Monday, April 28, 2014

Making Sense of Learning

School is supposed to be about how learners are learning, but the conversations do not seem to be focused on “learning.”  The focus tends to be on instruction and performance. Chris Watkins participates in the Campaign for Learning’s ‘Learning to Learn’ project and wrote “Learning: a sense-makers guide”, a publication commissioned by ATL, the union for education professionals across the UK. The idea of starting with the learner is all about learning about learning and noticing how we learn.


Learning can make sense and is similar to how we make sense of other things. We do it gradually through experiences and building knowledge as we go. Talking, thinking, and reflecting about learning are the key factors to understanding. In the sense-makers guide, Watkins writes that there are four teaching practices that can help learners make sense of their learning:


  1. Notice learning
    Getting in the flow is when learners are engaged in the process. You can see them motivated and immersed in the learning. This is a great time to stop the flow. Really! Ask your learners to step back and notice what happened, what we did to make it happen, what the effects were, how it felt, what helped, how learners were persistent in making it happen, and what might they do with the learning. You might even pick up some new language by noticing the learning that just happened.
  2. Have conversations about learning
    Listen to the conversations. You can ask learners to pair or work in groups of three or four and discuss what they noticed in their learning. You can prompt them to reflect on why were doing something that maybe thing might not even know or take for granted. Some questions you can prompt them to ask could be:

    Why we did _____   yesterday?
    Did we find out anything new?
    How can we find out more?
  3. Reflect on your learning
    Reflection is personal and can be in a personal journal or shared in a blog. Reflection helps you notice your learning because you think about it when you write. When you are writing your reflections, new ideas may come to you or you may notice more about your learning you never knew before.
  4. Make learning an object of learning
    You can learn about learning while you are learning about something else. When you have your learners read and experiment to learn something, you can have them notice and reflect on what they learned and how they learned. You could have them reflect on how they handled their feelings during the learning or how they engaged with others as they learned. This is called the cycle of learning.


When you see learners noticing and reflecting on their learning during their learning, that is the Wow of learning. This is the higher-order thinking skills we want our children to adopt: learning about learning and thinking about learning. This makes learning visible. This is what shakes up the classroom dynamics, because when the teacher is lecturing, learners are supposed to be listening. Are they? When you shake up the learning so learning is visible and learners are talking about their learning, the classroom environment is different. This change is the culture shift, the change that learners want now.


Changing culture is big. Now is the time.

Chris Watkins is a researcher at The Institute of Education, London Centre for Leadership in Learning, Faculty Member. Chris has been involved in projects with a range of schools on learning about learning, effective learning, classroom learning, teachers' learn and school learning. This work culminates in the idea of classrooms as learning communities. Since 2005, Chris has been an independent consultant and project leader with a range of schools, mainly in the London area, but also way beyond London.  We highly recommend visiting Chris' Academia.u site where he uploads his work.