Thursday, 3 October 2013

Getting students involved in the learning process...

I have been mulling over how to get students more involved in the learning process since I started teaching. As a teacher, I hold a belief in the ability of all my students to be able to achieve some measure of success. I know that in a given classroom, I will have some students who are more able than others. Some will be older, more mature, have more life experience, have more supportive parents, have greater expectations put on them, have had effective learning strategies modeled for them, will be faster at processing. Some will be born into families that do not experience disadvantage. All of these things confer an advantage to these students. Yet time and time again, what I see as enabling success for a given student, regardless of their starting ability, is their own involvement in the learning process. Students who are motivated to learn, who are interested, challenged, have their interest piqued by a certain topic or teacher.

Students involved in the learning process have enough of themselves invested in the learning to continue when it becomes difficult. They persevere, seek assistance and clarify to assimilate new knowledge. As a teacher, how do I enable more of my students to become involved in this process?

One of the ways I am interested in doing this is through fostering self-reflection. I want to develop in my students an ability to critique what they are doing to learn, not just what they have learned. Too often, the focus is on what a student has or has not learnt, rather than what they are doing to actually learn it. Whilst there obviously needs to be some focus on the outcome that is desired, if there is no focus on the process, the likelihood of that outcome is quite low. I have been amazed to watch young students tell me they are 'no good at maths' or 'I just don't get it' when looking back at a piece of assessment that they have completed. Usually if we unpack it further, there is a clear sign that they were not involved in the learning process at some point, and this is where they have come unstuck. Trying to have students balance these two aspects of learning, the HOW and the WHAT, is a continuously developing part of my teaching.

I have used both a wiki and a google site with different classes at school, and endeavoured to have students use these resources not only to access class material and an outline, but also engage them on seeing what they are doing for their own learning. I have students who have a limited conception of what is required to succeed academically, and I hope that through seeing what some of their peers are doing, they might be able to change some habits. In particular I want to get my students used to reflecting on how they prepared for assessment tasks, and to try and think about ways to improve this in the future. What I have found so far is that students enjoy using these online tools if it is done regularly and often, and are resistant to it if they are not using them regularly. I think part of this comes through the perceived 'load' of becoming familiar with a blog/wiki etc and learning how to operate it, vs the perceived benefit. For some of my underperforming students, part of this could also arise from a sense of inadequacy. Perhaps when setting this up, connecting it to their goals for that subject could allow them to describe their learning against predetermined goals, and they can rationalise their results in this way, rather than necessarily feeling as through they are being compared to others.