by Terry Heick
Roughly put, learning is really just a growth in awareness.
From not knowing to knowing is part of it, but that’s really too simple because it misses all the degrees of knowing and not knowing.
One can’t ever really truly understand something any more than a shrub can stay trimmed. There’s always growth or decay, changing contexts or conditions. Understanding is the same way. It’s fluid.
Yes, this sounds silly and esoteric, but think about it. While morsels of information–math theorems, for example–may not change, the context students use them in do. Which in turn changes how we consider and use that morsel.
In fact, so little of the learning process is unchanging. Even facts–significant historical dates, labels for ethnic groups, causes and effects of cultural movements–all change endlessly, if not in form (how they’re discussed) than in meaning and connotation (what we think of them).
Design. Engineering. Religion. Media. Literacy. Human Rights. Geography. Technology. Science. All of these have changed both in form and connotation in the last decade, with changes in one (e.g., technology) changing how we think of another (e.g., design).
And thus how students use this skill or understanding.
And thus how we, as teachers, “teach it.”
Really, Truly Honoring The Process Of Learning In Your Classroom
The implications of awareness reach even further than that, however.
It’s more than merely “understanding” or not, and grasping changing contexts for that understanding. It’s also about becoming more aware of one’s own degrees of not and not knowing.
This could be thought of as “depth of understanding,” a term that produced a DOK framework for measuring understanding that’s still used in many districts. Bloom’s Taxonomy or even the TeachThought Learning Taxonomy are all tools to help evaluate understanding–how well a student “gets it.”
But learning is as much about knowing what you don’t know as it is proving what you do. An assessment can offer a guess how much–and how deeply–a student understands, but that’s all that it is–a guess based on a given assessment form, taken as a quick snapshot of student understanding at any given moment, marred by reading level, academic vocabulary, student self-efficacy, the wording of the question, or even their mood that morning.
So, takeaways for busy teachers in public schools for whom the above sounds like a bunch of time-wasting, pie-in-the-sky malarky?
10 Ways Of Making Learning A Process, Not An Activity
1. Start with the student
Learning should start with the student–what they know, what they’re curious about, what they have and haven’t seen before. Who has time for that? Have them do the leg work, and shift to a facilitator’s role.
2. End with the student
As stated above, learning starts and ends with people and emotions, not standards and data. Some how, some way, every thing a student learns should start and end with them–their misconceptions, affections, ideas, creativity, or reflections.
3. Build-in metacognition in to units
Speaking of reflection, prime the pump with quick writing prompts about their own thinking. Model what metacognition looks/sounds/feels like. Have students share their thinking. Allow them to express themselves and their thinking away from the pressure of the classroom and the burden of eloquent verbal expression. Add it to rubrics.
4. Use learning taxonomies to guide your instructional design–including assessment
Use learning taxonomies–and not just one–to illuminate understanding more clearly. Move way past “pass” or “fall,” or even “A-F,” to “Can define and apply, but has trouble analyzing.”
5. Use concept maps
Use concept maps–a lot. Have students map, chart, diagram, or otherwise visually represent their own learning pathways, and changes in their own understanding. What they do and don’t understand. Where they started, where they are, and where they might be going.
6. Making progress visible
Use gamification, XP, unlocking, colorful bar graphs, leveling, or some other way to says to the student, “you started there, and you’ve made it all the way to here.”
7. Use a variety of assessment forms
If this is the only way you personalize learning, give this one a shot. Performances. Writing. Concept Maps. Drawings. Interviews. Quick Instagram videos followed by short written responses. Projects. Even allow students to choose their own assessment–challenge them to prove not just “if” they get it, but how.
8. Use–and frequently review–digital portfolios artifacts
Analyze changes in student work, including content knowledge, and have them do the same.
9. Connect students to networks
As students connect to networks, the learning process will plug them in not just to one teacher, or 25 classmates, or 8 texts, but something much larger–and more able to interact with students organically.
10. Consider self-directed learning
Help students direct their own learning–through inquiry-based learning, for example. There is no quicker way than to have the reality of the process of learning set in.
This post is based on one written by Terry Heick for edutopia.org; Making Learning A Process That Honors Change; image attribution flickr user woodleywonderworks