Optimal Conditions for Learning


This post is week 4 of 8 in the 8 Weeks of Summer Blog Challenge for educators.

What are optimal conditions in which to learn, for you, and for students? What a great question. I have spent the last decade really grappling with this question, but not taking time to really try to come up with the answers.

When I became what I called a “connected educator,” I learned so much. I became the chief learner in my classroom.

I passionately tried to teach my students to love learning and go for broke.  Some of my thoughts from 2012:

Then I moved to a new country, where the culture is so different. The educational values are not what I was used to. Education here is what I describe as more traditional. Students and parents are more competitive and good grades and being on the honor roll are the pinnacle. I have weathered my share of storms as I try to navigate this new educational landscape.

Now, this week, for the #8WeeksofSummer challenge, I was asked the question about what are the optimal learning conditions for me and my students. Today, I have a more nuanced answer than the 2012 writing above.

I have never before stopped to articulate what I think about the colliding of my experiences in eastern and western schools. I’ll take a stab at it today, but really these are just some random thoughts: I’ll keep grappling!

  • ¬†East or west, I am still the chief learner in my classroom.
  • I use technology in the classroom, but not as extensively to connect and collaborate as I did when I was teaching in Iowa. We use Google Drive to write poetry, pen pal letters, novels, and more. We write blog posts. We create cool things like animations on brush.ninja.
  • I don’t sit at a student desk any longer. Actually, I didn’t sit at the student desk or teacher desk when children are present. Now, a student is usually sitting in my teacher desk during class.
  • I am up front at times, but always strive to get the students speaking, listening, reading, and writing in English.
  • Teaching English language learners has been a long and upward learning curve for me.
  • There are so many wonderful opportunities to bring English to students who are learning to use the language. English truly is one of the windows to the world.
  • I am working hard to teach a love for learning. I am constantly on the lookout for ways to do this beyond the seemingly all-important grades–I ask students constantly to self-reflect and subsequently self-grade, students help develop the rubrics used, we have Pearls of Wisdom, geniushour, we use Instagram hashtags that bring language use outside the classroom (#arsvocab and #arsreading).

I don’t think I have answered the question, but here are a few optimal conditions for learning worldwide:

  • Have a loving and respectful relationship with students. (Last year and the coming year, I have had the joy of knowing my students since they were in kindergarten, as I was their teacher then too. What a better way to love your students than to have loved them since they were little!)
  • Keep the foundation firm. Teach the curriculum that will help them grow as English users, whatever it takes.
  • Trust students to own their own learning. (Optimally, when we can get away from the grades, I believe students will rise to the occasion and enjoy learning more. It’s still a hope of mine that we can take the percentages away from the report cards through grade 5, and just report how they are doing on learning the standards.)

I guess these are conditions that work for me and students.

What about you? What are your optimal learning conditions?

My First Chat

Last week I entered into my first chat on Twitter. Here’s how it went. Since I’m teaching Children’s Literature right now to undergraduate future teachers, I wanted to add Twitter as part of our curriculum. I made it optional, but I was pleased that each of them was interested. I was looking for a chat that we might participate in together, so I sent out this tweet hoping to hear from librarians or teachers who were discussing children’s literature.

Screen shot 2011-07-15 at 11.00.57 PM

Within a few minutes I received a reply from Greg Pincus:

Screen shot 2011-07-15 at 11.04.19 PM“Great!” I told him, “I’ll be there.” Or something like that, in a tweet. I didn’t have enough time to forget or get too nervous because it was within the hour. I set the timer on my computer, so I wouldn’t work right through it.

The participants were authors of children’s literature, and the topic was “Why kidlit?” They were celebrating the second anniversary of the #kidlitchats. There were wonderful inspiring messages in 140 characters or less, like:

Screen shot 2011-07-15 at 11.11.32 PMand

Screen shot 2011-07-16 at 8.24.34 PM

and

Screen shot 2011-07-16 at 8.42.14 PM

and

Screen shot 2011-07-16 at 8.24.52 PMand

Screen shot 2011-07-16 at 8.26.52 PM

And somewhere in there Jennifer Prescott added this tweet.

Screen shot 2011-07-15 at 11.12.04 PMThat was fun! After the chat I signed up for the drawing, and I was surprised to find out a couple days later that I won, along with two others of her blog followers. How fun is that?

Screen shot 2011-07-15 at 11.19.07 PMShe does this with some regularity, so check out her blog, The Party Pony, for the August giveaway.

Anyway, that was a long introduction to say that I had waited all this time to really get involved in a chat, and it was worth it! The writers were gracious and interactive. I learned some things, hopefully contributed a bit, and won some books for my classroom. All in one hour, sitting in my jammies.

Another great example of 21st century learning and growing that can happen on Twitter!