Monday, February 18, 2019

Students' perception of school well-being is important!

An important, yet often ignored factor of the learning experience, is school related well-being.  (Bradshaw, Keung, Rees, & Goswami, 2011).  This school-related well-being is a subset of the general framework of human well-being which, conceptualized by White (2010), emphasizes three components: “the material, the relational, and the subjective” (p. 161). Considering Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, it seems obvious that students’ well-being needs must be met before higher-order thinking can occur. 

Students’ perception creates the emotional learning environment of the classroom or the entire school. Please note, though, that I am not talking about entertaining students. My intention is to describe a learning environment where students cooperate and are accountable for their own learning. In Finland one measurement for successful education is “kouluviihtyvyys”, which approximately translates to school enjoyment, or school satisfaction, but actually has some deeper connotations of a place where one feels safe and welcome[1]. School satisfaction is seen to be built of several components where school conditions create one part, social relationships another part and means for self-fulfillment in school the third crucial part – following the categories of having, loving, being by Erik Allardt[2]. These are quite similar to material, relational and subjective.

Classroom management and curricular choices belong to having (the material, school conditions), in addition to the buildings and equipment, and often are the most emphasized component in student success. However, no matter how great the learning conditions are, the two other components of well-being must be present to complete the picture of successful learning experiences.

Cooperation falls into social relationships/loving – part of school enjoyment, and it covers school climate, teacher-student relationships and all interactions – also those with students’ homes and family members. Cooperation increases students’ success in all levels starting from informal peer tutoring among classmates, covering anything and everything that happens during a school day, but also reaching to professional collaboration between education professionals. Loving is a strong word for me to use about social relationships at school, but I do see how well it fits here.

Being/the means of self-fulfillment cover many important areas: value of work (no busywork!), creativity (students and teachers are so much more than parts in a machine), encouragement (feedback about learning process), and having opportunities to practice making good choices. Knowing how I learn is essential for becoming a good learner, and this is why metacognitive tools should be an essential part of each and every teacher’s toolbox. This is also why I am so sceptical about standards – when learning is an individual process, how could it be measured with standardized testing?

The reality of testing is to provide information to the stakeholders (which is the basic idea in summative evaluations). To increase school well-being we should use lots of informal and formative assessments to support students' learning process.

Having, loving and being were in my mind when I creatd the 3C Framework:

The cognitive approach creates the foundation, because students' thinking needs to change - not just their behaviour.

Cooperation guides the classroom management decision and help students engage in their own learning process.

Constructive tools focus on supporting students' learning process to make learning meaningful and increase motivation to learn.

3C framework also emphasizes using students' self-assessment in order to build feedback loops that support deeper learning. The underlying principle is to empower students to become independent life-long learners.

Bradshaw, J., Keung, A., Rees, G., & Goswami, H. (2011). Children's subjective well-being: International comparative perspectives. Children and Youth Services Review33(4), 548-556.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Instruction doesn't necessarily mean that students are learning

Learning and teaching are two completely different things. 

They are not the two sides of the same coin! They are two different processes that are often put into the same frame of reference (education) and sometimes even happen in the same physical space (classroom). 

Learning can be defined as the processes of acquisition and elaboration (Illeris, 2003), and what is referred to teaching often is just delivery of information (a monologue, for example lectures, either in class or online), and measuring memorized pieces of that information (tests, exams). Teaching becomes learning facilitation when the teacher and the student engage in a dialogue.

Teaching should not be force-feeding facts to students, but helping them to understand bigger entities and how the details connect to the higher level concept.  Usually people are curious, and learning is a survival skill we all were born with and used freely during the early childhood. When learning is seen as an in-built force within your students, the teacher's job just became much easier in an instant.  By remaining as a facilitator for learning and supporting students when they are constructing their own knowledge, the teacher has taken a huge step towards utilizing the learner's autonomy. Helping students to learn requires a dialogue, because learning grows in interactions. 

