Friday, 7 September 2012

In Rushing To Teach, Do We Restrict Learning..?

Yesterday afternoon, I participated in a Skype session with a math's education expert from New Zealand. There were many interesting concepts discussed, but the one that struck me the most was her highlighting of the benefits of letting students have some initial 'exploration' time when presented with a math's problem... i.e. rather than us [as teachers] dive straight into explaining and analysing the problem for / with the students, there are benefits in letting students ponder and explore the problem on their own [or with peers], before we step in with assistance.

Traditionally, the teacher's role is to... well... TEACH(!!) the concepts, skills, content, etc... This has tended to result in a model where it is the teacher who starts and directs the learning process, by way of conducting the explanation / model / explicit teaching / etc. at the beginning of the learning process...


Explain / Model / Teach
Play / Explore
Learn





Whilst there is probably still room and need for these styles, we need to change the sequence of our instructional processes if we are to move towards a more student-centred approach to learning.


It is widely recognised that children are not all 'ready' to learn the same concepts at the same times, yet that is often what we are asking them to do when we teach a topic / concept to 'the group'.
We often say that we need to make learning 'relevant' for students - will all students see the 'relevance' in learning a concept if they haven't experienced it for themselves..?

By shifting the teacher's role in the learning process back, we can ensure students have time to play and explore a given concept, allowing them to develop a personal need to learn more. For example, as a student explores a task, they will eventually reach a point where they need to learn something, in order to progress past the point providing difficulty [so long as the task is challenging enough!!]. At this point the student is likely to be far more motivated to learn further about the concept, than they would have been if this learning was directed to them before they had the intrinsic need.



Many modern approaches to learning utilise principles that relate to this more student-centred process. eg: play-based learning in early years education, which builds and follows up on the structured play opportunities that occur at the beginning of the day; inquiry learning approaches, which build upon shared first-hand experiences that children ideally have at the beginning of an inquiry; even the learning process in video games, which youth spend so much time engaging with outside of school, usually requires players to play first, then offers tutorials / hints / etc. when difficulty is struck and a need for learning presents. 

So, let's give students more ownership of their learning, by letting them take the lead in this process and stepping in with our explanations, our models, our teaching when it is needed by the students and when they are most motivated to learn about the given concept / skill. 
Play / Explore
Explain / Model / Teach
Learn




Cheers,
Warwick

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