Inquiry: Summary of Learning

I began my inquiry asking the question: “how can I support student-centered learning in my classroom?” I have researched and discussed with other teachers to learn about student-centered learning and begin to answer my question.  I got a lot of support and enjoyed hearing what others had to say and what others were doing to support student-centered learning.

I have put together a google doc that highlights what I learned and is cram packed full of resources that might be helpful for others trying to answer the same question I started with. Please check it out and leave comments as to further resources and ideas that relate to my inquiry project. I would also be very happy to discuss ideas around student-centered learning. I am no expert, but I am a very engaged life-long learner.

This inquiry project has helped my begin to put my philosophies and theories into practical teaching strategies and learning activities. While I have been struggling to structure my ideas, this has been an exercise in doing just that. Moreover, it has been another activity that pushed me to collaborate and reach out to communities of teachers, which I have yet again found so supportive and helpful.

As a last word, I am going to leave you with a video that I found and included in my document twice. I want to share this video, because if you only have time to check out one resource in regard to student-centered learning, I think this is a good choice. This video was a helpful resource for me as it given strategies, but also shows them in action. I can see myself using them now. If the video peaks your interest, check out my summary of learning package.

What do you think? Is student-centered learning something you would like to do? Please feel free to share and discuss.

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Student-Centered Learning in my Pre-Internship

Before and during my pre-internship, I was inquiring into student-centered learning. My inquiry gave me many ideas and was reflected in my teaching philosophy. I would say that I made small steps toward my end goal. There were many things I was trying to consider as I prepared and taught during my internship.

I wasn’t sure how far I could go and to be honest I felt like I still needed to control the direction of the class quite a bit. I wasn’t sure what I should expect. I wasn’t sure how much control I had over the direction of the class and my teaching. In part, I didn’t want to teach in a way that would be disapproved by others or would be too different. I hate having these kinds of thoughts. I know people say that there is no one correct way to teach, but sometimes I feel like as a young teacher some of the things I want to try might be chalked up to inexperience. I also worry that because some of my ideas go against super traditional ways of teaching, they will not be well received by teachers who prefer traditional teaching methods. I tried to give students a voice and incorporate student-centered teaching/learning methods when I could. This is still something that is really important to me, so I will continue to take bigger and bigger steps toward reaching my goals.

For my first lesson, I asked my students to fill out an exit slip in response to three questions:

  1. What is something I should know about you as a learner?
  2. What is something you find interesting about or would like to learn more about the subject? (The World Around and Within Us – Environmentalism)
  3. What is a question you still have?

I was really happy with the responses I got. It was especially refreshing to read those for question number one. Here are a few examples of what my students told me:

“Making connections to similar concepts when teaching something new aids in my comprehension,” “I am the type of learner that has a little trouble understanding things the first few times…,” “I rather be learning in groups and moving than sitting by myself doing something,” “I learn better if you provide an image for me or let me use hands on,” and “I like when people talk and have a discussion.”

My students were able to clearly explain ways that they learn best. This reiterated that students know what works for them and we need to listen more often. My education has given me many tools, but with the diversity of learners that exists, I need to pay attention to them to know what they need.

I didn’t carry out an inquiry project, although I would have liked to. As I reflected, I saw that I could have gotten students to inquire into an environmental issue. If I had more time and felt more comfortable getting technology access for my students, that is something I would like to do. I did, however, have my students write journal responses to prompts related to what we were learning. I told them that they would choose one in the end to revise and make a good copy of. I tried to make this project into a process portfolio of sorts. The assessment for the “journal project” included: drafts completed, revisions, conventions, and content & understanding. I made it clear that the goal was for them to make personal and topical connections and provide support for them. In this way, I was respecting their perspective, giving them a voice, and getting them to build off of what they knew.

The poster project I had them do was similar. I went through an article that showed ads against food waste and then gave them complete freedom to advocate for something regarding an environmental issue. During class discussions and journal prompts, I asked students about the issues that bothered them.

