Chatting with my eleven year old daughter today, she shared an observation that sums up some of the reflective thoughts swimming in my mind.
How can we expect high school students who are required to ask permission to go to the bathroom to suddenly be ready to make decisions that will affect the rest of their lives?
She shared this within a conversation with her grandmother and I talking about the challenges high school students face taking AP courses and preparing for the AP exams, but I find it relates to the main ideas I’ve been studying recently as part of an online master’s class studying Learning Theories and Instructional Design. This class has provided me with a unique opportunity to be a student again and learn about learning!
Digging into the most widely accepted learning theories has showed me that there is not “one best way” or “one right way” to learn. Instead we need to use the best research, strategies and understandings at our disposal to structure our learning experiences and constantly strive to learn more about how we learn. As a high school science teacher poised to reenter the teaching profession after being blessed to be mommy for the last ten years, this class has provided me with an excellent opportunity to turn a reflective eye inward and examine the process of learning. How I learn, how and why I’ve taught things a certain way in the past, theoretical differences between accepted learning theories and how I can use these new understandings to provide better learning experiences for my students should guide my future teaching choices.
A reoccurring theme within most of the learning theories is the importance of learners to be actively engaged and preferably self-guiding of their learning experiences. In many ways, the structure of our k-12 education system has been rigidly controlled through local, state and federal government curriculum initiatives that emphasize teacher led learning, high stakes testing and learning expectations that seem to grow each year. Then as our kids get closer to graduation, we expect them to suddenly be ready to successfully enter the work force, attend a trade school or community college or pursue a degree at a university. We also expect them to suddenly be ready to grab the reigns of their own learning and successfully guide their own learning choices. This is the almost polar opposite expectations that my daughters statement highlighted. As a high school teacher, it’s unrealistic for me to expect my students to be prepared to guide their own learning and own it, if I’m constantly using teaching strategies that are not providing a scaffold to help my students reach that goal and be confident to lead their own learning.
When I look at my own learning and easily recognize that when I engage in authentic learning assignments that offer me some choices to guide my learning I am more likely to actually learn something new, retain the knowledge and be able to recall it. I’m going to use this as a guide to help me restructure my teaching choices to more effectively help my students grow into self-directed learners. As a public school teacher, I am somewhat bound by the curriculum and mandated expectations placed on teachers, but with deliberate choice I can attempt to change the things I can control within my instruction choices.
My empathy for how hard it is to be a student has increased. Life just gets in the way sometimes. Learning has to be a personal process if it is to be successful. Toddlers, middle schoolers, high school students and adult learners alike all face challenges when attempting to learn new knowledge. We all get sick. We all have a bad day. We all get behind and struggle to catch up. Some days it’s just hard to concentrate and spit out a written assignment quickly or force your mind to stop and focus on the lesson at hand. Learning is hard, personal work.
Being in the student’s seat again and parenting 3 kids who are students themselves is providing me with a unique perspective that I’m sure can guide my growth into a more effective teacher – I just have to be confident enough to step out of my comfort zone and keep trying!