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.