I tried to incorporate the things that they had told me about themselves into their learning. I used group work as a few students mentioned that as being beneficial for them. I also recognize the power of collaboration. I prepared a jigsaw activity to encourage students to take responsibility of material. Although, some students had some issues with the concept of teaching their peers. I still believe it was a good way to introduce ideas.

In the end, I believe some of my ideas came out and I was able to do some student-centered work. I also believe I could have done more and would have liked to do more. As I said earlier, I was still a bit uncertain as to what my role could be and how many different methods I could try to use. Time was another factor, I would like to give students time to explore and I would feel more prepared if I had time to set up the class for a more inquiry and student-directed learning environment.

How my Inquiry and my Philosophy are Intertwined

Inquiry PhilosophyI have inquired into student-centered learning, because the fundamentals of the concept are an important part of my teaching philosophy. I do believe that students, people, have a natural curiosity for life. What individuals are curious about or interested in will be diverse, but that is an important thing to remember too.

I believe that student-centered learning has to be supported by a consistent learning environment that is shaped by every learner. I don’t believe one project is enough, because I think that a strong education is one that is reflective of the learner. I’m not sure that school is the best environment for all learners, but I think it should strive to be.

I believe that whether we like it or not, our philosophy comes out in how we teach. The way I understand learners to be, paints the way I perceive them and approach them as a teacher. That being said, I have to learn specific skills to be able to teach any certain way. I also have to find resources that support me in reaching my goals as a teacher. So, I wanted to inquire into student-centered learning, because I wanted to learn ways I could implement it in my classrooms.

Before I had really taught for an extended period of time, my philosophy was shaped from a student perspective and observations as a student-teacher. Now that I have had the opportunity to teach for three consecutive weeks, I have a clearer idea of my philosophy from a teacher perspective. After my experience, I still believe that the best education I can give is one that is centered around my students and the diversity of learners that exist.

In fact, my experience has given me realistic ideas as to how I can use the skills I have learned to align my philosophy to my practice. Before teaching, I struggled to organize all of the ideas in my head, but now I have a reference point. I think the more I try and the more I learn, the closer I will get to teaching in an appropriately student-centered way.

Encouraging Students to Ask Questions

Question MarkWhile reading The Perks of Being a Wallflower for a Young Adult literature digital book talk, I read a passage that sent me even further into teacher mode. Charlie, the main character and a “gifted” student, describes how he will be ending his “first year with straight A’s” (Chbosky 165).

Charlie says, “I almost didn’t get an A in math, but then Mr. Carlo told me to stop asking ‘why?’ all the time and just follow the formulas. So, I did. Now, I get perfect scores on all my tests. I just wish I knew what the formulas did. I honestly have no idea” (Chbosky 165).

The sad thing is, this is a relatable school experience for many students. Even if it isn’t directly stated, it can be part of the invisible curriculum. However, asking questions is a huge part of how we learn. I think students suffer when their curiosity isn’t supported. I realized that this was a problem in my own learning. As a math minor, I have struggled in some of my classes and realized in my EMTH 300 class that it was because I was taught formulas, not to think mathematically. It is one thing to be able to plug numbers into a formula, and another entirely to understand the mathematical reasoning behind them. You can’t learn by being fed knowledge to memorize; questions are a necessary mode for deep learning.

Meaningful questions have to be asked by the teacher and the students. As teachers, it’s good practice to keep questions open-ended when you can. However, it is also important that we create a learning environment where student ask questions. On “The Critical Thinking Community,” they say that “thinking is driven by questions” and I can’t agree more. Innovative Management points out questions that people (Newton, Darwin, Einstein) asked that led to great discoveries (learning). This is another reason I want to include inquiry in my classroom.

In EMTH 300, we were asked to re-imagine the teaching of mathematics. The Pythagorean theorem had to be discovered, and students through critical thinking and problem solving can come to the knowledge behind theorems. They don’t need to be force fed formulas. They need to be able to work with idea and ask many questions until they are able to solve problems and construct their knowledge.

