Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Gap between teaching and learning can be bridged with these three enablers

Teaching and learning are different. Teachers teach and students learn. Teaching necessarily does not lead to learning. To ensure that teaching does get converted into learning, Teachers can only 'enable the conditions that foster learning'. As Loris Malaguzzi, writes

The aim of teaching is not to produce learning but to produce the conditions for learning, this is the focal point, the quality of learning.

Teachers therefore have to find the best conditions that encourage learning. One of the simplest ways to find these conditions is to track research and use that enablers in your class.The research on learning shows that three biggest enablers of learning are Choice, Contextualisation, and Personalisation.

1.Choice : Student's choice to learn is important, because it converts 'external motivation' to 'internal motivation' making it easier for the student to 'want to learn'. In a Montessori method of schooling, this choice is inbuilt in the school philosophy and goes a long way in ensuring learning.

In a conventional school, however, teachers can still manage to do a lot. For instance, instead of using language like 'you must' or 'you have to' with students, learning is more likely to happen when the teacher uses language like 'you can' or 'if you choose'. Even the choice of 'giving wrong answer' helps. Instead of asking questions to bright students, the teacher can make learning happen if the teacher asks questions to lagging students and uses the wrong answers to 'dig out' the mental processes of a student.

2. Contextualisation: Out of three causes, this is the biggest cause of students for not being able to learn in their classes. Students learn chapters and subject without knowing 'what it is being used for', or what is the purpose of learning the subject, or what is the background of learning this new material. For instance, they learn Trigonometry without knowing trigonometry is used to calculate heights, for instance, such as height of tall building. Or the student is taught periodic table, without knowing the basic purpose of periodic table was to categorise elements in a 'logical group'. Or the students learn multiplication, without knowing that it is 'same operation as addition, but with the same number'. Or when the student does not know what is the purpose of learning history, he fails to learn anything from history.

 Stephan Ceci is one of the researcher who has studied students at different levels of formal educations and spanning different countries. After testing students in complex rules of triangles,squares and circles, in the context of a 'video game' the children learnt the concepts so well that Stephan Ceci claims that young children can learn complex concepts if appropriate context ( instead of disembodied laboratory level context) is given to the content.

3. Personalisation: Diana Cordova and Mark Lepper  studied with fourth and fifth grade children to find their speed of learning arithmetical operations ( addition, substraction, division and multiplication) and how they work in parantheses. They personalised the tasks by using the student's name, age and background. The learning outcomes changed drastically for better.

Personalisation, it seems, also affect internal motivation by making the task look like a 'choice that has been exercises by the student. If the teacher therefore uses personal variables in teaching 'abstract' subjects like mathematics, it is helpful for the student. For instance, teacher can teach ' algebraic patterns' by using the ' relationship' of student's height and weight. Or teach history, by relating a student with his 'family tree' of father, grandfather and great grandfather.


Of course, all the researchers unanimously agree that the biggest learning happens when the conditions of teaching are enabled by three enablers - contextualisation, personalisation and choice - together. Individually, the effect of each variable is not very high, but together they cause a drastic increase in learning. 

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