Thursday, 8 December 2016

Teaching & Learning

As our first semester draws to a close, we have much to celebrate in terms of our achievements. Students have demonstrated their learning in many ways from the development of their discussion techniques to deeper reading and the refinement of their writing skills.
A recent comment made me reflect on how all these achievements relate to teaching. In an ideal world, everything that is taught would be learned, but in reality this is not the case. Many factors influence learning including readiness, maturity and repeated practice to name but a few. If teaching were a mathematical formula such as teaching = learning, our lives would be a lot easier but - alas - it is not so.
An aspect of effective teaching is that we seek to continuously improve. If students tell me that previous learning experiences worked for them, we will tap into this to maximise achievement. If the same learning experience didn't work for others, we explore alternatives that work for those individuals.
For sure this semester has brought up some surprises as students forget previous learning, but we also recognise that as students mature they are cognitively ready for different learning opportunities. This is good news as it means we can expand our approaches and techniques to explore even more ways learning can happen.
No two students are the same, and some students will benefit more from a particular approach than another, which is why it is important to include a variety of learning options (without compromising on the learning itself). In our classroom this variety can include teacher explanations, EdPuzzle videos, lesson slides (and other materials) being available via Google Classroom and one-to-one sessions after school on Mondays and Tuesdays.
If - on an initial assessment - students do not 'know' something, it does not mean they have never been taught it, but it does mean that they didn't learn it deeply enough to 'stick' over time, or that perhaps they understood it for a period of time and then forgot. That is why we have a curriculum that is progressive and builds on what has gone before.
There is also the fact that by a certain age, and by living in the world, we make assumptions that students have noticed particular things. An example that comes to mind from earlier this semester is when the majority of students told me they did not know what the abbreviation i.e. meant. I expressed my surprise as I find it often in texts, and expected they would have encountered it too. It turns out this wasn't the case, but we cannot then conclude that there was something missing in their education - not everything comes from the classroom.
I am confident that the learning that happens in previous grades at this school is excellent preparation for the middle years program. That students have knowledge gaps is to be expected - they are not robots that we program, but individuals that we guide and coach. In a school such as this, outside assessments prove we do this better than most, but even we are not immune to regression or forgetfulness in our students, who are only human after all. And let's not forget the cognitive impact of moving from elementary to middle school. Students have so many new things to manage and learn - the classroom input can become secondary to negotiating relationships, finding their way around and the increase in workload. It is our job as teachers to not only inspire but guide them toward motivation, autonomy and - ultimately - learning.

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