User Generated Education

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Posts Tagged ‘reflection

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.

Untitled

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

Courage to Be an Outlier Educator

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courage

Today, during a podcast interview, I was asked what it takes to be an educational thought leader. My response was, “courage.”  In this test driven, accountability-laden era of education, it takes courage to be an educator driven by authentic, constructivist, and student-centered values and practices.

Courage:

Courage is the choice and willingness to confront agony, pain, danger, uncertainty, or intimidation.  Moral courage is the ability to act rightly in the face of popular opposition, shame, scandal, discouragement, or personal loss. According to Maya Angelou, “Courage is the most important of the virtues, because without courage you can’t practice any other virtue consistently. You can practice any virtue erratically, but nothing consistently without courage.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Courage

Outlier:

“Outlier” is a scientific term to describe things or phenomena that lie outside normal experience. In the summer, in Paris, we expect most days to be somewhere between warm and very hot. But imagine if you had a day in the middle of August where the temperature fell below freezing. That day would be outlier. And while we have a very good understanding of why summer days in Paris are warm or hot, we know a good deal less about why a summer day in Paris might be freezing cold. I’m interested in people who are outliers—in men and women who, for one reason or another, are so accomplished and so extraordinary and so outside of ordinary experience that they are as puzzling to the rest of us as a cold day in August. http://gladwell.com/outliers/outliers-q-and-a-with-malcolm/

I have been an outlier educator in a number of educational settings including elementary and college levels. I rarely stood in the front of the class as a sage on the stage. The only time I did so was to provide short snippets of information as mini-lectures, ten to twenty minutes in length, or to provide information about how to do the class activity. My classes were loud and seemingly chaotic (it was controlled chaos – I gave students lots of choices with the only rule being that you need to be engaged with a learning activity) with all students engaged and interacting with one other, computers, and with hands-on and experiential activities. I often was asked to quiet my students down and questioned about my classroom practices by other teachers and administrators. The other teachers did not like how I was teaching-what I was doing but my students did like it . . . a lot. Many students shined in this learning environment especially those who did not fit into or thrive in a traditional classroom. I knew in my heart that I was doing the right thing even in these climates where I was an outlier, where my techniques were under constant scrutiny and ongoing questioning. So today, during that podcast, I realized I have been courageous in standing my ground about what I believe encompasses good, student-centered teaching and I also realized that I am proud of that courage. And in this new year, I toast all of those courageous, outlier educators.

Photo Image: http://www.superherolife.com/e-courses/cultivating-courage/

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

December 23, 2015 at 12:55 am

Reflecting on the Making Process

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My background is in experiential education. One of the strategies used in experiential education is debriefing or reflecting on the experience. In other words, learning from direct experience is not left to chance. The educator becomes proactive in debriefing or processing the experiences to increase the chances that learning occurs. This is in line with John Dewey’s ideas:

We do not learn from experience, we learn from reflecting on experience.’

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)

In line with reflecting on experiences, I developed a list of questions and a board game (I love using board games in my classrooms of all ages from elementary to graduate level!) to help with reflecting on the maker process following the completion of maker projects. The purpose of these tools is to increase the possible learning and insights that learners extract from their maker projects.

a making reflection

A Maker Reflection: The Game

maker game best

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

October 5, 2015 at 10:02 pm

Show Learners the Possibilities . . . And Then Get Out of the Way

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We are living in an age of advanced user-driven technologies, information abundance, and networked, participatory learning. It should logically follow, then, that education should take advantage of these amazing developments. As many of us in education know, it has not. This theme has permeated many of my blog posts:

Moving from Education 1.0 Through Education 2.0 Towards Education 3.0

The evolution of the web from Web 1.0 to Web 2.0 and now to Web 3.0 can be used a metaphor of how education should also be moving, developing, and evolving from Education 1.0 towards that of an Education 3.0. The Internet has become an integral thread of the tapestries of most societies throughout the globe. The web influences people’s way of thinking, doing and being; and people influence the development and content of the web. The Internet of today has become a huge picture window and portal into human perceptions, thinking, and behavior. Logically, then, we would expect that schools would follow suit in matching what is happening via the Internet to assist children and youth to function, learn, work, and play in a healthy, interactive, and pro-social manner in their societies-at-large. This, sadly, is more often than not the case. Many educators are doing Education 1.0; talking about doing Education 2.0; when they should be planning and implementing Education 3.0

Learner Agency, Technology, and Emotional Intelligence

The notion of agency as contributing to cognitive processes involved in learning comes primarily from the Piagetian notion of constructivism where knowledge is seen as “constructed” through a process of taking actions in one’s environment and making adjustments to existing knowledge structures based on the outcome of those actions. The implication is that the most transformative learning experiences will be those that are directed by the learner’s own endeavors and curiosities. (Lindgren & McDaniel, 2012)

All of this is fresh in my mind as I just completed four weeks of summer camp teaching maker education and photo-video apps to 5 to 10 year olds. This teaching experience reinforced for me that educators can be tour guides of learning possibilities; showing learners the possibilities, then getting out of the way.

