From Students to LEARNERS!

Posted: February 10, 2012 in Out of the box ideas

So, I asked my students at the beginning of the year and then again after semester 1, to tell me how they learn. Students wrote their own answers to these open ended questions. The trends in their responses are fascinating.

At the beginning of the year, these are ALL of the response topics (from 120 students): pay attention, study, read, games, projects, textbook, homework, I don’t know, write, art, class notes, worksheets, tests, teacher explains things, power point, activities, museum, discussions, class work, read instructions, research, have goals, after school tutor, correct myself, re-read, parents help. Sounds really traditional and, truthfully, not very fun to be a learner.

Now, after one semester where I have tried to show them that learning is an active process (and connected that to Bloom’s taxonomy), these are ALL of their response topics: by following the steps up Blooms, fun, technology tools, projects, connect to things outside class, videos/movies, discover on my own, share with peers, evaluate peer to peer, challenge myself, read, draw, in my own time and way, teacher guides me, group activities, games, study, be responsible, pay attention, review at home, share work outside of school, great class environment. Sounds pretty non-traditional AND FUN.

What REALLY surprised me about these two lists was the utter lack of overlap. Other than pay attention, study, read, games and projects….NONE of the others descriptions overlap. In just one semester, there has been an complete change in how students view the act of learning. I am still sitting here amazed at this outcome. My goal was to make students aware of how they learned so that they would move towards becoming reflective learners. From just these lists, I would say that was a huge success.

In addition to that, I also noticed that the fist list contains a lot of “tasks” such as test, class notes and homework; where as the second list contains a lot of learner ACTIONS such as discover on my own, challenge myself, and connect to things outside class. That is another very cool shift…..from “I learn because I complete this set of tasks” to “I learn because I experience”. The first has very little “ownership” by the learner, and the second is all about the learner being at the center of the process.

Now, my question is this…. why are students still making lists like the first set of responses? Why are we treating them as if they could not possibly know how to learn, so we stuff them full of information and tasks and call them “good” or “bad” students based on how nice they are about letting us do this? Why are we not turning THEIR LEARNING over to THEM?

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  1. Valerie Hoglan says:

    Shawn, this sounds fantastic! It is exciting to hear about an engaging learning process creating results beyond initial expectations:)

  2. Vivian says:

    Impressive Shawn internationally we have such a negative culture around learning.

  3. maxine says:

    Great job shawn… my question is: how in one semester did you manage to provoke this shift in thinking?

    I still feel sometimes like my feet are stuck in the mud with the kids, with expectations and demands from the schools….

  4. maxine says:

    Dear Shawn,
    Am going to the check the link right now- thanks so much for sharing it. And please, just for the record, your blog is the best educational blog I’ve come across…please don’t stop writing, reflecting sharing on it.
    When I am in my educators black hole ( place where I feel stuck or uninspired) I always come back to your blog to re-read your thoughts and ideas and very quickly they bring me back up again and put me back on track, so thanks for all the amazing and inspiring work you are doing with your kids-
    you are certainly one of the educational pioneers on the planet at the moment.
    Feel so lucky to have come across you!

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