Monday, November 24, 2014

Changing Perceptions - Every Child a Learner

Last year we posted a blog, "Learners not Students", that encouraged intensive discussions about why we should use the term 'learners' instead of 'students'. Many agreed that 'learner' is the appropriate term we need to use since we want every child to be recognized as a learner. An important question was raised in this discussion that we want to explore here:

"How do we create a school culture in which being a learner
is more valuable than being a student?"

Our current school culture rewards children when they are "good students." Children are considered good students when they follow directions, complete their homework, study for tests and earn good grades. The current culture often does not recognize or value when children are "good learners." Let's dive a little deeper into how we can begin to create a culture where all learners are valued.

"If you remove the veil of disability, you will see the learner."
Kathleen McClaskey

Discover the Learner in Every Child 

Schools have spent the last four decades labeling children who are considered not to be good students while developing our own perceptions of their capabilities. At the same time, many of these children compare themselves to other children and emphasize what they cannot do or perform. It is a natural behavior for children to compare themselves to others, all the time developing a perception that they are different and do not learn like other children. In fact, we often treat them differently by our words and actions. It does not take long for these children to develop their own perceptions that they are not learners, a stigma that sometimes lasts for years if not a lifetime.

Then how do we change our perceptions and their perceptions? 
How do we help every child see themselves as learners every day? 

First, we need to discover the learner in every child and how they learn best. One of the best ways to do that is to use the UDL (Universal Design for Learning) lens as part of the Personal Learner Profile to enable the teacher to understand how each learner needs and prefers to access information, engage with content and express what they know and understand.

Validate the Learner

The learner uses the UDL lens to share their strengths and challenges in learning, their preferences or needs to access, engage and express as well as their aspirations, talents and interests. At that moment when a learner is able to tell their story about how they learn with their teacher, the "partnership in learning" begins between the teacher and the learner. This opens the door for the teacher to have a conversation with the learner about learning goals, skills and strategies that the learner needs to work on to reduce any barriers and maximize learning. The undeniable outcome in using the UDL lens is that the learner has been validated as a learner. This is something that rarely occurs today in anyone's education and will have a positive and profound impact for any learner. 

Create a School Culture that Values and Nurtures Every Learner

For learners to grow and flourish, we need to create learning environments where every child is recognized as a learner. A school culture that values every learner will empower them to discover the joy of learning. We need to create learning environments that...
  • guide learners to think deeply about their learning,
  • teach them how to make sense of their learning
  • help them set learning goals to support their learning,
  • understand the tools, resources and strategies each learner needs,
  • assist learners in developing the skills to be independent and self-directed, and
  • nurture their talents, interests and aspirations so they can realize their hopes and dreams. 


Consider this!

Tomorrow when you arrive in your classroom, envision every child as learner and then use the UDL lens to discover the learner in every child. Once you are aware of what each learner needs and how they prefer to learn, you are taking the first step in establishing a school culture where learners are valued and created.

To learn more about learners and using the UDL lens, read Chapter 2, Who are Your Learners?, in our newly published book "Make Learning Personal".

Universal Design for Learning is a registered trademark of CAST (Center for Applied Special Technology)  Personal Learner Profile is a trademark of Personalize Learning, LLC.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

If you missed the webinar: Make Learning Personal...

click on the image to go to the archive of the webinar from its Learning

Thank you Lisa Dubenard, Andy Ryff and David Hyde from its Learning for giving us this opportunity to share Make Learning Personal with the world and your audience! What a great webinar with around 100 people from around the world! We set up a backchannel in Twitter using #plearnchat and archived it for you here also:

Monday, November 17, 2014

Proving Performance vs. ImProving Learning

Chris Watkins' article, Research Matters: Learning, Performance and Improvement, is about the relationship between learning in schools and performance in schools. Effective learners understand how they learn with strengths identified as metacognition, self-monitoring, and self-regulation. Learners vary orientations between learning and performance where there is a concern for proving (Performance) or improving (Learning) orientation. We adapted and summarized key components in Watkins’ research in the table located here. 

In his research, Watkins defines the term "learning" with a range of meanings. Most of us only know what we know about learning from our own experiences as a student: "being taught." Research in the 20th century highlighted learning as a change in knowledge through a process of knowledge construction. Watkins explains how the social context of learning as a shared phenomenon is important. Views of learning are present, yet he states about the long-standing culture of classrooms is "teaching is telling, learning is listening, knowledge is subject matter taught by teachers and found in books."

Watkins shares that in England and other countries including the United States, there has been a focus on performance tests for learners, performance ratings for schools, and performance management strategies for teachers. In most cases, teachers are held accountable and responsible for what learners learn. This is a concern from educators around the world "that managing teachers on the basis of such performance has lowered teacher morale" and led to some of our best and brightest to leave the profession. 

When a learner focuses on learning orientation, it means "the motivation to prove one's competence is immaterial without the motivation to improve one's competence." Watkins provides an instrument to determine one's learning orientation and compares how performance is achieved in other domains such as sports and business. 

Success in a competitive context is not defined by
a competitive attitude but a learning attitude.

The evidence in Watkins' research concludes that a focus on learning can enhance performance, where a focus on performance alone can depress performance. With traditional instruction, the climate in the classrooms becomes more performance oriented over years of schooling. 

A performance-oriented environment focuses on looking good rather than learning well.

The evidence in this research demonstrates that learning about learning is an educationally important strategy that improves performance. 


We highly recommend you to visit and download this article, Research Matters: Learning, Performance and Improvement. 

We are honored to know Chris Watkins, have learned so much from his research and encourage you to read and review his work around meta-learning along with all of his research at Watkins' site.  Read more on this post from Watkins: Making Sense of Learning.


Chris Watkins was a Reader Emeritus 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 meta-learning and learning about learning, effective learning, classroom learning, and teachers 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.  

Monday, November 3, 2014

Learning Environment as the Third Educator

The Reggio Emilia approach is about having children seen as competent, resourceful, curious, imaginative, inventive and to possess a desire to interact and communicate with others. The environment invites learners to explore and discover on their own as teachers and parents observe and document the process.

The ’Reggio’ vision of the child as a competent learner has produced a strong child-directed curriculum model. The curriculum has purposive progression but not scope and sequence. Teachers follow the children’s interests and do not provide focused instruction in reading and writing. The Reggio approach has a strong belief that children learn through interaction with others, including parents, staff and peers in a friendly learning environment. The main concepts include:
  • The child as an active participant in learning.
    Learners are allowed to follow their own interests.
  • The significance of environment. The environment of the school is seen as the third educator, after the teacher and the parent.
  • The teacher, parent, and child as collaborators in the process of learning.
    The Reggio approach views the parent as an essential resource for their child’s learning.
  • Making learning visible. Teachers use a variety of documentation methods, such as cameras, digital recorders, and journals, to track children’s thoughts and ideas as they play together or work with materials.
Reggio approach is not a formal model with defined methods (such as Waldorf and Montessori), teacher certification standards and accreditation processes. But rather, the educators in Reggio Emilia speak of their evolving "experience" and see themselves as a provocation and reference point, a way of engaging in dialogue starting from a strong and rich vision of the child. In all of these settings, documentation was explored as a means of promoting parent and teacher understanding of children’s learning and development.

The ’Reggio Emilia’ approach was founded by Loris Malaguzzi (1920-1994), at a city in northern Italy called Reggio Emilia. The ’Reggio’ approach was developed for municipal child-care and education programs serving children below six.  Reggio Emilia approach is now expanding across K-12 especially the Reggio influence on the design of the learning environment.

Want to learn more about Reggio Emilia?