Thomas Douglas and John Brown assert that the world is changing so quickly that skills have a very short shelf life. While that might be true with many different subjects in school I do not feel that that applies to building the skill of a foreign language. This is a lifelong skill and languages do not become obsolete 2 years later.
The way in which I can shift towards creating a significant learning environments in my class is to change the manner in which I present the information that they need to learn. In their book, A new culture of learning: cultivating the imagination in a world of constant change, Douglas and Brown emphasize play as a matter of engaging the students. Games offer a challenge to beat and will awaken and engage students’ competitive nature and the desire to see what they are capable of doing. Ultimately they will need to prove competency and mastery of the “game”. According to the authors, a significant learning environment should be fun, challenging, collaborative and cooperative; it should engage the students passion and it should help awaken their questioning curious nature.
One of the major hindrances I have encountered in my class when attempting to shift towards a more significant learning environments is student laziness. The student doesn’t really want to put the effort in to learn. They simply want to pass with a good grade and maintain their perfect GPA. Their goal is not to learn – their goal is to finish high school with the highest GPA possible and get into the college of their choice. That is where their mind is at. Learning is completely secondary to that goal. They will copy each other’s homework and have no problem taking credit for work that is not their own. They simply want the grade.
For that reason they prefer traditional styles of teaching. They want to simply sit and be passive and listen to a lecture, and then they want to blame the teacher when they don’t understand. They have no desire to seek out information on their own, they have no curiosity, they can’t even tell you what they don’t understand: they simply are lazy. They refuse to believe that learning is their job. They do not take ownership of the process nor do they take ownership of their results. What I need to do in order to be able to implement a significant learning environments is get rid of this toxic thinking which is at odds with a competency based mentality.
The only other hindrance to implementing a significant learning environment in which the students are actively working and building their own knowledge and skill set is the logistical and practical side of not having enough time to plan everything. The preparation side was overwhelming this year. When the whole class is doing activities together and listening to me talk I still need to plan but not nearly as much as when each student is allowed to go out on their own and pursue the activities at their own pace.
I believe that technology can play a significant role in lightening that planning and preparation load as well as the assessing load.
I have found after 5 months of experimenting that driven, engaged, and hard-working students learn more and do better in an active learning environment. When given the end of year survey, 60% of them stated they learned and retained more with an active learning environment compared to the more traditional method used the first half of the year. I have also realized that students who are disorganized, have no intrinsic motivation and who prefer to simply go through the motions do not do well in this type of an environment. They fight it because it requires an effort. 70% of them stated that they learned more from a traditional teaching method. Like learning a new trick on a skateboard they are unwilling to fail 57 times in order to succeed on the 58th try. Physics professor and skateboarder Dr. Tae speaks of the skateboarders secret for learning: work you a** off until you figure it out. These students have no interest in working that hard, and I am not sure that I can change this about them.
The book had several good suggestions which I intend to implement, the main one being play. Play, questioning and imagination lie at the heart of Douglas and Browns theory on learning. I value all of these and intend to implement them in my teaching.
In order to encourage competency and mastery of skill while keeping a fun game-like atmosphere, I intend to provide a passport for each student in which they will collect stamps once they have mastered a skill. Much like accumating badges or points in a game, I am hoping this will promote a sense of accomplishment while also encouraging further developments and helping them to focus on the next skill, the next goal. I am also hopeful that this will promote competency over the grade. I absolutely believe that play engages students, makes class fun, adds a social component to the activity and breaks up the monotony of otherwise sitting there simply listening.
Questioning is an important part of learning and I agree with Douglas that often the questions are more important than the answers and can lead to deeper understanding. Douglas claims that questions do not become obsolete as quickly as information, which is constantly shifting. Students aren’t taught to question well in school. A significant learning environment is one that welcomes questions, encourages questions, even requires questions from the students. This can be in the form of a homework assignment or a group project or a one-on-one interview but it needs to be made part of every main activity. As students learn to question and to engage they will be dissecting and analyzing on a deeper level thus wrestling with the material and owning the understanding that they take from it. Reflection also stems from questioning – I think of Plato, Descartes and Pascal along with so many other deep thinkers who rested their entire philosophies on questioning.
Imagination is the final point that I will take from Douglas and Browns theory on learning. Blaise Pascal once said that to understand is to create. Creative projects certainly allow for and even invite imagination. But the thought of using games to awaken the imagination was something I had not given much thought to. After having read the book however, I agree that constraints and obstacles are an even greater way to engage imagination, since students automatically have to begin figuring out a way around the rules or the constraints of a game, and because of their desire to win and to beat the game they are highly vested in coming up with a creative solution. I fully intend to use this in the classroom by adding a twist to most of our competitive games. Maybe they can gain an extra point by throwing the ball into the basket, but each time they will need to use a different body part to throw with, or they will need to first find the question based on a hint, or answer the question backwards, or with an opposite… each time I could add a twist or an added challenge that would engage their imagination and help them to be creative in solving the problem. It will keep them hooked.
The last part of A new culture of learning that I will implement is the idea of a collective, meaning the collaborative side of learning. Within my classroom, when I began the Active Learning approach, I rearranged the desks to be in groups of four and each marking period I shifted the groups. These were their team-mates; with them they would figure out the Bellworks, they would compete against each other in a game called grudgeball, they would practice their conversations, they would help each other with their class work activities, etc. This provided them with the added resource of having two to three other people who could answer their questions, work alongside them and share their knowledge with them. Next year I think that I will create groups of 6 people, as well as an online forum discussion spot for the students to use so that they can help each other out as well as share tips, solutions, anything and everything that they found to be useful as they are building their skill and that they think might be useful for their classmates, their team mates. Collectives are powerful forces that can help you to reach your goal much faster. It was always said that two minds are better than one, and I agree that there is much more power in unity than in division or in isolation. Sharing collective knowledge can only enhance and speed up the learning process as well as make it less stressful and less of a lonely venture for students.
Although this was not my favorite book nor did I find it offering anything novel or mind blowing, I still gleaned several applicable points which I believe will aid in creating my significant learning environment next year. Douglas and Brown also talked about the fact that the teacher is simply another context for the information. I am not in and of myself the entire content. There are multiple sources that can provide the information that they need. I need to include multiple contacts and connect them with multiple sources to enhance their learning.
Engage their passion – find it. You cannot stop a passionate person from learning.
Thomas, D., & Brown, J. S. (2011). A new culture of learning: cultivating the imagination for a world of constant change. S.l.: S.n.
(2011, June 07). Retrieved June 11, 2017, from https://youtu.be/lHfo17ikSpY
(2012, September 12). Retrieved June 11, 2017, from https://youtu.be/lM80GXlyX0U