Students are led into the learning process and given freedom to choose (within pedagogically appropriate boundaries) how to construct their own knowledge and which learning activities and strategies to use in order to reach the mutually discussed learning goals.  Ideally, students are also allowed to choose the assessment methods most suitable for their needs, but the teacher should lead the students utilize wide selection of assessments.

In such learning environment students' learning is effective and authentic, building on higher level thinking skills and linking new information into already existing structures of personal knowledge and understanding.  This is what deep learning looks like. 

Thinking from the viewpoint of teaching being equal to learning, things appear to be very different.  

It seems inevitable that the teacher must somehow capture and keep the attention of the students, in order to engage them in learning materials. Rewards, points, grades and penalties are utilized to focus students' attention towards the desired learning objective, and students are led through an instructional sequence with the hope that it would change also there thinking and not just their behavior. Rote memorization is the most commonly used learning strategy so learning loss becomes a real problem after a while.

Student motivation is one main contributor to students' educational success. From a pedagogical point of view students are either seen as intrinsically motivated learners and subjects of their own lives and learning, or as objects of teaching and extrinsically motivated into performing tasks that the formal education provides them with and expects them to pass.

Autonomy, competency and relatedness - the three principles of self-determination theory - are also are basic human needs. Providing ample opportunities for students to choose, grow and relate makes learning easier and teaching more successful.

Let me help you choose better learning/teaching strategies!

This blogpost talks about interactions that support learning


Illeris, K. (2003). Toward a contemporary and comprehensive theory of learning. International Journal of Lifelong Education, 22(4), 396-406. doi:10.1080/0260137032000094814

Niemiec, C. P., & Ryan, R. M. (2009). Autonomy, competence, and relatedness in the classroom: Applying self-determination theory to educational practice. School Field, 7(2), 133-144.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Deep learning strategies

One part of mentoring for self-regulated learning (SRL) is to suggest appropriate studying strategies for students and help them to engage in personally meaningful deeper learning

To improve learner agency we want to improve metacognition, and help students to be aware of their learning processes.  The following list has 6 study strategies for deeper learning that can be applied in different learning situations. The three first strategies are about ways to encode information to be learned. 

1.    Make connections – information alone has a very short memory life, it needs to be connected to your previous knowledge
o   Build concept hierarchies, think of umbrella terms, and categorize information in a way that is meaningful to you – then check your study materials to make sure you interpreted them correctly.
o   Chunk details together. Visual cues, either graphic organizers, or something as simple as your own fingers, may help to organize the content and find a common denominator for them (this is why mnemonic devices are used)
o   Color-coding the content can be extremely helpful, because the color can give an immediate cue about the higher order concept.
o   Unlike computer memory, humans need to revisit things they know, simply because human knowledge is very contextual.

2.     Take contextual notes – use images, mindmaps, or doodling, and also write down your thoughts or ideas the reading evoked. This helps you to transfer your learning into other settings.
o   Learning is always contextual and situational, so your study strategies should reflect this fact.What is the context of the content, and can you relate it to other contexts?  In what situation is the new information useful?
o   While studying, ask yourself  "How far..." and “What if…”  questions about the topic to test the limits of the concept, or usefulness of the information.
o   Ask why and how questions about the material you are learning to expand your understanding and situate new information to what you know already.  

3.     Attach new information to real life experiences – extend the content to apply to work/life situations you have had. How does the reading relate to your work or life? In what situation could you use what you learned?
o   Create scenarios and examples of using the information to be learned in real life, based on the experiences you have already had (or a virtual experience).
o   Make a short note of this scenario into your notes or mindmap, often just few words is enough, some people prefer to connect things to dates or places. Use what works for you!

o   Explain your new knowledge to another person. This makes you to use the vocabulary associated to it. Multilingual people know this effect: use it or lose it.  Even a language well learned becomes hard to use if we have no opportunities to speak it, because there is an advanced level of competency required for expressive fluency.

Next strategy is for timining and sequencing your study sessions in ways that help your memory to save information to be learned. This is very simple strategy: more exposure equals better retention. To help yourself to learn, just visit the material several times!

