Instilling the skill, will, and thrill of learning in students

NOTE: You can also find this article on our new and improved blog, TrustED. You’ll get the same great content and more in an all-new, easy-to-navigate format. TrustED: News and solutions school leaders can actually use.

We all learn differently. Okay, so you already knew that.

Some of us are visual learners. Others learn better by reading or listening.

Over the past several years, educators have sought to identify their students’ singular learning styles, and then train them how to use their specific styles to their advantage.

While this approach is well intentioned, it’s also a mistake, says education expert, speaker, and author Peter DeWitt.

In a recent post on his Education Week blog “Finding Common Ground,” DeWitt argues that labelling students with one particular learning style unnecessarily discourages them from pursuing others, which in turn boxes them into one particular way of learning.

Instead, DeWitt posits, educators should focus on teaching students different learning strategies to make them more adaptable, and encourage them to grow in how they learn.

That, of course, will require teachers who understand effective learning strategies and a support system that encourages students to take a chance on new approaches.

Style vs. strategy

Labelling a student based on a learning style automatically places them in a box, says DeWitt.

As he writes in his post:

It’s not that we don’t have preferred methods of learning, but too often our students are boxed in by their learning styles as if they didn’t have more than one. … It became a big issue because students, and their parents and teachers, began to believe that students only had one way of preferred learning which prevented them from strengthening other styles of learning.

Instead of focusing solely on how a student learns and working from there, DeWitt says we should provide students with tools that encourage them to learn in different ways.

He identifies four types of strategies, based on the work of education experts John Hattie and Gregory Donoghue:

  • Cognitive: Strategies to deepen understanding of a subject. Think: Making students elaborate on what they’ve learned.
  • Metacognitive: Strategies to help students understand how they learn and what they need to do to be effective. Think: Helping students plan ahead.
  • Motivational: Strategies that motivate students to learn. Think: Instilling in students the confidence that they can accomplish a task.
  • Management: Strategies to make sure students work efficiently. Think: Finding the right resources for learning.

Of course, within each category, there are hundreds of ways to help students learn — and, students will have varying success using each one.

At their core, learning strategies instill in students what Hattie and Donoghue label the “skill, will, and thrill” of learning. That means that, before a new lesson, students have the skills they need, the proper mindset to make sure learning happens, and the motivation to deepen their understanding.

A community effort

New learning strategies don’t get adopted overnight.

But, if you do want to make a meaningful change in your students’ learning, consider focusing on strategies rather than style.

What does that mean for your district?

First, it means making sure your teachers are well-versed in the learning strategies that will help their students succeed. Do you cover the newest learning strategies in your professional development sessions?

Next, it means equipping parents to support the learning strategies at home. That means you need to better engage with parents about your new approach.

Most importantly, students need to understand that implementing new strategies will take time, and they might get frustrated.

Before you introduce anything new, make sure parents and students know why the changes are being made—and that they see the potential benefits.

Have you recently implemented new learning strategies in your classroom? How’d it go? Tell us in the comments.

Looking to introduce new learning approaches in your school? Make sure your teachers have the support they need.

Would you hire IBM’s Watson as a teacher’s aide?

NOTE: You can also find this article on our new and improved blog, TrustED. You’ll get the same great content and more in an all-new, easy-to-navigate format. TrustED: News and solutions school leaders can actually use.

Does being a “Jeopardy!” champion make you an education expert? Not necessarily.

But, in the case of Watson, the IBM computer platform that famously knocked-off trivia phenom Ken Jennings from his record-breaking quiz show pedestal, the notoriety doesn’t hurt.

According to a recent New York Times report, Watson’s next role could be as a virtual assistant to America’s school teachers.

Over the past two years, the IBM Foundation has worked with the American Federation of Teachers to build Teacher Advisor, a program that uses Watson’s artificial intelligence to answer teacher questions and help them develop personalized lesson plans.

The IBM Foundation plans to release a version of the program for third-grade math teachers by the end of this year.

Proponents say the program marks a big step toward strengthening the relationship between technology and teachers, some of who are still reluctant to embrace new innovations in the classroom.

As the relationship between technology and teaching evolves over time, school district leaders must strike a balance between the pressure for change and the due diligence needed to ensure that every investment has a positive desired impact on student learning.

Teaching coach of the future?
The hope is that IBM’s Teacher Advisor and other fringe AI innovations will help teachers navigate the vast amounts of available education information for different grade-levels and subject areas and help them craft customized lesson plans that fit students’ needs.

As IBM Foundation President Stanley S. Litow told the New York Times:

The idea was to build a personal adviser, so a teacher would be able to find the best lesson and then customize the lesson based upon their classroom needs. By loading a massive amount of content, of teaching strategies, lesson plans, you’d actually make Watson the teacher coach.

In some cases, educators and administrators say the new technology could aid teachers in complying with their state’s Common Core standards.

