Teachers as designers of learning – part 2.

PlayingCards

How do you know if successful learning is taking place in your classroom?

The 5-6 year old children in this photo were playing “addition snap”. It was an activity I introduced to them to encourage them to practice their basic facts. Each child flips their top card to reveal the number value. The winner is the first to add the two values together correctly. It was not uncommon for the children to choose to play this ‘game’ when they could have chosen to play with any of the wide range of toys available to them at the same time.

With reference to the previous post – Teachers as Designers of Learning, I want to explore 1. the rationale for introducing this game and 2. how I knew it was a successful learning activity.

The first part is pretty easy. I saw an opportunity to introduce this independent maths game based on my awareness of the work of James Gee. Although I had already been teaching using the principles that James Gee promotes, it gave me the confidence that I could reference his work if I was asked to justify my rationale for applying this approach to teaching and learning taking place in my classroom. At the same time, it wasn’t a radical innovation. There was very little input required from me. I knew that there existed a positive learning culture that would allow this game to be played independently. I had worked hard to establish that culture over the preceding weeks and months. I knew that the some students were developmentally ready and these students had already displayed some competence in basic addition facts knowledge. And I also knew that they would be motivated to practice and develop this knowledge.

All I had to do was introduce the idea briefly to the whole class and more specifically to a few targeted students. I then observed them taking on the task successfully and enthusiastically. Eventually this activity spread like a virus. I listened, encouraged and supported. Occasionally I offered guidance and correction but ultimately it became the students’ game. The feedback was positive. The children were motivated and getting better at adding numbers together. That was all the evidence I needed to confirm that it was a success. That is how I define the iterative process of evidence-based teaching. Implement, observe, reflect, modify…repeat.

The biggest value in this process for me was how it informed and improved my overall approach to teaching. Upon reflection, I realised that this learning activity fulfilled all the principles of effective learning as described by James Gee. That is, the learning…

  1. was authentic and clear
  2. gave opportunity to embed new knowledge
  3. was pleasantly frustrating/comfortably challenging
  4. was happening in a positive, supportive learning environment

Of course it was at this point that I started thinking about how I could apply this new learning experience into other aspects of my teaching practice. The process continues. Once again….implement, observe, reflect, modify….and so on.

After all, isn’t this what ‘evidence-based teaching’ is about? Or at least, should be about?

And please note how there was no use of computer technology in this learning. The point being, effective learning can happen without computers or other technology. It is the thinking that is going on behind the learning that is critical, not whether the learning is being done on a device. In fact, it is important to be critically cautious about the role of technology in education. That is, “it is important not to conflate engagement with technology with meaningful engagement with technology that increases agency and supports learning among young people”.

Ease Education: Teaching at a human scale.

You can also find Ease Education on Facebook and Twitter.

Great teachers…

Tower of blocks

Play-based learning – designated playtime can offer a gateway to effective learning. Ask me how.

Great teachers….

  1. know their material, and
  2. can support their students to be effective learners of that material.

That is, mastery of the material is not enough. To be effective, teachers need to be able to support students to be effective learners of that material. If, as Daniel Willingham says, “memory is the residue of thinking…you remember what you think about”, then the key task of teachers is to understand how effective learning takes place and use that understanding to get their students curious, thinking and engaged about learning. Raising the level of ‘genuine’ student agency is a key contributor to this goal.

Experience tells me that a large part of the reason for schools failing to support students to be effective learners is because insufficient consideration has been given to the second criteria. Teaching is a human business. It requires teachers to use skill and judgement in order to gather the small data. And with that data, teachers need to be skilled at interpreting it and working with it in order to enhance the collective learning experience. I believe that schools, in their current incarnation fail to recognise or value the potential of this human element in teaching. Think back to that teacher that inspired you to learn or turned you on to their subject. And also think of those teachers who managed to do the opposite. 

Surely, it’s the inspirational teachers that we want to have in classrooms, in front of students. But why are they such a rare breed?

According to SKR, it’s about permission.  He believes that “a lot of what goes on in schools isn’t mandated, it’s just habit”. In other words, schools don’t have to be the way they are. They could be what we want them to be. This tells me that there is a need for the way schools work to be reimagined. And there lies the potential role of leadership. Rather than enforcing the status quo, leaders need to become adept at managing the climate, making boundaries more malleable, tapping into talents and being open to the possibility that expertise will come in a range of different forms. Meaningful change comes from the grassroots. Leaders need to be open and responsive and skilled at managing the change.

And change doesn’t have to be wholesale. It can come about incrementally. Through trial and error. And when you look at the cost of failure, it’s easy to see that we don’t have much to lose. And let’s be clear, it’s innovation in teaching practice that’s required; that will make the biggest impact. That is, it’s the human element that we need to be looking for. Not gimmicks or fads.

Ease Education: Teaching at a human scale.

You can also find Ease Education on Facebook and Twitter.