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Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Empowering Students and Families in this New Age of Learning

I told students the other day, "There's no reason why anyone in this class can't become a math expert with all the tools and resources available today. The key, however, is to learn to use the tools and resources well to learn successfully."

Then we moved on to learning about how to use Khan Academy as one tool for positive learning.

Students and many family members don't naturally understand how to utilize today's tools to learn well. I see the worth in all of these new tools since I use the tools regularly to forward my own learning, but when it comes to translating my experience into advocacy and explanation, that can be challenging.

For example, I know that good learning profits from revisiting former concepts with greater understanding and depth. When I read Willingham's book, Why Don't Students Like School?, he supports this activity with cognitive research. When students revisit a concept they've learned before with more a sophisticated and experienced lens, they are able to make deeper connections and learn the concept and vocabulary with new understanding. This kind of review supports deeper learning with regard to the new level, knowledge, and concept with which they are learning in the general concept area. That's why I ask students to complete assignments in Khan Academy at earlier levels. Not only does completing these assignments give them easy access to learning the Khan Academy platform, but it also solidifies skill with models, number, vocabulary, and explanations in content areas. This is important.

Another way to deepen formerly learned skills, concepts, and information is to have older students plan learning experiences and then teach these concepts to younger students.

Although no one exercise or activity will serve all children well. In some cases, this kind of review may not be appropriate or necessary given a child's outside of school learning experiences and opportunities.

Learning to learn means that we understand how our brains work and what we need to learn a new concept well. When we enter the learning arena with that understanding, our ability to learn expands significantly.

Old fashion "sit in your seats and listen" can still work in part, but there are far more ways to learn today, ways that offer, perhaps, deeper and more successful learning. Identifying the many learning paths possible and teaching students how to navigate those paths will support best learning.

Where do we start in this regard?

First, let students know that there are many, many ways to learn--paths such as online platforms, gaming, building/making, experiments, reading, writing, listening, watching, experiencing, and more. And with each lesson, ask the question, Is this a good way for you to learn? Why or Why not?

Then apply these multiple paths to each learning unit. Make sure to give each path the repetition it needs to strengthen learning and make the time to talk about the finer details of each learning path with questions such as the following:
  • How do you navigate this learning path?
  • What makes it successful for you?
  • What makes it difficult for you?
  • When do you use this path and why?
Engage family members and colleagues in this discussion to with questions like this:
  • What are your main modalities of teaching and learning?
  • What are the main modalities in your classroom or home?
  • How does your child (the children) learn best? Why does this work for him/her?
  • What resources do we need to support best learning? 
  • How can we work together to learn about, try out, and share new learning paths? 
There's lots to think about in this regard. I'll lead a conversation at Educon 2.8 about this topic. I'm sure that together on that day we'll all learn a lot and come up with some great suggestions for others as well.