Remember, before the Common Core became a pariah to…pretty much everyone, it was, at its core, a set of standards for the lessons that students need to learn at the end of every grade level. Watson aims to not only help teachers understand what skills they’re required to teach, but also what prerequisite lessons students will need to foster those skills.

Teachers who’ve piloted the program tout its time-saving potential and its ability to constantly adapt, the New York Times reports.

As more teachers use the platform, the Teacher Advisor algorithm will adapt to better answer teachers’ questions and to provide more customized content. In other words, Watson learns.

Make an informed decision
It’s an exciting time for education technology. New initiatives like Teacher Advisor give us an eager glimpse into the future.

But no matter how exciting the possibilities, it’s important to step back and ask that all-important question: In the end, will Teacher Advisor and other solutions like it help students learn?

As you consider the answer to that question, don’t forget to ask students and teachers and parents what they think of the idea.

Do they think it’s worth it? Are parents equipped to support students when it comes to integrating these solutions in schools? What does your staff think about being asked to embrace an entirely new way of working?

Once you have made an informed decision, make sure your students, parents, and staff understand the path you’ve selected and they have the skills and resources to make it work.

That means comprehensive training for each new program as well as ongoing support from content experts.

There’s great technology on the horizon. Watson is one shining example. The question is now: “Are we ready to move forward?”

How do you engage your community before high stakes technology deployments? Tell us in the comments.

Planning a digital transformation in your schools? Here are a few ideas to consider first.

The link between school climate and bullying

NOTE: You can also find this article on our new and improved blog, TrustED. You’ll get the same great content and more in an all-new, easy-to-navigate format. TrustED: News and solutions school leaders can actually use.

Every school leader knows how detrimental bullying is to the learning environment.

Emotive conversations on social media and in our classrooms are clear evidence that awareness campaigns, such as National Bullying Prevention Month (happening now), are vital to efforts to make schools safer and stronger.

When a student is harassed or belittled, be it in school or online, that abuse not only affects their personal outlook, it also often impacts the climate of the entire school or school district.

Often a poor school environment becomes a breeding ground for bullying and other safety and discipline challenges.

The key to making schools safer, starts with empowering students to embrace a strong sense of personal identity, posits Becki Cohn-Vargas, director of the anti-bullying group Not In Our Schools, in Edutopia.

Cohn-Vargas recommends creating an identity safe environment for students—basically, a place where all students feel welcomed and empowered to engage in learning and social activities in schools, regardless of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or disability.

It sounds like common sense. But the reality in a lot of schools is that students do not feel empowered, whether out of fear or some other reason.

Several school districts have great systems for dealing with bullying incidents once they’ve happened. The difference is that an identity-safe approach helps prevent incidents from even starting, writes Cohn-Vargas:

If bullying is handled only at the disciplinary level, underlying biases and attitudes about the kids who are perceived as different persist. Getting to a deeper level that truly leads to change goes beyond a bullying assembly, specific lessons, or disciplinary practices in response to bullying. It requires looking at the whole school environment.

So how do you transform your school into one that fosters inclusion and empowers personal identity?

Cohn-Vargas outlines four tips to transform your school climate to prevent bullying before it starts:

Make identity safety part of your curriculum
Encouraging inclusion should be an integral part of your educational philosophy.

“Foster identity safety in an environment of respect, empathy, and kindness by modeling it all day long through classroom and school-wide learning activities,” writes Cohn-Vargas.

This goes well beyond the occasional student assembly or guidance meeting. Schools need to engage students every day through revamped lesson plans, and collaborative decision-making. Faculty need to be specially trained and encouraged to foster that engagement.

Talk about the issues that divide students
No one likes a controversy, and tackling the hairy issue of student identity does not always make for an easy conversation. But real talk is the only way to root out the underlying issues that allow bullying and other forms of abuse to fester.

When students understand the experiences and struggles of their classmates, they’re much more likely to show empathy, says Cohn-Vargas.

Go beyond simple discipline
There will always be bullies in schools.

Your goal should be to discourage abusive behavior, to root it out, and teach against it.

What support do you provide students after they’ve been bullied? What kind of interventions besides punishment do you offer to bullies? Do you engage these students  in discussions about bad behavior and choices in school? Do you have any program to help students report and advocate against bullying or abusive behavior in school or online?

If you answered no to any of these questions, it’s time to rethink your approach.

Empower student voice
A positive school culture is a tough match for most bullies.

Giving students a platform to express themselves and their concerns encourages them to take ownership of their educations, inspires them to engage in school-related discussions, and equips them to stand up to bullying when it happens to them or to their friends.

How do you encourage students to express their identity and engage in school decision-making? Tell us in the comments.

Looking for ways to assess your school climate and make sure it’s working for everyone?  Don’t miss tomorrow’s webinar Making Feedback Matter: How School Climate Affects School Quality. Space is limited, so sign up now!