Thursday, September 7, 2017
Last term I went for the lunch and came away hungry...hungry to learn more about learning!
That's right, our campus "Office for Teaching & Learning" brought in a special speaker to share with us her tips on best practices for teaching our students to learn. Her name - Dr. Maryellen Weimer.
Wow; she was an amazing speaker because, for the most part, she spoke very little but got us thinking and working collaboratively with others on how it is that we learn, how our students are doing in their learning, and what sorts of things we are seeing within our classrooms that might best encourage learning.
In short, we were working harder than Dr. Weimer in thinking about learning. It was no "free lunch," at all. But, it was one of the few lunch presentations that I can still recall, and better yet, find invaluable to my teaching.
That brings me to the issue of what might be the so-called "best practices" for engaging ourselves in learning-centered teaching with our students. Fortunately, Dr. Weimer has written a brief article entitled "The Five Characteristics of Lerning-Centered Teaching," which summarizes her work in helping faculty become better teachers.
As academic support professionals, this is an excellent link to share with your faculty.
In the interim, let me briefly summarize the list of five characteristics by asking a series of short questions that you might ask of your faculty:
First, are you working harder at learning than your students? If so, then you might be working too hard at teaching your students, so much so, that you are doing the learning for them. That is to say, they might not be learning because they aren't really challenged to learn and don't really have to learn since you are doing most of the learning for them.
Second, are you teaching your students the content by embedding skills within your instruction? If not, then, you are - again - doing the learning for your students because learning requires active engagement in critical thinking, evaluation of the evidence, analysis of the arguments, and the generation of hypotheses, hypotheticals, and examples.
Third, are you asking your students what they are learning and how they are learning? If not, take time both in casual conversations with your students and in more formalized classroom exercises for reflection on how it is that we (ourselves and our students) learn.
Fourth, are you sharing the learning responsibilities with your students by giving them some measure of control over how they learn? If not, try working collaboratively with your students, for example, to create assessment criteria for assignments or even establish due dates for some assignments within a window of available dates.
Fifth, are you promoting collaborative learning in engagement with other students within rich learning communities? If not, look back at that word "rich." Too often, our students are not learning deeply and well because they treat learning as a "solo" experience - an experience not to be shared with others. But, as any teacher will tell you, the best way to know something is to teach it to others. That means that we should devote part of our classroom learning exercises to teaching our students how to learn collaboratively with others, i.e., how to learn from and with others.
Perhaps by the best way to summarize the article might be in quoting Confucius:
"By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest."
I take the first - reflection - to be the at the heart and soul of great experiences in learning. I take the second - imitation - to be going to classes, taking notes, and receptively re-reading them in the hope that some of what the professor said might rub off on me. I take the third - experience - as the "trial by fire" method of learning in which students spend most of the term reading cases, creating case briefs, observing lectures, and developing massive course outlines without ever tackling actual final exam problems until it is too late (i.e., on the actual final exam).
With this list in mind, feel free to join me as I try to step back from the podium and the front of the classroom to better engage with students in the actual process of learning-centered teaching. (Scott Johns).