Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Do you know how your students learn?

I had a grade level team meeting recently at which we were discussing the various challenges facing a few students as we move into our trimester exam period.  One particular student was being discussed and, as usual, I directed each teacher to offer insight into how he was performing and the areas in which he appears to be in need of support.

This conversation was moving along as expected until the teachers suddenly realized that they had all offered basically the same insights and were then stuck as to what they could do to help this young man get out of his current situation.  I should mention that it was not that the student was doing horribly in school, but simply not quite progressing as well as expected.  He too, it seems, was stuck on an academic treadmill.

It was at this moment that I said, “I know all of you have talked to him about the quality of his work and what he needs to do to improve his grade, but has anyone asked him how he learns best?”

Hearing no answer to my question, I suggested that if we wanted to develop a plan to help this student, we should probably invest some time in figuring out that answer and create a plan based on it.

This seems like an obvious course of action, but it got me thinking about how infrequently we discuss “how” students learn.  We talk plenty about how we teach and what our students are doing (or at least being assigned to do), but we do not talk as much as we should about how students learn.

My wife teaches a few courses at a local community college and she sent me this article that I found interesting.  While it speaks to mostly the higher education community, I believe we can take away from it a stimulating article concerning the marriage of pedagogy and science.

In schools, we often talk about how students learn in terms of learning differences or styles.  To the average teacher, these topics can quickly become overwhelming and confusing.  Maybe we should simplify the conversation and begin by asking students to tell us about their most genuine learning experiences and following up that answer by asking these students how they believe they learn best.   

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