4.      Span studying over time – studying in smaller chunks during the week is more effective than 7 hours on weekend. There is more than 100 years of research showing this (Cepeda et al,2006) so we should believe it is the best pratice.
o   To be nicer to yourself, plan to work on yours studies even a little every day, or for even better effect, several times a day! Save the most important or hardest information to be learned on your cell, so that you can easily reread it several times a day.
o   One part why having several study sessions over the week or weekend works so well, is the need to recall information in the beginning of a study session. However, for example to write a paper the longer time period spent with studies will work better, but then again that is not about studying but organizing and communicating what you have already learned. Keep this distinction clear!
o   Rehearsing what we know is important. This doesn’t mean that you must take same quizzes over and over to keep your knowledge, but it DOES mean that you need to connect it into other things in your life and be able to talk or write about it.

Next two strategies are about practices to help your memory to save information to be learned.  

5.       Practice recalling things – after chunking details together, then turn away and try to remember the items. When you have a chunk memorized, and items that belong to it, you can use the time in queue, commute or other delay to recall learned items (e.g. countries, states, capitals, periodic table, historical events, learning theories/theorists, etc).
o   This is sometimes called the quizzing effect but the idea is the same: instead of just re-reading things, try to recall or answer questions about your study material 
o   Creating mnemonic devices of your own can be very effective, because it combines the recalling practice with something that may be personally meaningful. 
o   Karpicke & Blunt(2011) suggested that Retrieval Practice Produces More Learning than Elaborative Studying with Concept Mapping.  Why not combine both, and learn even better?
o   Learning strategies don’t have to be polarized! Concept-mapping or mind mapping can effectively support recalling chunks or details. Color-coding concepts can help recalling the categories. Explaining concepts to a friend can help recalling.

6.       Add variety – use different strategies and exercises to learn the content
o   Learning becomes easier when you have several different interactions with the material, instead just the same one,  repeatedly   
o   Adding variety to your studying can also be done with technique called interleaving, which means studying content out of order.  This makes studying harder, but supports deeper learning.   
o   So, reshuffling your content so that is out of order might be helpful. Interleaving in language pronunciations may not be effective, suggests this article. However, my own thought is that it may depend on one’s cognitive style (top-down vs. bottom-up, preference for concept hierarchies or details), and other ways we organize information to be learned.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

IDEAL learning

Creating the IDEAL circumstances for learning makes instruction effective and enjoyable!

Check out and Nina's Notes for more information!

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Supporting multilingual learning

Update on 2/28/17 
Now I need to correct myself  -  why am I talking about ELLs when the reality is about DLLs? 
Dual Language Learning is much more appropriate way to discuss bi- and multilingualism!

I have a habit of reading news feed of recent research in education. This one caught my eye today, so I shared it in Twitter: 

Too often assessments and evaluations focus on students' language skills instead algebraic understanding, problem solving, or critical thinking (e.g. math story problems, science performance assessments, or SAT). Such assessments and evaluations do not support students' learning.

My main takeaway from the article was the dilemma of reclassification, and whether it is done too soon or too early. When does an ELL student stop being one? 

The conclusion of the article was also scary.  There is a possibility of reclassification "focusing on demonstrating compliance as opposed to truly expanding educational opportunity."  Compliance to the policy should be secondary to students' needs, if we want students to learn, not just perform.  

Of course, I bring my own bias into this discussion: after living in the States for several years, I don't feel perfectly fluent in English, and probably never will. The punctuation rules and prepositions are still causing gray hair to me! My L1, Finnish, has no prepositions (however, we have lots of postpositions).

My youngest daughter was 13 when we moved to the States. She never qualified to the ELL program, but tested right out of it. Her own definition was that she wrote well but did not speak enough, and also had excellent grammar from studying English at school since 3rd grade before moving here. My son learned his English after we moved here, so he qualified for ELL program for two years, starting on 2nd grade. Today they both speak and write better English than I do.

