Many of my students, when pressed, struggle to say just what learning is. They can tell you about completing tasks, checking grades, keeping track of emergency passes, and so on. In other words, they are aware of schoolish behaviors. But they can't tell you exactly what's happening when they learn or how one goes about actually doing this learning thing.
I can hardly blame them. If we're honest, most of us teachers aren't much better at communicating the difference. We tend to think of lessons and units in terms of the tasks students will complete. We have a rough time summarizing how science suggests the brain learns, how motivation works in learning and why it matters, and how one can teach students to motivate themselves and attend to whether or not they're learning.
There are actually some amazing weaknesses in our understanding of learning. For example, over 90% of educators worldwide believe that students learn best when material is presented in their individual learning style. (Source: an article from Scientific American.) And you might think, “Dang right! Differentiate for those styles, baby.” But this 90% stat is actually a big bummer because science can't prove that we learn best when we're taught according to our “learning style.” Heck, there's not even agreement on what the learning style list should include! And yet we teach the theory to our students, to our parents, in our schools of education, in our professional development.
But I'm digressing. The point of this post is that in each of our classrooms there is an infinite nuclear power plant of motivation sitting beneath us all. Doing the schoolish behaviors isn't all that fulfilling for all that many people. But learning is amazing. Learning can be emancipatory. Learning can open whole universes (for that's what disciplines are). Learning can deepen and shape our very identity.
So relentlessly teach students this difference. Guide your own professional development toward this difference. Ask hard, philosophical questions during the same hour that you ask hard, pragmatic ones. Think big and small at the same time, day by day, and the slow change will be that both you and your students will think more sharply about what school is for.
This isn't overnight success stuff; it's long, steady hiking in the same direction, upward and onward toward the peak.
Thank you to Laura Hoffman, whose brilliant question got me thinking about this important duality.
Rachel Wasserman says
Most experienced teachers feel they can identify when “real learning” is taking place — we call this the “aha!” moment. And when our kids pick up on an idea or concept we’ve shared and then build on it, extend it, and apply it to other circumstances. . .well that is the all the applause we need as teachers, and the responses we thrive on professionally. And unfortunately, despite the wishes of school boards, state departments of education, and many of our administrators, there’s no magic bullet for achieving this wondrous state.
Deb Schiano says
I agree emphatically and see it predominantly as a change in mindset. Along that line, here are some “Moves that Matter” I’ve identified:
Recipe ____________________Thinking Process
Extracting from the Text________Transacting with the text
Reports ____________________Innovations, Arguments
Right answer questions________Discussable answer questions
How ______________________How + Why: Making Thinking Visible
I loved this Blog post Dave Stuart Jr.! I’d like to share a definition of learning that I think about at least once a day for the past year after I was introduced to it by my math professor Jeffrey Anderson, at Foothill College.
From the book “How Learning Works – 7 Research Based Principles to Smart Teaching” by Susan Ambrose, et al:
1. Learning is a process, not a product. However, because this process takes place in the mind, we can only infer that it has occurred from students’ products or performances.
2. Learning involves change in knowledge, beliefs, behaviors, or attitudes. This change unfolds over time; it is not fleeting but rather has a lasting impact on how students think and act.
3. Learning is not something done to students, but rather some- thing students themselves do. It is the direct result of how students interpret and respond to their experiences—conscious and unconscious, past and present.