Friday, July 31, 2009

Is it teaching? Is it learning?

Kia ora tātou – Hello Everyone
detail from Le Foyer de la Danse a l'Opera de la Rue Le Peletier - Degasdetail from Le Foyer de la Danse a l'Opera de la Rue Le Peletier - Degas

During part of my professional development appraisal this year, I was urged to incorporate student learning into my goals. I resisted this, defecting to goals where accountability clearly lies with my vigilance in identifying learner needs and in giving the learner appropriate and timely access to required, available learning resources and quality teaching.

My CEO, who I have a lot of respect for, mentioned in one of his addresses to staff last year that, as a school, we were responsible for student learning. The emphasis seems to be on the teacher taking responsibility for the learning. I challenge this point of view in this post.

It’s all about learning

In discussing the differences between teaching and learning in a previous post, I used the throwaway line,

“it’s all about learning - you don’t talk about teaching anymore”.

There is more to this idea than one might think.

Everywhere I look in education, I see the teacher being charged with the responsibility for learning that occurs in the student. It is seldom that teaching is discussed. Even raising the matter of pedagogy (which incidentally is to do with teaching rather than learning) causes some concern among educators and sparks discussion that is more to do with learning than teaching.

Learner centred

There’s no doubt that the learner is where it is at, but the learner centeredness of today’s education suggests, perhaps erroneously, that teaching is not as important as learning. While I believe that teacher centred education is not what’s needed, the focus on the learner, brought about through a learner centred mind-set, has moved the teacher so far out of the spotlight that the learner is beginning to suffer.

I’ve been told on good authority that it’s not like this in some cultures. In Spain, for instance, even the idea that teachers take on leadership roles in working with groups of learners, rather than the more prominent function and traditional role of a teacher, is thought to be culturally strained. But in New Zealand, Australia, Britain and America the role of the teacher seems to be morphing into the background – a resource rather than a force.

Assessing the players

Part of the change in the limelight is to do with the idea behind the sage-on-the-stage. Even the guide-on-the-side has been slid behind the curtain. It is as if the teacher has become more a stagehand than a player, leaving the learner to extemporise in full view of everyone else.

I wonder that assessment has perhaps been a contributor to this shift. It certainly takes the emphasis off teaching, while forcing an undue importance onto what is assessable by a teacher. However, the subsequent effect only appears to put the spotlight on the learner.

Summative assessment is rightly seen as being to do with what’s been learnt, but it is not really learner centred. Formative assessment is to do with what’s yet to be learnt while giving positive feedback and encouragement to the learner on what’s been learnt. It is truly learner centred, yet it is often upstaged by summative assessment.

Learner engagement

The essential aspect of learner engagement comes into its own when considering what’s important for it to happen. This is where learner centeredness is appropriate and necessary.

A learner has to be interested in what’s being taught for engagement to be sustained. But the content of that teaching has to be relevant to the learner for interest to be initiated in the first place.
When these conditions for engagement are met, the learning becomes entirely the responsibility of the learner.

It takes good teaching to identify what interests a learner and what content will be relevant to that interest, as well as appropriate to required learning.

This is the supreme skill that is part of good teaching. It is being overlooked while acting out a script that is supposedly learner centred.

Ka kite anō – Catch ya later


Sarah Hanawald said...

You are really on to something here Ken! It is all too easy to forget about pedagogy, isn't it? In all the emphasis on what the learner is experiencing, we ignore how those experiences happen at our peril. Teaching is a creative profession. The best teachers craft lessons carefully, with much though. What do they think about? Differentiation, Vygotskian (sp?) zones of proximal development, role-play, authentic audiences for student created projects. Learners experience these lessons and then reflect upon them to make meaning.

Wow--who could think that all this could happen by accident? Or that just anyone could teach?

Thanks for giving me so much to think about this time of year!

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Kia ora e Sarah!

This is the first time I've blogged about this idea, but it's not new to me. I've been considering the merits and demerits of moves to encourage learner centred education since about 1993.

I was re-introduced to it in 2001 when a new logo for TCS was crafted. While I'm certainly supportive of learner centred education, it's the collateral damage that I'm concerned with here. And you are so right - teaching is a creative profession. I believe it always has been.

Catchya later

Vinod Varma said...

Teaching and teacher is an influencing factor in the learning process. Better nurturing helps a tree grow better but essentially it grows on its own. Learning is a similar phenomenon. Well, there is a factor that is different here, as compared to growth of a tree. That is human mind. Mind should be receptive and eager for learning to take place. Therefore, we say there are four stages in learning. From teacher, By the self, With peers, and by experiencing over a period of time.

Acharyat padam adatte, padam shishyaha swamedhaya.
Padam sahabrahmacharibhayaha, padam kalkramen ch.

[A quarter of all learning is obtained from the teacher, the student acquires a quarter from his own intellect, a quarter is received from fellow-students and a quarter accumulates with the passage of time.]

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Haere mai e Vinod!

I have no disagreement with your philosophy here. I too am aware of the influencing factor that the teacher has.

But of course, if the student's intellect and disposition is such that he or she wants to accept only a small portion of learning from the teacher, then his or her total learning might represent only four small portions.

So it is with someone who doesn't want to learn. In that case, the person is unlikely to learn much more from his or her peers, or on his or her own learning over the passage of time.

Different the learner who has a thirst to learn things new. What a splendid factor is involved when he or she looks everywhere to learn - from the teacher, from fellow students, from one's own experience and curious inquiry over time.

Hey it's good that you dropped by with this gift. I appreciate your visit - for through the knowledge of your point of view, I've learnt something new today.

Catchya later