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!

Monday, May 23, 2016

Schooling or learning?

What is the perception we have about education? Is it something that we actively engage in? Or something the educational systems do to us?

The difference between these two perceptions is huge. When people believe that education is a life-long learning journey, they are more likely to feel ownership over their learning -and their kids' learning-  and be empowered to search and find tools that help in learning. This type of learning happens everywhere, inside and outside of classroom and fosters students' curiosity. Learning is very subjective and learners are seen as agents of their own life and learning. Successful learning means creating transferable and applicable knowledge that is personally meaningful.

However, when learning is attributed to an external entity like school, it is more likely to think that a learning professional is needed to provide the "correct" learning materials or resources. Learning is done at school and for school, there is less personal investment in learning activities. Learning is very objective, there is a correct answer to questions, and the teacher can help you to find that answer. Successful learning means passing the tests or getting good grades.

I believe the current educational systems should foster the subjective life-long learning, because learning cannot end in graduation in the 21st century societies, where information and misinformation are available for everyone with few clicks on a computer.

The research report below about Low income families being less likely to use online learning tools prompted me to blog about this important issue. My first thoughts were how shared devices and mobile/internet access must be a contributing factor for not using online tools, but then I was also thinking about the ownership and empowerment we have about our own learning. I am working on my dissertation about learner agency and think that all too often we forget to emphasize the learning ownership.

One question to ask while creating the online tools is: does this app or resource empower students to learn for life or is it designed to help a student to pass a test?

Is it built for learning or for schooling?

Monday, March 21, 2016

The Big Picture for Learning Centered Education

The previous posts have discussed learning and teaching philosophy and dispositions, as these are important for the consistency and integrity of the chosen instructional methods in the classroom while beginning to emphasize learning-centered education.

Sometimes it is hard to recognize the underlying ideals in all the great resources that can be found in the internet. What has been helpful to me, is to think first what is the view of the knowledge and the learner in any given resource, and then either use it as it is or tweak it so that it better fits to my philosophy. The picture below shows an overly simplistic model of my thinking about why behaviorism shouldn't be the only learning theory used in the classroom, or while doing instructional design.

When the scientific model used in a resource only refers to the hypotetico-deductive model of reasoning, and omits all other types of inference, I know the mechanist worldview is emphasized over socio-cognitivist humanism. Examples of this are references to formulating hypotheses or following the "traditional" scientific method that is familiar from positivist or objectivist  view of reality (knowledge is measurable, objective and value free). Constructivist or subjective view of knowledge emphasizes situationality and contextuality of learning.

When education focuses on learning, the emphasis is not in arriving to the only one objectively correct learning outcome that has been defined during the instructional design phase, but in supporting students' reasoning skills and their ability to infer and support their claims with suitable references.

I think it is appropriate to note here that I am a qualitative researcher and strongly believe that qualitative and quantitative research must be conducted hand in hand in order to both create theories and test them. Students in 21st century MUST be taught both approaches, and we as educators have much work to do in getting there.