Student Learning

I don’ know how I learned to learn.  It’s something I’m pretty good at. It’s definitely one of my favourite things to do.  But I don’t remember anyone teaching me how to learn, or even addressing the importance of becoming a life long learner.  And the fact that I became a proficient learner, is really a feat in itself.

I think its presence must be the result of  a flailing attempt to stay above the surface of university academics.  It certainly didn’t show up before then.

You see, I was a November baby.  I started school when I was four.  And, I think, because of that, I always struggled in school.  I don’t blame my parents.  To be honest, I doubt they knew better.  The year you turn five, you go to school. That’s what everybody does.

I can never remember being able to do math in school.  And when I was in grade 3, I was part of the “slow” reading group, which seems odd, considering I’ve always loved books and been a voracious reader.  I also find it somewhat ironic, since I now teach English.  I would never have classified myself as being “academic”, and this had some pretty significant consequences.

I grew up with the notion that I would go to university; after all, my parents had been saving my college fund, since the day I was born. But I certainly had no idea what I would take, or the belief that I was smart enough to do it.

I graduated from high school with a 65 average, high enough to get into university, but not into a specialized faculty.  After working retail for several years, the thought of attending university was an oasis in the desert. Retail was not my calling.

For the first few semesters, my marks were average, but I learned a lot.  I began to learn how to write. I began to learn how to critically evaluate.  I began to learn to think for myself.  And it was painful.  However, it wasn’t until I received an academic scholarship from the university, automatically given to the top percentile of students each semester, that I realized I was academically smart. If it wasn’t for that scholarship, I’m not sure what would have happened.

Eventually, I got pretty good at the school thing, and after graduating with my education degree, I earned a Master’s degree with honours.  I don’t tell you that to brag.  There are many people out there much smarter than I,  but to show that obviously there is a disconnect in my educational experience somewhere.

And the math thing isn’t really an issue anymore, I teach Chemistry. How? I took it in university, when my brain was finally mature enough to process it. And when I finally knew how to learn. I don’t pretend that it came easily.  It didn’t. But I’m prouder of those marks, than any of the English marks that took little effort.

Obviously this experience informs a great deal of my teaching now.

Yesterday, on a whim, I showed my students the cartooned version of Ken Robinson’s Changing Education Paradigms.

To be honest, I showed it to them, so they could see the cartooning work.  I wanted them to see that there’s more than one way to create a video. After we began watching it, I thought, “this is good for them to hear”, since it affirms many of the things I’ve been telling them.  At times, I wondered if they could follow some of the deeper political and economic concepts.  Apparently they did.

When the bell rang, there was 2 or 3 minutes left in the video.  No one moved. No one. That’s not easy to accomplish on a Friday, right before lunch.  No one stirred to close their books, or glanced around to see what others were doing.  I realised at that moment, something significant was happening.

When the video was over, they were stunned.  A few said, “Wow.”  But mostly there was silence. It appeared they were busy processing something they had never heard or thought of before.

I also realized at that moment that I need to talk to them more about their learning.

If education isn’t something we to do students, but a dynamic process in which they are the main players, then I think I need to intentionally share with my students what this process should look like, and what many other educators besides myself think of it.  There are many educators, far more articulate and well-versed in this stuff than I, who should be part of my classroom, teaching my students via technology.

Furthermore, if the whole purpose for me being in my classroom is student learning, then shouldn’t I actually be talking to them and teaching them about their own learning?

So, starting this week, I plan  to spend the first five or ten minutes of class, teaching them about their learning.  I will do this several times a week, every week, every semester.  This isn’t an add-on to the rest of what happens in my classroom.  I think this is the critical foundation that allows everything else to happen.  It’s hard for students to be reflective learners, when they have no vocabulary or background for what they’re reflecting on.

I’m going to start with Will Richardson’s My Kids are Illiterate, Most Likely, Yours are Too.  I’m guessing most of my students don’t know they are, in some pretty significant ways, illiterate.  I think, for some, this will be a stunning revelation. This is good.

Currently, I believe that I can  learn almost anything I want to, partly because I’m tenacious, but more importantly I know how I learn, and I’ve been successful at it.  This is what I want my students to experience.  I want to create a classroom of reflective learners, who understand their learning and can articulate and evaluate it, who can advocate for better teaching, when what their getting doesn’t fit their needs, and who realize, in the end, they are responsible for their own learning.

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About shelleywright

I love education & learning, which likely explains why I'm a teacher. My areas are ELA, Sr. sciences, and technology. My classroom is best described as a student-centred, tech embedded pbl/inquiry learning environment. I am currently a PhD student in the area of Curriculum and Instruction. My focus is play-based learning in high school, and it's impact on brain development.
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10 Responses to Student Learning

  1. fearghal says:

    I love that animation…and Ken Robinson! I just finished his book. I’m not sure I would’ve ever thought of showing that to the pupils though, I’m amazed they enjoyed it. Good tip.

    I’ve dabbled a little in discussing learning with pupils. I once had a class who generally refused to even try things out – even what I would classify as quite ‘fun’ activities. In the end I tried ‘teaching’ them about Carol Dweck’s ideas on Mindsets as I’d determined that they were largely of a fixed mindset. Quite a number of the class really engaged with this and changed their approach to learning in the classroom as a result.

    Glad you’ve ordered the book by the way…I think you’ll love it!

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  4. Patti Rodger says:

    I love your reflections Shelley. Please, will you share some of what your students are thinking in the next weeks?

  5. Lisa M Lane says:

    This is great. I do hope you’ll blog about exactly what you’ll be teaching in those 5-10 minutes, and how. I do find myself talking to students about learning some, but usually in regards to skills and how they relate to other subjects. I’d love it to be more focused.

  6. Theresa Murray (@tamurray) says:

    I’ve now read this post three times. Something in it just connects with me. I can’t pin it to one specific thing but I like what you have said. I would like to read how your sessions with the students go as well.

  7. tcomfort says:

    love your work so far, welcome to the world of blogging, look forward to more of your thoughts

  8. lewisv says:

    I don’t comment on blogs as often as I should, but I want you to know how much I have enjoyed your ECI831 posts.

    It is great to hear you explain your own learning process and the struggles and successes you have experienced over the years. I think your own story is a marvelous one to share with your students. I also appreciate how you connected with some of our course readings (Ken Robinson, Will Richardson) and have articulated a plan for sharing these ideas with your students in meaningful ways.

    You’ve got me thinking! Please continue to share your stories as you progress with your plan.

    Take care.

  9. Paul Bogush says:

    I think an interview question should be what were your grades in school? Did you like school? and Did you find school easy?
    I think a yes answer to any of those questions should send up a warning. Did you ever think how being a “65″ student might have made you the great teacher you are today??

    Love that you share how they learn with them. We do the same. Kids love it, and we also extend it to “when you present something this way here is what happens in people’s brains.” Recently I have been exploring non-verbal communication and we have had fun interpreting what we are saying without words.

    Great blog…have enjoyed going through many posts.

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