What are the most important factors for parents and teachers to be aware of that influence a child’s education and learning? Why do certain educational methods and designs lead to powerful learning while other approaches tend to result in student boredom, stress or failure?
While in graduate school I worked with the Accelerated Schools Project (1989-1992), a whole school transformation program developed by Hank Levin, Wendy Hopfenberg and their project team at Stanford University. At that time we came up with a simplified model for facilitating student-centered teaching and learning based on observations and interviews with teachers who were highly successful at motivating whole classrooms of students in innovative ways.
It’s a model that is in line with research in the fields of developmental, social and cognitive psychology, as well as the ideas of educators such as John Dewey, Jean Piaget, James Comer, Jerome Bruner, Benjamin Bloom, Lev Vygotsky, Barbara Rogoff and Maria Montessori.
Traditionally, teachers are taught to think in terms of Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment. They are expected to align their teaching with standardized tests and exams. The problem with this paradigm is that it isn’t student-centered, and so leaves out many important factors that influence how children grow and develop, how they think and feel about their learning experiences.
Based upon our interviews and observations of successful teachers working with at-risk populations we concluded that when adults are trying to keep the learner’s perspective in mind it can be helpful to think in terms of the “How, What and Contexts of Learning.”
“How” concerns the methods and activities children participate in, whether it be creative projects, reading, games, contests, debates, role-playing, social events, singing, dancing, real world simulations, teacher-directed instruction, test-taking practice, rote memorization, creative collaboration and other ways learners are building their skills and engaging the world.
“What” is learned can be knowledge or skills but also includes beliefs students develop about themselves (I am competent/not competent) and subject matter (math is interesting/boring) as well as feelings (I love/hate reading) and ideas about meaning (The reason I study science to learn about the world vs. to get a high test score).
Finally, “Context” refers to all environmental factors that children encounter, which can either support or inhibit learning. This would include places visited outside the classroom, guest speakers, going to see a play, technologies and materials, room settings, how time is arranged, gang violence in a community, high-stakes testing pressures, financial resources, social relationships between learners and their peers, teachers, parents and others in the world around them.
What we observed is that parents, teachers and school communities are better able to create powerful learning experiences for children and teenagers when these 3 dimensions of learning are given careful attention and kept in mind.
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