How we learn
We learn when we feel safe, if we feel unsafe the old “fight or flight response kicks in“. This doesn’t just apply to physical threats. If students fear making mistakes, looking silly and losing face, the process of learning simply cannot happen, they will fight you or they will escape- mentally (sometimes they will try the physical escape too!). There are a number of reasons students can feel this way but generally it is a fear bred from past experience of being wrong and then being scorned or hurt in some way.
We talk about providing a safe environment for students to work in being essential for success. Students need to be safe to feel the freedom to make mistakes without negative consequences (this includes the teacher). With your class rules set down at the start of the year, should be something along the lines of “Encourage your peers to keep trying and support them at all times.” Obviously if students are ever found to be reacting negatively to others mistakes you should come down strongly on this, making it clear that the behaviour of not supporting your peers is totally unacceptable.
The idea that making mistakes is the first step to learning can be reinforced by some skills games where the students start off with a simple task like throwing a ball into a basket and over the course of a few throws improving as they adjust to the mistakes. This is exactly the same as a maths problem you try once, get wrong, try again with a new idea, get closer, try again with an adjustment, get it right. Anecdotes too like Edison finding 999 ways how not make a light bulb before he discovered the one way to do it demonstrates this idea well. Constantly reinforcing the idea throughout the year is important.
The idea above is classroom management but students need to understand the importance of making mistakes that lead to learning. Philosophy starts with creating this environment but discussing the idea of learning and I take firstly a scientific approach. I use parts of the following video:
From 35 seconds to the end of the video it describes in clear terms the idea of practice and effort improving our skills. It also discusses the idea that everyone and every brain can change with effort. This video does use higher level words that could confuse younger students, however the graphics are simple and clear and explaining the graphics in appropriate language would work.
Games can work as well. Teaching students patterns of music or tapping pencils, running a obstacle course in a certain way expands of the idea of learning something new and continual good practice improves overall performance.
I use pictures and explanations of making a track through a jungle and the more I walk the path the clearer and easier it gets.
This process can also be used when working with students who struggle socially and emotionally and you are trying to assist them with decision making.
I find the philosophy of learning to be central to any success I have in my classroom. Sometimes a student may not, over the course of the year, move significantly academically but will move forward philosophically and socially. This is still a very successful year as this philosophical and social movement will set them up for success in the future.
Philosophy of learning is not the “airy fairy” stuff I was once introduced to where a teacher allows their class to run amok and says “I am letting them find their own learning and not restricting their individuality by applying rules”. Takes a rare and gifted student to learn without guidance and structure.
A quick maths lesson. This idea of philosophy + a group of “regular” students=disaster.
I see philosophy of learning as the whys and how’s of learning and I make it a major focus for those students who need it most throughout the year. It is, like all learning, an ongoing process of introducing an idea and working with that idea throughout the year in a number of different ways.
Unlike regular subjects, much of the teaching is incidental, reinforcing the ideas during a maths or reading lesson, on the sporting field etc. Often it is good to present a whole class lesson (if time permits) but the gold work will be done in small groups supporting other lessons or individual work supporting the unmotivated and struggling students.
There are three main areas I work on when teaching the philosophy of learning:
- How we learn
- Why we learn (going to work)
- We are all different
I will address each of these three in detail in further posts.
Let the students learn!
We are teachers, teachers teach. Teachers should focus 90% of their time and energy into quality teaching. So why do I feel like an assessor?
If we can assess students simply and accurately but efficiently why not do it?
Why is much of our assessment long and painful with “success” most often achieved by the students whose strengths are most organisation or have the most stable home life. Is this fair assessment?
I believe simple focused assessment would deliver a number of positive outcomes:
- More teaching time/more genuine learning time
- More accurate assessment of ability
- Lessen teacher workload-leading to high standards of teaching-more time for genuine pedagogical advances in the individual through mentoring etc.
- Lessen student stress at assessment times-leading to better mental health and student learning
I strongly believe an approach that focuses more on quality teaching and reducing the quantity but improving the quality of assessment would benefit students and teachers alike.
How would it be achieved?
- Looking at the current units and focusing on the learning objectives.
- Challenging the team to devise accurate and simplified assessment delivered in the least intrusive way in the classroom.
- Structuring assessment times with all subjects in mind-stagger assessment due dates.
- Breaking down old habits and beliefs.
- Being courageous. The world is results and data driven-we all know this does not deliver the best learning outcomes for our students.
- Educating teachers and the community about the benefits of this adjusted approach to assessing and learning.
As teachers and professionals we all know this. I’ve written nothing new here. The challenge is to do something about it.