Teaching does not equal learning

quality_teacherThe Australian Professional Standards for Teachers clearly states in Standard 1. Know students and how they learn, that teachers must take steps to meets students’ needs. The proficient teacher, it reads, should “structure teaching programs using research and collegial advice about how students learn.”

Before I go any further, I do hope we all agree that the same teaching method does not work for all learners, that learners learn in different ways and that teachers should employ a variety of methods in teaching, learning and assessment. AGREED?

Learning styles are just one category that can be used in conjunction with other strategies and learner attributes such as prior knowledge, motivation, aptitude and confidence to assist in developing and facilitating relevant, interesting, fun, engaging and motivational learning experiences.

Learning should be a holistic experience engaging the learner in all facets; I always ask my students to remember just four things when engaged in reflection and learning – see, hear, feel and think. Many have used these simple examples and have developed excellent reflective skills that have in turn improved writing and listening skills. 

Learning should be a process by which the learner can investigate, participate, interact, reflect and create. Learning is not about transmitting pre-existing ideas but of creating knowledge that can be integrated into the prior knowledge and experience of the learner. In order to do this successfully the learner must be explicitly taught how to learn and a positive learning culture must be established and maintained. The learning ambience must be safe, supportive and accepting of all; a place that allows learners to thrive and facilitators to open doors.

Relationships are a key part of the learning process. I always ensure to give students ample opportunity to feedbackWhat students say their thoughts and ideas at the end of each semester or teaching stint (right). Through this simple task, that could be quite confronting for some teachers, I have been able to develop further as an educator while simultaneously receiving positive and affirming comments. I spend much time planning and devising the learning experiences and I have high expectations of my students. More times than not they step up to the challenge.

For me to be successful in developing and implementing the learning activities I feel I need to really know my students. One way to do this is to watch and learn from them, especially over the first few classes. I also run quick sessions to discover how they like to learn and one of the strategies I use is Learning Styles traits. It is not however, the only tool I use, a good dose of listening and sharing my own story also works a treat in getting the students to share their own experiences. Trust after all is the first step in building a relationship. More importantly, discovering learning styles is not intended to pigeon hole or label students as this or that type but rather, the discovery leads to a conversation and learning opportunity not only to develop their preference but to offer strategies that can assist learners to expand their learning repertoire and adapt to different situations.

Teachers do not necessarily have to do more work but instead we need to change our approach. Our role as educators is to facilitate learning, not to deliver content and hope for the best. Forming relationships, really ‘knowing’ our students is part of the learning process, as are setting goals, self-assessment and peer assessment. Just because we teach doesn’t mean they learn.

While I recognise that it is important to have research support our claims, there is also validity in our own experiences, and that of colleagues. Our experiences should not be dismissed simply because the research does not support it. I don’t think we should abandon Learning styles altogether as the concept isn’t necessarily incorrect, maybe it just needs to be fully reviewed.

5 top tips to try in your classes this week

take-a-smile1. Surprise them – Greet each student individually at the door, ask them how their day has been – smile!!

2. Be unpredictable – Post a sign on the door asking your students to meet you in some other place around the school – preferably where you have never held a class before! AND tell them to RUN!

3. Ignite their curiosity – Instead of giving the late student the third degree, make a fuss about how happy you are that they have finally made it and how sorry you are that they missed the best part of the lesson…then just continue on with the class without faltering!

late4. Connect with them – speak and/or make eye contact with each student in the class – three times – remember that some students have difficulty meeting your gaze, ensure that you are not making them uncomfortable but rather think of some other way to make contact, maybe you could ask them to show you their learning, or ask them a direct question about that learning once the class has settled into the task-at-hand.

5. Change your tune – instead of calling it WORK call it LEARNING – see what happens.

Drop me a line and tell me how it went… 🙂

Top tips for a positive classroom

  1. happyKnow your students – really know; find out what makes them tick, walk in their shoes, remember that they are just smaller version of you, with similar feelings and really they just want to feel that you care enough about them to make a difference.
  2. Recognise their individual differences and take action; make it your mission to find out how they learn, what they like to do and arm them with strategies so they can experience success. Teach them how to learn and the rest will fall into place. Perhaps you’d like to use my Learning Styles test and strategies: http://www.joprestia.com.au/images/My_LS_Test.pdf
  3. Be clear on your expectations of work and behaviour; say it, write it, show it, do it
  4. Establish a relationship; don’t think you have to be their best mate, certainly not, you are their teacher, but let them know you care enough to ask how they are travelling, to follow up, to give praise where praise is due and to explain how they can do better for next time.
  5. Encourage them; to be their best, set them high standards but not so high they cannot reach them, scaffold their learning so they can. Ensure everyone leaves with a sense of achievement.
  6. Believe in them; believe they not only can learn BUT they will learn. Now put in place the steps they need to do so, challenge them, question them, learn from them. Watch, listen, learn, they are very good at letting you know what they need so pay attention.
  7. Make learning relevant; find a link between what it is you want them to know and do and their own lives as 21st Century learners. ICT takes care of the facts, your task is to bring the ‘humanity’ to class.


My favourite teacher

Let me take you back to your classroom experiences. Can you recall your favourite teacher, what was it about him/her that you liked? How did she/he engage you in learning? Did he/she use visuals, play videos, talk, write on the board, have you working in groups, ask questions, present learning in many forms? Did he/she know you – I mean really know you, not just your name, but your thoughts and feelings about school, about life, what you liked, didn’t like – did they?

I know mine did – her name was Zacher, she was the teacher on whom I most model myself. She made the pages of my art text book come alive. She would tell stories about the people who made the works. She was very passionate about her subject and we couldn’t help but join her in the adventures of the ancient Egyptians, the Greeks, the Romans and especially the most famous of all – those from the Renaissance, Leonardo, Michelangelo, Raphael and Donatello! Are these names familiar? You might remember them as the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles!

Zacher was the reason I became an art teacher. I made up my mind in Year 9 and I never looked back. Thirty something years later my love of teaching and learning has not spent.

Boys in schools

Just a few thoughts, (I’ve been reading up on boys’ education and it seems nothing has changed over the years…disappointingly I could probably, though I won’t, reuse all my work from 5 -10 years ago!) firstly, adapted from Martino, Kehler & Weaver-Hightower (2009):

  • girls are not to blame for boys’ underachievement in school
  • sitting boys next to girls in the hope that girls’ skills might rug off onto them is not the solution
  • it is a generalisation to say that boys don’t enjoy school
  • just because some boys enjoy school less than girls doesn’t mean all girls enjoy school
  • the widening achievement gap between boys and girls doesn’t mean boys are necessarily doing poorly, it could be girls are improving
  • boys’ behaviour may be described as poor BUT what impact is it having on the girls AND on boys whose behaviour is not poor?
  • behaviour – who owns it?
  • has the attention paid to girls’ education in the past come at the expense of boys?
  • Senn’s article EFFECTIVE APPROACHES TO MOTIVATE AND ENGAGE RELUCTANT BOYS IN LITERACY (2012) has some excellent points but it’s a similar message – boys are disinterested and we need to appeal to their sense of adventure. “The idea is not to ignore or pay less attention to the girls in our classrooms, but to broaden our thinking to include the specific needs of our boys and what they can achieve…” (p. 212)

So then what do we mean…the problem with boys? The problem is not just with boys, or with girls, I think the problem lies in the teaching and learning – not all of it BUT enough to suggest that we could do things better.