Does learning happen TO me, or could learning happen BECAUSE of me?
In a world where so many children are passive recipients of information, images, games and youtube videos, it may be considered unsurprising that at around Year 4, 5 or 6 we start to see a shift in the learning engagement of some students. Developmentally at this time, students are entering a period of great emotional change. They are beginning to view their world as a more complex place and for many, their friendships are becoming more important and more fraught with difficulty and misunderstanding. This complicated period can have an impact on learning progress in some instances for a range of reasons. Some of these are obviously circumstances or capabilities unrelated to motivation, but for others, this surprising dip in a student’s passion for learning can impact academic progress, concerning parents and teachers alike.
We see these students arrive into the classroom with an unspoken (and likely subconscious) expectation that they are entering a zone where learning will happen to them. I call this the ‘guided tour’ approach to learning because these students arrive with the expectation that they will be ushered to the right place by someone else and then they will be told everything they need to know. These students can be less inclined to proactively check that they have the materials they need for their lessons, they sit and listen passively as class discussions ensue, they breeze over the teacher’s list of success criteria before submitting their work and they use much of their independent work time on menial parts of a task or they employ a range of creative procrastination techniques. The expectation of the student is that ‘the adults will pull me up if needed, so I don’t need to regulate this myself’. After spotting the ‘guided tour’ approach in a student, teachers ramp up the encouragement, differentiate the tasks to suit, assign students specific roles to guide group tasks and reinforce success criteria with individualised attention. These are just some of the professional practices that spring to mind. With all these strategies in place as they were in the younger years, some students still don’t take the reins at this later stage. What happens over time is that their more intrinsically motivated peers move past in terms of academic performance, leaving their less proactive classmates to stagnate.
At this point, teachers tend to recognise the need to have a ‘coaching conversation’ with an individual student about their progress and more specifically, their approach to learning and their role in the process of learning. By the middle of Year 4, most students are mature enough to understand what it means to make their learning happen because of their deliberate actions. This conversation tells the student that the teacher, their parents AND themselves are the triad responsible for their learning. It is invitational in tone and two or three goals relating to learning behaviours are set with the view to recognise when the student is showing what it means to take the reins in their learning process. This young person then ‘joins their team’ responsible for learning and understands that their actions are ‘on the teacher’s radar’.
Some students need help to shift their thinking from, ‘learning is happening TO me and replace that with the actions that make learning happen BECAUSE of me’.
What does it mean to make learning happen ‘because of me’? Below is a list of visible, deliberate actions that teachers may recommend for students to undertake. These can foster understanding of content, consolidation of skills and certainly manifest evidence of learning. Most importantly, these learning behaviours are known to positively impact levels of enjoyment, confidence with learning and improved academic performance.
When in class
- Listen carefully to the contributions of others in class and aim to offer an idea or suggestion that no one else has raised.
- Ask questions to clarify your understanding – “I think you mean ______________. Is that right?”
- Value the planning and drafting process – clarity of each sentence, complexity in terms of ideas and sophistication through the use of evocative vocabulary or language techniques.
- Take short portions of completed work to the teacher for initial feedback and then apply the feedback to the rest of the work.
- Before handing in finalised work, consider whether or not you are truly proud of your work or if it requires amendment – evaluate against success criteria and instructions, then fix errors.
- Always arrive for class with all equipment you will need.
When at home
- Display a calendar that outlines weekly co-curricular events (within and outside school hours) and add to the calendar as events arise. This may be requirements assigned by the teacher, charity days where a coin or a type of clothing is required, sporting days or school events. (Consider whether it may be time to take this responsibility away from your parents and own it!).
- Make time to build skills that support learning. Write a structured paragraph, work on touch typing, consolidate times tables, revise Hebrew vocabulary or practise your instrument. These can be done even without the teacher assigning the task.
- Reading, reading reading! Gradually increase the complexity of the books read at home. Set fun challenges such as reading a range of genres across a term.
- Complete all tasks that teachers set for homework (on time – without needing reminders).
- Take time to research concepts you have not understood in class.
- Watch videos online that explain the Maths concepts you have been studying or the features of the text form being addressed in class etc. Build on learning from class. You may find a new idea to take back to class and share with others.