Learning is a process that begins when we are born and continues throughout our entire lives. Every moment of every day we are learning new things; through experiences, observations, and other people. Babies and children are naturally curious, and seek information through their five senses and by asking questions of the adults around them. When my children were young and asked me question after question, I often put the question back on them by saying, “What do you think?” Their answers ranged from “I don’t know,” to ideas based on fact, to fantastical stories. I made sure to guide them with further questions to help them learn.
What happens when children come to school? Often times, teachers discourage questions from their students. It could be for the sake of time or because they don’t know how to answer. With two children at home, the questions could sometimes become overwhelming; but not nearly as overwhelming as questions from a class of 22 students! I wish it could be easier for teachers to foster their students’ natural curiosity and still focus on their curriculum. When children feel like their curiosity is not valued, they often stop asking questions. ‘Students come to the classroom with preconceptions about how the world works. If their initial understanding is not engaged, they may fail to grasp new concepts and information presented in the classroom.’ (Donovan, Bransford, & Pellegrino, 1999, p. 2). John Van de Walle (2004) explains this thinking best with his dot theory. ‘Consider the picture to be a small section of our cognitive makeup. The blue dots represent existing ideas. The lines joining the ideas represent our logical connections or relationships that have developed between and among ideas. The red dot is an emerging idea, one that is being constructed. Whatever existing ideas (blue dots) are used in the construction will necessarily be connected to the new idea (red dot) because those were the ideas that gave meaning to it.’ (p. 20). This illustrates the idea of Constructivism; ‘learning is an active process in which learners construct new ideas or concepts based upon their current/past knowledge.’ (instructionaldesign.org, 2015). When teachers allow their students the time to ask and find answers to questions, real learning can occur.
In a classroom where real learning takes place, there is a culture that allows and honors questions. In this type of classroom, ideas are discussed freely, students are involved in productive struggle, and mistakes are valued. It is through class discussions, problem solving, sharing work with one another, and hands-on activities that students learn. In his book The Innovator’s Mindset: Empower Learning, Unleash Talent, and Lead a Culture of Creativity, George Couros outlines eight things to look for in today’s classroom: voice, choice, time for reflection, opportunities for innovation, critical thinkers, problem solvers/finders, self-assessment, and connected learning (2015, p. 116).
Teachers have a different role in this type of classroom than they do in a more ‘traditional’ classroom. We are not givers of knowledge: most of the knowledge that students need to know can be found on the internet when it’s needed. Our job is to use formative assessments to find out where students are in the learning process, set up situations or problems that will encourage their next steps, and facilitate discussions between students. It is important to find balance; students need to learn basic facts, but they also need to be engaged in deep thinking. ‘Students’ abilities to acquire organized sets of facts and skills are actually enhanced when they are connected to meaningful problem-solving activities, and when students are helped to understand why, when, and how those facts and skills are relevant.’ (Donovan, Bransford, & Pellegrino, 1999, p. 19). In order for learning to occur, teachers must explicitly teach students how they learn. They should help students to set goals, monitor their progress, and notice when they are moving forward in the process of learning.
One of the most important ways to encourage students to learn is to model for them. As teachers, we should never stop learning. We learn from our students and our colleagues, professional reading and our PLNs. We are one of the most important role models in children’s lives, and they learn by watching what we do and how we act. Show them that learning happens in and out of the classroom, and that it happens continuously.
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Couros, G. (2015). The Innovator’s Mindset: Empower Learning, Unleash Talent, and Lead a Culture of Creativity. San Diego, CA: Dave Burgess Consulting, Inc.
Donovan, S., Bransford, J., Pellegrino, J. (1999). “How People Learn: Bridging Research and Practice.” Retrieved September 05, 2016, from http://www.nap.edu/read/9457/chapter/1
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