Facilitating the Process

The following section describes some of the conditions in the learning environment that support the educator as being the tour guide of learning possibilities and then handing over the responsibility for learning to the learners. Educators still take on a very active role in the learning environment, but learning is driven by the actions of the learners not those of the educator.

Expectations for Self-Directed Learning

In a learning environment that stresses self-directed learning, the educator conveys the attitude that learners are capable of being masters of their own learning.

In its broadest meaning, ’self-directed learning’ describes a process by which individuals take the initiative, with or without the assistance of others, in diagnosing their learning needs, formulating learning goals, identify human and material resources for learning, choosing and implement appropriate learning strategies, and evaluating learning outcomes.” (Knowles, 1975, p. 18)

In line with showing learners the possibilities and getting out of the way, the educator needs to take a back seat role in the learning process. Learners may not, often will not, do things the way the educator might, but the educator respects and supports this process in a self-determined learning environment.

Educator as an Observer

If educators want to know how learners learn, then they need to observe them learning under their on terms, with tools and techniques they use naturally.  Too often adults assume they know how children and young people learn, and too often they do not especially in this new age of learning. The educator in the role of tour guide of learning possibilities first, observes to discover each learner’s unique way of interacting with the world, and second, based on these observations, suggests or offers resources and strategies to further each learner’s self-directed learning process.

Educator as a Resource

The educator as a resource means that the educator becomes a coach or a mentor. Educators are the adult experts in the room. Learners will often go to the educator for assistance especially when stuck on a problem or to get feedback.

The best coaches encourage young people to work hard, keep going when it would be easier to stop, risk making potentially painful errors, try again when they stumble, and learn to love [their learning] (One to Grow On / Every Teacher a Coach).

The educator as a resource implies that the s/he has multiple skill sets: expertise in the process of learning and expertise in how to navigate online environments along with the ability to mentor learners using these skill sets.

Educator as a Demonstrator of Technologies

A subtitle of this section is It Really Is About the Technology . . .  Sort of.  In order for learner agency and self-directed learning to occur, educators need to keep abreast of current and emerging technologies. There is an assumption that young people are digitally savvy and know how to use emerging technology.

The widely-held assumption that all young people are digitally literate and able to navigate the internet meaningfully is inaccurate. This is something we urgently need to address if we are to support young people to cope with – and contribute to – a complex, global and digital society (New report challenges the assumption that all young people are digitally savvy).

“If educators are serious about preparing learners for their real lives – current and future, then it becomes an ethical imperative to bring relevant, current, and emerging technologies into the learning environment (It really is about the technology and . . .).  This translates into showing learners the possibilities of technology and internet use for learning so the learners can then bring this knowledge into their own learning journeys.

Learning is Viewed as Natural, Fun, Playful, and Joyful

It has been said that learning is painful. I take issue with that phrase. When learning occurs in settings and with processes selected by the learner, it is natural, fun, playful, and joyful. Sure, there are struggles as new learning develops, but it becomes a natural, accepted part of the process.

The highest-level executive thinking, making connections, and “aha” moments of insight and creative innovation are more likely to occur in an atmosphere of what Alfie Kohn calls exuberant discovery, where students of all ages retain that kindergarten enthusiasm of embracing each day with the joy of learning.  Joy and enthusiasm are absolutely essential for learning to happen — literally, scientifically, as a matter of fact and research (The Neuroscience Behind Stress and Learning).

Climate of Free Range and Constructivist Learning

The learning environment in a setting embracing self-directed learning takes on the characteristics of free range learning resulting in learners constructing their own meanings from their learning endeavors.

Free Range Learning is learning by living. It is learning by following our passions, exploring our world, living inquisitive lives and thinking freely. It is a lifestyle based on trust of a child’s natural desire to learn about the world around them. Every person’s learning journey will develop based upon their interests, experiences and choices (What is Free Range Learning?).