As I am currently inquiring into how I can engage learners through student-centered teaching, I thought about how I might take this moment to reflect on how teacher and student questions and inquiry can be a part of it. Edutopia asks the question “How Student Centered is Your Classroom?” in an article that gives two ideas for using questioning to support this kind of learning environment. Specifically, they point to guiding questions and ensuring the teachers role is balanced to support a student-centered design.

After reading the quote from The Perks of Being a WallflowerI was able to see the importance of questioning in learning and in creating a student centered classroom. I really don’t believe that great learning can happen without asking honest and meaningful questions.

What are your thoughts on this quote and the role of asking questions in learning? Do you have anything to add? Please feel welcome to share your thoughts and ask any questions you have.

Chbosky, Stephen. The Perks of Being a Wallflower. New York: MTV Books/Pocket Books, 1999. Print.

Inquiry: Student-Centered Instructional Strategies

I found this video while inquiring into student-centered learning. I like it because it targets the practical aspects of teaching in this way and provides clear examples as well. The video presents idea on direct instruction, indirect instruction, learning in pairs, cooperative groups, heterogeneous grouping, individual roles, intelligent behaviours, inquiry and discovery, project-centered, writing across the curriculum, learning by games, graphic organizers, mnemonics, and music and movement (strong memory devices). Of these, there are a few that I would like to further reflect on.

Direct and indirect instruction

I like that direct instruction isn’t completely abandoned, but that it is said it needs to be limited/brief. I think for most learners learning purely through direct instruction doesn’t work. Moreover, instruction of all kinds need to be varied to target different levels of thinking and differentiate for learner needs. Indirect instruction may align more easily with the idea of student-centered learning as it can be a more constructive approach. I think both are needed and the extent to which each is used must be decided by the teacher and learners of a classroom.

Different ways of groups/group learning

The video expresses different ways and purposes of grouping. Pairs and cooperative learning groups are two things that I have been slowly wading into. My first instinct as a student is to recall frustrations that come with group work, but I am seeing the power of collaboration more and more. I believe that collaboration is important to learning and is a skill students will need. The idea of heterogeneous groups is another idea brought up in the video. I think it is good to have some groups, but I still think there is a place for some homogeneous grouping that can help with learners at different ability levels. I do, however, believe that creating groups that are made up of diverse learners with different and unique abilities could be a powerful learning experience for all.

Inquiry, discovery, and project learning

I really enjoy this aspect of student-centered learning. I believe that this is where direct instruction can be minimized. I believe that inquiry, discovery, and projects support higher levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy. Inquiry projects allow students to learn through areas of personal interest. In an English classroom, I think this could easily be done for essay writing by allowing students to research something they want to. I also believe students could pick out a theme or idea from a novel to explore further. Discovery and project learning invite hands on learning. I want students to take responsibility for and enjoy their learning. I think these strategies allow students to see how learning is relevant and how they, as individuals, are important.

Learning through games

This is a newer concept for me. I have looked into gamification of education and I have liked what I’ve found. To me, gamification uses intrinsic motivation that people have when they play games, but for educational purposes. For example, we will repeat a level until we succeed and we will work hard to gain and improve our skills related to the game. Why? Because we want to. Education can be the same. I think learning through games is completely relevant. It is another way to make learning engaging and get students responsible for their learning progress.

Strong memory devices

I know that some memory devices are needed. My worry is about the idea of memorization. I am more interested in deeper methods of learning, but I believe that ways that can help students own their knowledge is still good. Ideally, students will be able to analyze, evaluate, and create. In which case, simple memory devices won’t be necessary. I think it is important to use different learning styles (such as music and movement) in the classroom, but the goal should not be to memorize. The goal is to be able to do something with the knowledge.

Conclusion

These are some strategies that I will continue to consider and inquire into using for the purpose of student-centered teaching. Do you have anything to add? Are there issues with any of these methods or additional methods I should look into? I would love to hear feedback and get any further advice that can help me in my inquiry into student-centered learning. Thank you.

Student-Centered Assessment

Assessment

In Making Classroom Assessment Work, Anne Davies cites, “[r]esearch shows that when students are involved in the assessment process… they learn more, achieve at higher levels, and are more motivated. They are also better able to set informed, appropriate learning goals to further improve their learning” (82).

