Monday, September 10, 2012

What is Learning?

I've been following a string of blog posts that have asked the question: What is learning? These have really sparked my thinking and over the past week I've tried a few things out in my classroom. Sam's post quotes the statistic that close to 100% of schools fail to have a shared, common understanding of what they believe valuable learning is. Without this, he goes on to say, parents can't decide if it's the right school for their child, teachers can't decide if this school is right one for them to teach at, leadership can't decide if they're doing a good job and, most importantly, students can't decide if they are being successful. 

When I read this post we were just at the end of our first week of school. There is always a lot going on at this time and, in order to foster a collaborative environment, one thing I wanted to do was to establish our class essential agreements. This year I tried a different approach to the creation of these agreements. I spent the first week having the class engage in a couple of different scenarios that addressed concepts such as communication, inclusivity and decision making. I attended an interesting workshop with Bill Powell and Steve Dare over the Summer break and was keen to translate a few of their ideas into practice in the classroom. So we worked through and reflected on those few engagements. I wanted the students to consider the feelings and thoughts that they experienced during the exercises when they made their agreements. The night before I was planning to get the students to decide on the agreements I read Sam's post and thought that this was something that simply had to be included in the build up. In one minute I had changed all of my plans! 

I wanted to ask the students to consider what learning was for them. My plan was to spend some time reflecting on what learning was and then share each other's responses. I predicted that this would help everyone see that (i) we all have different needs, values and perspectives and (ii) that there are some core attributes of learning that apply to everyone (or at least most people). I adapted the ISB model that I saw in another of Sam's posts to read as three categories: Sound, Feel, Look. So each student was asked to find a quiet place and think about what it felt like for them when they were in the moment of learning something; what someone would see if they looked at them when they were learning; and what someone would hear if they were listening when they were learning something (there's a lot of they's there, does it make sense?!). I also asked them to consider what someone wouldn't see and hear if they were watching them learn; and what learning doesn't feel like for them. The answers were interesting and pleasing:

After I scribed all of the students' ideas down we saw that a lot of the answers given for 'sounds like' were reflected in the 'looks like' answers, so decided to condense that category into one. There were clearly some clashes of ideas: 'learning doesn't look like wandering around' vs 'learning does look like experimenting and asking other people'. When talking about the 'sounds like' ideas, there were a lot of different opinions. One student said 'learning sounds like jazz'; another said 'learning sounds like silence'; and yet another said 'learning sounds like rock music and lots of noise'. Obviously some different learning styles there!

This was a great way to allow the students to see that they all had similarities and differences in their learning. It was also good because it bought to the forefront of our decision making the single most important thing about school - student learning.

Photo credit: I Learn

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