Free range learning is often associated with unschooling or homeschooling but it is intimately related to self-directed learning; and its tenets can be brought into in a more formal learning environment. The result is an honoring of contructivist learning “which holds that learners ultimately construct their own knowledge that then resides within them, so that each person’s knowledge is as unique as they are” (Learning Theories and Transfer of Learning).

Open to Emergent Learning and Learning Possibilities

Emergent learning is unpredictable but retrospectively coherent, we cannot determine in advance what will happen, but we can make sense of it after the event. It’s not disordered; the order is just not predictable (Emergent Learning and Learning Ecologies in Web 2.0).

Ambiguity is accepted. The educator lets go of what types of learning and products should result. By letting go of expectations “what should be”, there is an opening up to all kinds of emergent learning possibilities.

With an openness to emergent learning and learning possibilities, there is an acceptance that learning is messy:

Learning is often a messy business.   “Messy” learning is part trial and error, part waiting and waiting for something to happen, part excitement in discovery, part trying things in a very controlled, very step by step fashion, part trying anything you can think of no matter how preposterous it might seem, part excruciating frustration and part the most fun you’ll ever have. Time can seem to stand still – or seem to go by in a flash. It is not unusual at all for messy learning to be …um …messy! But the best part of messy learning is that besides staining your clothes, or the carpet, or the classroom sink in ways that are very difficult to get out … it is also difficult to get out of your memory! (http://learningismessy.com/)

. . . and a trusting of the process and embracing the journey:

I have learned that if you give freedom and trust to students, they will find their own way to the learning that matters the most. Playing it safe is not going to yield the opportunities that will make a difference. Off-script is when you don’t quite know where you are going, but you have the courage to commit to the journey knowing that it is the process itself that will hold the worth (Speculative Design for Emergent Learning: Taking Risks).

Use of Open Technology and Resources

In this age of information and technology abundance, free online technologies and resources are just ripe for the picking. An advantage of open educational resources is “expanded access to learning. Students anywhere in the world can access OERs at any time, and they can access the material repeatedly(Pros and Cons of Using OERs for Instruction). These resources leverage the playing field. They are available to all learners regardless of geographic location and SES level (although access to the Internet is required). This translates in the availability of high quality tools and resources outside of the more formal educational setting. Learners can access them in informal learning environments such as at home or local coffee shops and/or via their mobile devices in order to continue and extend their self-directed learning.

How the Learners’ Benefit

I often say that all learning activities should have multiple and layered benefits – addressing cross-curricular, cross-interdisciplinary areas as well as developing life skills. Here are some of the benefits along with example learner self-statements associated with those benefits that I have observed as a tour guide of learning possibilities:

  • Technology Skills: I can use technology to help me learn.
  • Creativity and Inventiveness: I can create new & worthwhile ideas & things.
  • Risk-Taking: I am willing to try new things when I am learning.
  • Academic Mindset: I am a good and powerful learner.
  • Communication: I can communicate clearly both verbally & in writing.
  • Curiosity and a Sense of Wonder: I wonder about the world around me.
  • Connected Learning: I can network with others to help with my learning.
  • Self-Directed Learning: I know how to learn new things on my own.
  • Self-Motivation: I can motivate myself to learn new things.

Educators as Tour Guides of Learning Possibilities

How Do We Learn? How Should We Learn?

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If I ask you or your students, “How do you learn,” how many of you could clearly articulate this process? If you can, are the strategies you’re using the best ones for learning? Furthermore, if the research on the process of learning is compared to the practices being implemented in school, does this research influence school practices?

During my school years, I noticed there was a problem with how I was being asked to learn. Cramming and memorizing information, being tested for mastery prior to having enough practice time, having units of study with supposedly beginnings and endings, and learning facts with no context were counterproductive and at times, painful to me.

The unintended consequences of these artificial and unnatural ways of learning include believing that learning is or should be difficult, painful, disciplined, and not fun. This, too often, results in learners believing that they cannot or do not want to learn new things especially in those areas where and when learning was painful. I believe learning can or should be natural, fun, engaging.

Benedict Carey informs us that “most of our instincts about learning are misplaced, incomplete, or flat wrong” and “rooted more in superstition than in science.” That’s a disconcerting message, and hard to believe at first. But it’s also unexpectedly liberating, because Carey further explains that many things we think of as detractors from learning — like forgetting, distractions, interruptions or sleeping rather than hitting the books — aren’t necessarily bad after all. They can actually work in your favor, according to a body of research that offers surprising insights and simple, doable strategies for learning more effectively. (http://blogs.kqed.org/mindshift/2014/08/how-does-the-brain-learn-best-smart-studying-strategies/)

Instead of making assumptions about the best and most natural learning strategies, it is best to research and study this process. “Unfortunately, most people, educators included, are unaware of the lessons from the science of learning” (http://blogs.kqed.org/mindshift/2014/08/how-does-the-brain-learn-best-smart-studying-strategies/).