But if 1 student out of 10 is still learning English, we really should emphasize the instructional practices that support language awareness. Realistically, in 21st century bilinguals (or multilinguals) are the majority. There seems to be a consensus about more than 50% people speaking more than just one language. This page suggests only 40% of world's population being monolinguals.

I addition to increasing educator's awareness of the ELL policy, there should be strong emphasis in supporting students' learning - and language learning - regardless of their home language. There is plenty of research showing how emphasizing the importance of home language supports learning English. Language awareness is what matters. Yes, the vocabulary and grammar are different, but languages of the same group are quite alike. Hence, a language like Interlingua is understandable to many.  Even if the home language doesn't belong to the same language family, the awareness of how a language works is an important step in becoming bilingual or multilingual. 

So, how to fairly assess what a multilingual student knows or has learned? Informal assessments, observations, and visual projects are better for avoiding misunderstanding. And if you just have to use a worksheet or test? For starters, please, don't use idioms and phrasal verbs. Keep the language simple. Provide more time. Then again - aren't these the best assessment and evaluation practice for all students?

Monday, December 12, 2016

Learning process

Learning is extremely individual, situational and contextual! One thing is granted, though: learning involves a change. How we perceive learning depends on the learning theories we believe in. See this post for further discussion about that: The Big Picture

Each individual learning experience is different because what we each see/hear/think depends on our previous experiences and the unique filters we have. Thus, while presented with the same information we process it in diverse ways. Even in a collective learning situation we all are engaged also in our own personal learning process. Understanding that learning and teaching are not the two sides of the same coin is the beginning. Students learn all the time, but they may not be learning things we wanted them to learn.

Effective teaching is much more than just instruction. It is helping students engage with their own learning process, and thus also requires handing over the tools of learning to the students: choices, self-assessment and -regulation, metacognitive strategies, goal-setting, and much more. This doesn't mean teaching becoming obsolete - what is needed is simply just a change of focus in the practice. A step towards student centered learning. Supporting the learning process requires the teacher to become a learning facilitator instead of being the source of information. See this post why knowledge cannot be transmitted: Information is shared, knowledge is constructed.  

When students are empowered to be in charge of their own learning process, they are also accountable for their own learning. After all it IS students' job to learn, and teachers' job to help students in learning. We cannot do it for students, every student must use their own thinking to engage with the materials and learn.

When learning is perceived as a product something very valuable is lost: the open-ended curiosity that drives students to learn more than what is mandated. Many scholars have described the same curiosity in different terms depending of their frame of reference: passion, element, purpose, and of course also having the intrinsic motivation to learn.

If learning is just a product: an essay, a perfectly filled work sheet, or an objective exam with closed questions one important part of learning is excluded - creativity. Please note that I am not only talking about the artistic ability to create, but hoping for students to have opportunities to apply their critical thinking skills, because we use the same problem solving skills in different situations, starting from social conflicts in early childhood and also while being engaged in the creative process.

While following the thinking of someone else we will never create the same competence as we do while thinking it through with our own brain! The copied thinking - just like a copied product - only leads to surface learning, which doesn't have much chance to be stored permanently in students' brain. Emphasizing the product over the process can really backfire in the classroom

Please visit NotesFromNina for questions whether learning is process or a product!

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Quest for better learning

Learner-centered practices have been validated with years - no, decades! - of global research in education and psychology. Why are the authoritarian practices still so widely used in classrooms? I wish I knew!

I often admit to my own students (teachers and trainers pursuing their graduate degrees) that I am on an ongoing mission and my goal is to corrupt a teacher a day into learner-centered practices.  It usually makes people laugh, but I am dead serious: the only way we can spread the use of learner-centered practices is to use them in our own design and instruction.

Learning happens everywhere, all the time, and school learning is just a specific type of learning we do. Supporting students individual interests and personal strengths makes school learning easier and more intrinsically interesting.

American Psychological Association publishes excellent materials. Please check the Top 20 Principles for K-12 and Learner-centered education!