Learning to learn

How long’s it been since you’ve learned something? I mean really learned something. From scratch.

For me it’s been relatively recent and it’s made me reconsider the experience of students in my classes.

My wife has embarked on a new business venture and I volunteered to create the website for her. I did this thinking ‘how hard could it be’? I know computers and can use Microsoft Word pretty well. Oh, how wrong I was.  I’m a wanna-be tech head, but I was about to enter a world I knew nothing about.

So, here’s what I learnt about learning…

The Importance of trial and error (plenty of error) 

The good thing about working online is that you can always hit the undo button when you make an error. In the classroom however, there is no undo button. This is where the teacher plays such a powerful role. Because our students are so used to hitting undo it can feel mightily scary and frustrating to make an error in real life; we need to ensure that our students feel comfortable and supported to make these mistakes. We need to model making mistakes.

I constructed a flat-pack desk for my eldest daughter last week; complete with one part back to front and I didn’t notice until the end. I had to unscrew and re-screw countless times.  Yep, undo and fix is much easier online than in real-life.

Using others 

My dad, a keen golfer, always says: “There’s nothing you do on the golf course that hasn’t been done before.” This is meant to make me feel better for again missing the ball. However, I think it applies just as effectively to learning. When I wanted to do something with my site, I looked at other sites to see what they had done and how they had done it. Of course, our students need their learning modelled. They need to know that others have been there too and that they finally made their way through.

Let’s not kid ourselves. We rely on the internet as much as our kids do. Never have I realised this so much as for the past few weeks, Google and Squarespace Help have been my most frequented sites. Using this ‘other’ in the classroom has to be encouraged but also managed.

Problem solving, or waiting for the solution to come

There were times when I got so frustrated with the computer and the programs I was using that I had to stand up and walk away. Wait time.

When we talk about wait time as teachers we’re generally talking about waiting for the class to settle down. But, perhaps there needs to be a rethink of wait time. I’ve learnt that I needed space; to get away from the problem before I was able to solve it. Perhaps I need to build some wait time into my classes during the week, in order to allow my students to solve their problems and process what it is I’m asking them to do.

Talking it out

For me, I bored my wife senseless with hours of talking about how block content needed to be arranged in order for the code to be injected at the right spot so that the content aligned. She had no idea what I meant, but just allowing me to ‘talk it out’ helped me process what I was attempting to do and spot potential problems that I might not have identified without the talk.

I use collaborative work in my classes regularly, but I’m not sure I have explicitly built in time for students to talk through a solution to a problem. I will be now, it might make a difference for some students.

Time (hours of playing) 

This learning takes time. Lots of it. For mastery of skills and for deeper learning we can’t be rushing through content. If we are rushing then there’s too much; and this is the bane of a teacher’s life.

However, we know that good curriculum design focuses on necessary skills and is supplemented by content. I think this is a bit like building a website… On my site each separate page generally includes the same features. The repetition of these features allowed me to practice these skills and cement my knowledge of how they worked. However, the content on each page makes them look completely different. Perhaps this is a reminder to make explicit to the students that each new topic is using similar skills and building on the last, they just look so different because of the content. Something for me to think about.

None of these are groundbreaking, but it’s funny how I took on this web design to do something a bit different from the classroom and the whole time I was working on the site, all I could think of was the classroom.

If you’re interested in the final product (not just the process) then click HERE 

Shaun