.org/learning-kolb.html)

[I am referring to and discussing Kolb’s ideas re: the natural cycle of learning not his ideas re: learning styles].

An Experiential and Natural Cycle of Learning

What follows is my version and explanation of the Experiential Learning Cycle:

CycleofLearning

The Stimulus; Gaining Interest

Gaining interest through some form of stimulus is a precursor to and a necessary component of engagement and entering into the experiential learning cycle. Gaining attention or interest is actually the first event of Gagne’s 9 events. According to Gagne’s nine events of instruction, gaining attention is the first key step taken into account when designing instruction. The basic idea is to grab the learners’ attention by presenting an interest device or a teaser. (http://elearningindustry.com/5-step-design-model-gain-attention-learner)

Both in real life and in the classroom, the learners’ attention and interest occurs when some stimulus is found to be interesting, novel, engaging, and/or exciting by the learner. It can be a demonstration, video, something someone has said, something a friend explained, a magazine article, a game. But again, it is something that the learners, themselves, find inherently interesting; something they want to learn more about due to some characteristics they find intrinsically motivating.

For example, I started playing Pickleball a few months ago. The stimulus came from several friends who began to play it at a local community college and told me repeatedly how much fun it is. This combined with my desire to add some fun sports-related work-outs to my routines acted as motivator for me to try it out for myself.

The Experience: The Doing and Redoing

The idea of experience as part of the learning process is central to John Dewey’s beliefs about powerful education.

The underlying philosophy of experiential learning cycle (ELC) models is Deweyian.  By Deweyian is meant that Experiential Learning Cycle models emphasize that the nature of experience as of fundamental importance and concern in education and training.  A further, Deweyian assumption underlying ELCs is that people learn experientially and that some experiences are educative whilst other experiences are miseducative.  All experiences are understood to be continuous, that is, each experience influences each future experience.  It is the teacher’s responsibility to structure and organize a series of experiences which positively influence each individual’s potential future experiences (Dewey, 1938/1997).  In other words, “good experiences” motivate, encourage, and enable students to go on to have more valuable learning experiences, whereas, “poor experiences” tend to lead towards a student closing off from potential positive experiences in the future.  (http://wilderdom.com/experiential/elc/ExperientialLearningCycle.htm)

Once attention and interest are sparked, learners typically have a desire to try that thing out. There are lots of ways the learners to have an experience including sensory-rich and kinesthetic experiences; hands-on use of and experimentation with materials and objects; and well designed virtual experiences and simulations. For my Pickleball example, it simply meant joining the group who play at the local community college.

The Reflection: Self-Assessing

We do not learn from experience… we learn from reflecting on experience. – John Dewey

I believe as John Dewey does that deep, meaningful, long-lasting learning is left to chance if it is not a strategic, integrated part of the learning process.

Critical reflection is an important part of any learning process. Without reflection, learning becomes only an activity — like viewing a reality TV show — which was never meant to have meaning, but was only meant to occupy time. Critical reflection is not meditation, rather it is mediation — an active, conversive, dialectical exercise that requires as much intellectual work as does every other aspect of the learning process, from analysis to synthesis to evaluation. But in reflection, all the learned material can be gathered about, sorted and resorted, and searched through for greater understanding and inspiration (https://canvas.instructure.com/courses/612829/wiki/heres-what-to-do-on-saturday).

In terms of this learning cycle, it becomes reflecting deeply on what worked, what didn’t work during the doing phase and exploring reasons why. For my own Pickleball example, I spend time after each play day assessing which individual plays went well and which did not along with coming up with my own reasons why for each.

The Conceptualization: Researching

Once learners have the experience and have reflected on the experience, they are ready to research ways to improve and increase their learning. The research is designed to hone skills and improve future performance. Since learners have had the experience of doing and reflecting on what worked and didn’t work in the implementation of the doing, they can research specific and personalized ways to improve. This research can come in many forms based on learner preferences. It can include doing online research, watching videos, talking to friends, colleagues and experts, and/or watching experts in action.

In my example of learning Pickleball, I went online and read blogs as well as viewed Youtube videos on how to play pickleball. I learn more about how and where to stand in the court, how to hold the racket, and how to read my opponents. None of these ideas or tips would have made any sense to me had I done the research prior to playing Pickleball.

Return to Doing and Redoing

Once the learner completes the cycle of experience, reflect, and research, they return to the doing phase to try it, reflect on it, and research it again.

For Pickleball, I return to the court to try out my new skills.

Going back through the cycle repeatedly reinforces that learning process is iterative. Iteration is the act of repeating a process with the aim of approaching a desired goal, target or result. Each repetition of the process is also called an “iteration”, and the results of one iteration are used as the starting point for the next iteration. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iteration)  This cycle of learning reinforces that learning any new skill – making something, writing something, learning new technology, developing skills in physical movement, music, the arts – is an iterative process.

 

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

January 13, 2016 at 11:12 pm

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