Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Continuum to Develop Expert Learners

An expert learner is a learner who is self-directed, self-regulated, motivated and engaged to learn. They have a purpose to learn something they are interested in. They are responsible and own their learning and monitor their progress. However, this doesn't just happen overnight or even all the time. Plus, learners may not be an expert on every concept, strategy or skill. So what we did was create a continuum to develop expert learners that provides the journey learners of all ages go through to build expertise.
When the learner includes their voice and has opportunities for choice, this changes how they interact with the content, the teacher, and each other. The teacher can still be directing the learning but can invite learners to share their ideas and voice their opinion. The teacher can also provide multiple methods, tools and strategies for learners to access information, engage with the content, and express what they know and understand. This is what we call a Stage One Personalized Learning Environment.

The research paper, "Motivation, Engagement, and Student Voice" by Eric Toshalis and Michael J. Nakkula from the Students at the Center explained in their spectrum on student voice oriented activities is that they can start articulating their perspectives as a stakeholder in their learning to directing collective activities. They can move from data sources to leaders of change. Most student voice activity in schools resides in expression, consultation, and participation. The goal is for learners to have a voice that moves to partnership, activism and leadership roles.

Volunteering, opinions, creating art, celebrating, complaining, praising, objecting
Being asked for their opinion, providing feedback, serving on a focus group, completing a survey
Attending meetings or events in which decisions are made, frequent inclusion when issues are framed and actions planned
Formalized role in decision making, standard operations required not just invite, student involvement, adults are trained in how to work collaboratively with youth partners
Identifying problems, generating solutions, organizing responses, agitating and/or educating for change both in and outside of school
Co-planning, making decisions and accepting significant responsibility for outcomes, co-guiding group process, co-conducting activities

When the learner has a choice in what they are learning especially if it is something they are passionate about or interested in, they jump in and sometimes get lost in the task or project. This is called "flow" and you can see and hear the engagement. The room changes. Learners want to share and talk about what they are learning in one corner. In another silent area, there might be a learner fixated on a book or something they are reading. They are also in "flow" and lost in the text. When the teacher opens the door to allow voice and choice, it opens the door to noise and what Chris Edwards called "messy learning." It is not predictable. This is where learning is becoming personal to the learner.

When learners pursue their passion or interest, they are intrinsically motivated to learn. It is something they want to learn. Bell schedules or grade levels don't work as well in this type of environment. Learners are not only in the "flow" and engaged in learning now, they are totally immersed.
Time is the variable. Learning is the constant.
Fred Bramante

We asked Kathleen Cushman to share what kids say about school and what motivates them. Through her research and the 8 Universal Secrets of Motivated Learnerskids want to have a voice in their learning. They want to be heard. They want to learn by doing and building. They want learning to be relevant. We need to ask our kids and listen to them. When kids are motivated, they are engaged and enjoy the challenge. The next thing that happens is they take ownership of their learning. 

Learner-centered environments offer active and collaborative learning where learners are able to generate questions, organize inquiry projects and monitor their own products and progress. Chris Watkins is a reader at the University of London, Institute of Education, in the London Centre for Leadership in Learning and participates in the Campaign for Learning’s ‘Learning to Learn’ project. His research is on learners driving and owning their learning. Teachers have been taught to manage and control the learning environment. To encourage learners to own and drive their learning, teachers' roles need to change. 

  • The more structured we make the environment, the more structure learners need.
  • The more we decide for learners, the more they expect us to decide.
  • The more motivation we provide, the less they find within themselves.
  • The more responsibility for learning we try to assume, the less they accept on their own.
  • The more control we exert, the more restive their response
    (Watkins, 2009)

When you see this list above, think about yourself as a learner. Traditional teacher-centered environments direct the learning and control the environment. If someone tells you what and how to learner, how do you feel? 

Just imagine if you could learn something you are interested in, passionate about, and find it is your purpose. When you pursue your purpose, you tend to self-direct your learning by setting goals and planning how you will meet those goals. You do this, because you believe in this purpose. When you work toward a goal you really believe in, you self-regulate your learning and monitor your progress. You persevere to learn more. You actually learn by trying, failing, and trying again. Failure is not an option. It is about developing agency and owning your journey.

When this happens, you become expert learner.