Purposeful Learning: Part Two – Creating Motivation and Engagement

April 30, 2012

I was lucky, as I was one of those kids that was good at school and got the work we were assigned. Unfortunately, there were (and are) an awful lot of students that do not have that same ease of understanding. Amazingly though, they have a ton of other skills that they can put to use, such as their own interests, curiosity, thinking, questions, challenges, and other skills that often are not given any legitimacy or value for you within school.

Sitting in a class, listening to a teacher, having no understanding why you were supposed to be doing what you’re doing, getting the same results over and over again, getting homework that is just more of the same without any real excitement or engagement or real learning at all… These completely take away from what the purpose of learning is all about.

Purposeful Learning is more, and must be more, than that. It works to enable the students to take on their work and their learning. They understand why they are undertaking the work. They have a fire in their belly and their heart when they are working on it. That “fire” is what I would hope for anyone, whether they are an adult, a child, a scientist, an artist, a collector, a fire fighter, or an educator. We all want to be challenged in our work and we want to improve. Looking at the work of Daniel Pink from his book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, a lot of it was about the adult world and how to maintain and create motivation. Amazingly, it translates extremely well to that of our students as well…

How can we expect students to be motivated to learn content that we, as teachers, are bored silly with? Even if we (as teachers) are not disengaged, we need to help the students understand why they need to learn this, how it’s going to help them in the long run, and why it is important and not just something “for the test.”

This needs to happen in learning from the earliest ages right on through high school and university, and into the work world… I can tell you, I no longer “memorize it for the test” in my work.

As a principal, teacher, and a learner I believe that there are four major areas of focus in learning for all students:

1. Resiliency skills – meaning teaching students how to overcome their challenges…

2. Literacy – meaning more than just reading and writing, but “communicating…”

3. Learning Competencies – meaning more than just memorization for the test…

4. Purpose in Learning – meaning beyond “it is in the objectives set out from the government…”

Missing or lagging in any one of these areas will slow down or hold back the other areas. If a student is low in their literacy abilities, chances are it will hold them back in the learning that they want (and need) to undertake.

Purposeful learning is where the teacher guides and facilitates amazing learning opportunities, typically in a multidisciplinary fashion, that allow the student to actually be a real part of the process, rather than be I’m lucky recipient of the lectures that have gone on for so long and education. Thinking to my own experiences, I know how well I learned from lectures… Setting up experiences, ways for students to tailor their learning, access to excellent resources, access to collaboration to share ideas with, allowing sharing of learning both within and outside the school, and having the students feel like they are doing real work should be the goals that every educator strives for.

As I enter the realm of education as a parent over the last bunch of years, this is what I hope for my own children… And we are lucky to have teachers who are striving for achieving this for each and every child.


CILO Creating Innovative Learning Oppotunities at Keeler School – Wednesday April 25, 2012

April 25, 2012

Another exciting Wednesday CILO time for the staff at Keeler School this afternoon! At Keeler School, I continue to see the development of great thinking, learning and questioning in having the opportunity to utilize this time to examine some of our “sacred cow” practices, as well as dream and try best and potential best practices that we do not always have the time to discuss and try out. Great job folks!

I am also so proud of how our staff has used this blog as a forum to share the wonderful work you are engaging in! Staff are talking and sharing, hellping and guiding, and working together in innovative, purposeful and professionally engaging ways. Keep it up everyone!

Thanks for adding up to this again this afternoon!

Have a fantastic afternoon,

Purposeful Learning…

April 21, 2012

As we come off of Spring Break, heading into a wonderful time of learning as we head toward the end of the year, I am mindful of the kind of work I accomplished during those wonderful two weeks off. Spring Break was not a time where I sat back. It was a time of renewal, excitement, and energy as I started playing with ideas in my mind around learning, around utilizing some ideas I’m thinking about and possibilities that I’ve read about, and just thinking about planning and jumpstarting the road to the 2012-13 school year.

This is exciting work that I have undertaken. I was working on an analogy about my own personal theories of education and schooling, I was planning and preparing for our professional learning day, and I was looking at how to best set up our school for learning for next year. None of this is the small, boring, paperwork kind of stuff that is not very exciting. This is the fun stuff…

The question it brought up in my mind was “What is the kind of work that students would design and take home with them because it was just so interesting and engaging to them?” That is the kind of work I’ve been working on. I didn’t bring home field trip forms to edit and check over, there was no checking over Achievement Test forms, I was not looking at small detail paperwork stuff…

I was looking at work that truly engaged me and excited me. How can we, as teachers and designers of learning, set up our students so that school is more than just worksheets that are laid out in front of them or sent home? Some students can be good at this type of work and be successful, but that does not mean it is engaging. Others, who find it difficult, find it even less engaging because they see no purpose to the work.