What follows are some of those strategies that research has indicated are some of the better ones. It obviously is not extensive nor inclusive of all possible learning strategies, but it is a good start to reflect on how educators ask students to learn.

Productive Failure

We’ve heard a lot lately about the benefits of experiencing and overcoming failure. One way to get these benefits is to set things up so that you’re sure to fail—by tackling a difficult problem without any instruction or assistance. Manu Kapur, a researcher at the Learning Sciences Lab at the National Institute of Education of Singapore, has reported that people who try solving math problems in this way don’t come up with the right answer—but they do generate a lot of ideas about the nature of the problems and about what potential solutions would look like, leading them to perform better on such problems in the future. Kapur calls this “productive failure,” and you can implement it in your own learning by allowing yourself to struggle with a problem for a while before seeking help or information. (http://lifehacker.com/the-science-behind-how-we-learn-new-skills-908488422)

Spaced-Out Practice

When we’re picking up a new skill or learning something entirely new, it’s easy to binge-learn and obsessively work on it over time. However, that’s not always the best idea. In fact, spreading out learning, also known as distributed practice, is thought to be a better way to learn. A review of studies in Psychological Science in the Public Interest found that spreading out learning is far more effective than cramming. Distributed practice is an old technique, but it actually works really well for the busy lives most of us lead. Instead of sitting down for hours on end to learn a skill, distributed practice is all about shorter, smaller sessions where you’re stimulating the link between the neurons more often throughout time. (http://lifehacker.com/the-science-behind-how-we-learn-new-skills-908488422)

Breaking up and spacing out study time over days or weeks can substantially boost how much of the material students retain, and for longer, compared to lumping everything into a single, nose-to-the-grindstone session. (http://blogs.kqed.org/mindshift/2014/08/how-does-the-brain-learn-best-smart-studying-strategies/)

Take Breaks to Allow for Incubation

There’s a whole bunch of science looking at problem-solving. In problem-solving, when you get stuck, you’ve run out of ideas, distraction is really your best friend. You need to stand up, let it go — walk around the block, go to the cafe, drink a beer, whatever it is — and that is really your best shot at loosening the gears a little bit and allowing yourself to take a different and more creative approach to the problem. (http://www.npr.org/2014/08/23/342219405/studying-take-a-break-and-embrace-your-distractions)

A 15-minute break to go for a walk or trawl on social media isn’t necessarily wasteful procrastination. Distractions and interruptions can allow for mental “incubation” and flashes of insight — but only if you’ve been working at a problem for a while and get stuck, according to a 2009 research meta-analysis. (http://blogs.kqed.org/mindshift/2014/08/how-does-the-brain-learn-best-smart-studying-strategies/)

Try Alternate and More Fun Ways of Learning Before Giving Up on Something New

When trying to learn something new, you can easily get burned out and feel defeated if the subject is taught by rote. The problem was the way the books “dragged [him] through a series of structured principles” lifelessly. This is not to say that learning through books is bad (not all books are terrible) or that all classes are like this. If you find yourself, though, thinking of giving up on a subject you really want to learn because you’re struggling with it, consider how you’re learning or being taught. Try to find a way to learn through play (http://lifehacker.com/5810326/try-alternate-and-more-fun-ways-of-learning-before-giving-up-on-learning-something-new)

Apply New Learning Often and in Meaningful Contexts

The more you can apply what you’re learning to your every day, the more it’ll stick in your head. The reason is simple. When you’re learning by doing, you’re implementing everything that makes our memory work. When you’re able to connect what you’re learning with a real world task, that forms the bonds in your brain, and subsequently the skills you’re learning will stick around.

We learn best when we have context, and that applies to new skills as much as it does random facts in school. That’s why something like the transfer of learning is helpful when your learning a new skill. This means you’re applying your new skills in your day to day life in a context that matters. (http://lifehacker.com/the-science-behind-how-we-learn-new-skills-908488422)

Questions to Help Guide Learning:

  • Is failure viewed as normal and as a productive part of the learning process?
  • Is learning spaced out over time rather than crammed into a short time period?
  • Are distractions during learning normalized?
  • Is the learning practiced often and in a variety of contexts?
  • Is learning playful and fun? This is especially important when 0ne gets “stuck” at an impasse.

learning

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

March 8, 2015 at 12:11 am

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