This chapter has connected a few ideas for me. Ways of involving students in the assessment process continue to be generated, process portfolios have been presented and modeled for me, and I have been exploring student-centered teaching. As I see everything come together, I get a sense of how I will be able to structure student-centered assessment in my classroom.

I really like the idea of a process portfolio, because in addition to allowing student to show their growth over a period of time rather than through high-stress exams/final assignments, as Davies mentions, they allow students to take ownership of their learning and often end up learning more as a result. Davies argues that “students need to be accountable for their learning” (77) and I agree. I want my students to engage with their learning and I think that means that I don’t try to make it all about me. For this reason, I also like the idea of expanding the audience to whom students share the evidence of their learning process with (78). I think it would ease any parent’s worries to see how this type of assessment functions through a student-led conference. I think this will also prepare students and allow them to make connections between what and why they learn class material. Presenting evidence of our learning, our abilities, and areas we are working on improving, are lifelong skills.

I am excited to include assessment into my consideration and practice of student-centered learning/teaching. I am intrigued by the opportunity to have student involved in another aspect of their education. I want to consider more the idea that Davies presents at the end of chapter eight, that is that I must “decide the balance of teacher work and student involvement” (83). I believe that as a learn more I will gain a better sense of what that means for me, but more so, I will learn through experience.

Davies, Anne. Making Classroom Assessment Work. 3rd ed. Courtenay, B.C.: Connections Pub., 2011. Print.

Further Inquiry into Student-Centered Learning

“The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled.” – Plutarch

To Clarify: What is Student-Centered Learning?

The Glossary of Education Reform” classify student-centered learning through four “fundamental characteristics”:

  1. Teaching and learning is “personalized,” meaning that it addresses the distinct learning needs, interests, aspirations, or cultural backgrounds of individual students.
  2. Students advance in their education when they demonstrate they have learned the knowledge and skills they are expected to learn (for a more detailed discussion, see proficiency-based learning).
  3. Students have the flexibility to learn “anytime and anywhere,” meaning that student learning can take place outside of traditional classroom and school-based settings, such as through work-study programs or online courses, or during nontraditional times, such as on nights and weekends.
  4. Students are given opportunities to make choices about their own learning and contribute to the design of learning experiences.

I see the definitions of one and four being particularly important when considering the approaches I will use during class time.

Some ways to support student-centered learning:

In my last inquiry blog post I asked anyone who had any ideas or questions to comment. Amy Lawson provided possible resources that could help me in my inquiry into student-centered learning. Amy suggested I check out Tony Stead for ideas on inquiry-based learning and Stephanie Harvey and Harvey Daniels’ book, Comprehension & Collaboration: Inquiry Circles in Action.

Tony Stead and “RAN”:

Tony Stead’s “RAN” strategy can be supportive in inquiry-based learning. I found a blog post that Lorraine Boulos posted about how she uses the RAN strategy for inquiry projects in her classroom. You can model it at first, but it really helps structure the inquiry-based projects done around non-fiction work. This kind of work enables students to access knowledge through their own processes and constructions.

Inquiry Circles:

Here is a video that shares the ideas in Harvey and Daniels’ book. The books structures ways to incorporate inquiry into the classroom through inquiry circles. I like this because they level the kind of inquiry, so that it can be structured all the way to completely open. Heinemann, the publishing company, describes “Comprehension and Collaboration: Inquiry Circles in Action [as occurring] at the intersection of comprehension, collaboration, and inquiry and serves as a guide for teachers who want to realize the benefits of well-structured, student-led, cross-curricular projects” (2015). I would like to see how this resource could work for me.

Inquiry based learning and projects are a great ways to create a classroom environment that is student-centered, reflective of the learners, and allows students to have an influence in their learning. In the future, I would like to access the textbook by Harvey and Daniels, and do more research on Tony Stead’s approaches to inquiry-based learning. I think that these resources are a great start to my inquiry.