Whether you want to look at inquiry-based learning or project-based learning, or just learning in general, I believe that “Purpose” is the main ingredient that is needed to enable and allow students to be able to undertake their work in a way that is exciting and makes them want to undertake the work.

I remember seeing an interview with a golfer, who talked about how others saw his work. They didn’t see him getting up at 5 AM to go hit balls. They didn’t see the stress that came from playing golf on a professional level. They just assumed it was all going out with friends on a Sunday afternoon and enjoying around of golf and possibly a few bevies. For our students much of the work we give them, whether it’s homework or classroom work, is seen as being relatively uninteresting and having very little value. The works that always seem to catch their interest the most was the work that caught my own interest. If I was excited I knew they were going to be excited. If I was bored, I could pretty much guaranteed that they were going to be bored. Working to develop a sense of any interest and excitement in their work is not some thing that schools have typically worried about in the past. I would say our goal is to help students find those areas where they are excited and interested.

A parent, whose sons I worked with in the past, talked about how his son was finally to learn to read at an older age because he had a huge interest in all things military. He was able to figure out that if he was able to crack this “code”, he could learn more about the things that interested him. He did not learn to read because he wanted to read the next level of books. He did not read because he wanted to please the teacher. He did not read because he wanted to impress anyone else. He did not learn to read because he wanted a better score on his report card.

Take a minute to think about what you read. It is all materials that are read for a essentially selfish reasons. I read educational research and books because I want to become better in my work. I read classic novels because I enjoy them and I love trying to understand the historical context around some of these books. At night I read easy cheesy science-fiction/fantasy novels, one of my favorites being the James Bond novels, because they are just mindless relaxing wonderful stories that take my mind off everything and help me get ready for sleep. I do not read for anyone else…

Same thing with the rest of my work I love. I love my job and I am interested in becoming better. That is why I work long hours and spend so much time on it. I do not work long hours because someone tells me I have to, where they have assigned the work and the amount of work to be done. How do we instill the love of learning in our students? Tall order I know, but this is the work we as educators signed on for… and I love it!

CILO Time – April 11, 2012

April 11, 2012

“A revolution starts with a clear vision of a world different than the one we live in today.”

~Simon Sinek

After spending our professional learning day on Monday, April 9th, 2012 looking at and discussing the difference between “Curriculum” and the Alberta Program of Studies, we at Keeler School now have some time to be able to start delving into how we put this work into practice in our work with students. Listening to Sir Ken Robinson in “Leading a Learning Revolution” reinforced that relationships with students and excellent teaching practices are what will make the difference with our students!

During our Creating Innovative Learning Opportunities (CILO) time we have the opportunity, the time, the creativity and the permission to be able to plan, develop, build, implement and undertake wonderful innovative learning opportunities. I hope you enjoy your afternoon and use your time wisely with the goal of enhancing learning here at Keeler School. Thanks for putting up your blurb and sharing with others the work that you are accomplishing during our CILO time.

Have a fantastic afternoon!

Curriculum versus the Program of Studies…

April 11, 2012

According to Ben Levin, numerous initiatives have been instituted to improve education and learning based upon the idea that changes in what could be called the curriculum, or in Alberta what we call the program of studies, would improve the practices of educators and enhance student learning. The Program of Studies, which is a document outlining both general and specific learning objectives for students, is part of our work in developing learning for each of our students, but I would argue that it is a guide to go along with us. It is not a Bible to live by, or is a specific checklist of all the outcomes that must be done within a classroom every day. A major part of the work of every teacher needs to be in creating learning opportunities that are engaging, motivational, exciting, deep, and meaningful.

I think a good analogy for our Program of Studies is thinking of it as we would a passenger in our car. It is not the driver, it’s not controlling how fast we’re going or which route we’re taking, it is along with us for the ride and helping us to navigate learning  It is not in control. We, as the driver, are deciding where we can go and in what fashion will get there, but we are utilizing the program of studies in order to assist us in determining student needs as well as have some idea of how we want to approach learning for the year. It will provide guideposts for learning, or what curriculum designers feel are appropriate learning objectives for a student had a given age. Since we know every learner is different, in order to personalize learning we need to get away from the image of the program of studies as being a checklist of what we have to accomplish during a year for each and every student.

My own definition of curriculum would be everything that encompasses learning within a school. This could include specific work done in each classroom, the big ideas and objectives, deep thinking and questioning, skill development, learning of resiliency skills, development of abilities around communication and literacy, the development of learning competencies such as creativity, curiosity, and thinking, as well as the opportunity to dig deeply into content areas in ways that reflect real world and authentic work.

I think the first step in developing innovative learning opportunities for our students is for our teachers to have the opportunity and the permission to be creative with how they approach the program of studies. This does not mean getting rid of the program of studies, but working with it in creative, meaningful ways. I know that we, meaning my class and I, always had a wonderful day when I knew that I was completely excited about what we were learning.

If you as the teacher are not excited, how can you expect your students to be?

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