Learning to Learn

The Delors Committee under UNESCO, when looking at the requirements for high quality education, identified four pillars of learning; learning to do, learning to know, learning to be and learning to live together. later there was expansion on this thinking to add a critical fifth element – learning to learn – the so-called process of becoming a lifelong learner.

(For those who want to access the report: Learning: The Treasure Within , you can click on this link)

I’ve written in the past about the plague of education systems that spend inordinate amounts of time and energy focusing on ‘learning to know’, until children believe that education merely consists of the meomorisation and accumulation of vast bodies of facts, separated from their context in the world in which we live.

On the issue of learning to learn, I recently came across this excellent article from Education Week about teaching and developing the habits of self-assessment. it argues that the earlier children start to see these metacognitive skills modeled and learn them for themselves, the better.

Education Week – Student Self-Assessment Practices That Work

In short – reflective teachers develop reflective students who are capable, and have the right attitude to take full ownership of their own learning. Then, learners aren’t waiting to ‘have learning done to them,’ or seeking ways to get out of learning – as if it is something inherently abhorrent and to be avoided!

The ideas and suggestions in the article are good and i particularly liked the focus on the students themselves setting goals at the beginning of modules/ units/ pieces of work and then using that as the basis for their later reflection. I agree that the reflection shouldn’t wait until the end of the work, but should be a regular, ongoing part of the process so that it feels natural and draws on experiences and memories which are fresh in the mind.

We should not underestimate the value of this self-assessment and reflection for student motivation. The student who reflects will have a better grasp of what they’re doing, why they’re being asked to do it and the criteria for success. Also, when they struggle or hit obstacles they will be better able to figure out what they need to do to overcome them.

Finally, i also believe that students who see their own learning as a personal journey of do-reflect-do, are likely to have a healthier and more positive approach towards the learning journeys of their peers – with less negative comparisons and unhealthy competition.

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Happy, Happy Happy

Dubai has created a role of Minister for Happiness. The head of the main Dubai education regulatory body says his first priority is happy schools. And, as this article reveals, happy schools is a theme in many places with UNESCO taking a leading profile:

The Nation – High Hopes for Happy Learning

As a reaction to some of what’s been wrong in k-12 education for way too long, this is all perhaps understandable. However, it carries with it rather too big a whiff of faddishness and ‘flavour of the moment’ for my liking. It seems like a massively over-simplistic reaction that could be counter-productive in the long run.

Happiness is at the core of Positive Psychology and the work of people like Marty Seligman, Tal Ben Shahar or Shawn Achor. I completely believe that there is a place for their work to fundamentally shape the kinds of schools we develop, the learning experiences of children and the values that shape our education systems. However, this has to happen from the big picture and is about something far more sophisticated than simply suggesting that children should do less work, have more fun and be happy.

Positive psychology is also about pursuit of meaningful lives. If students are pursuing learning about which they are passionate in ways that suit them individually and that have real meaning and purpose for them, then there is no such thing as working too hard. The idea should not be to somehow turn schools in to leisure camps where having fun and being happy for its own sake take precedence over the purpose of school. Learning and preparation to live a great life should be the cause of passion, happiness and enthusiasm in the individual child because it becomes a pull process – something they do for themselves driven by intrinsic motivation. Our problem today is that too much of what passes for education is “done to” children, making them passive recipients.

I fear that under the new enforced happiness regimes, too many teachers will now believe they must “do happiness” to the children. Showing the children to be ‘happy’ will be a key requirement when inspectors visit the school, but the rest of the time little will really have changed. Happiness and positive healthy relationships, approaches to learning and school climate can’t be simply mandated. They have to flow through the training and professional development of teachers, inspired by common shared vision flowing from leaders and key figures in education (such as school promoters). Parents and teachers are crucial in all of this. We have to work to help them to understand the benefits of a truly holistic education approach.

Old wine in new bottles (with a smiley face on the label) will not serve our children well.

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