Tuesday, January 15, 2019

How does your school define learning?

By Mark Heintz

While a school uses the word learning on a daily basis, does everyone in the community have the same meanings and beliefs about the world?  To get everyone to have that same understanding, I gathered a group of teachers last May to define learning at Elk Grove High School. I wanted to have a common definition of learning across the school. This post is a check-in to see what progress has been made.

Process

Just a reminder to everyone reading that this group of teachers from all over the building with different levels of experience who have all come together with a common purpose (some arm pulling was required).  Along the way, each of us reflected alongside each other and our students.  We don’t claim to have any answers, just the desire to share what we are doing and come together to do it.  That experience is a major success.

Throughout the first semester, I visited each teacher’s classroom in the group two times and discussed the visit afterward. Everyone wrote a reflection of the lesson and personally defined learning. After the first quarter, I added a person to add a larger perspective (art - I’m sorry I didn’t include you in the first place).  As the semester ended and everyone defined learning, I compiled everyone’s definition and gathered the group again.  When we met, we read through everyone’s definitions, found commonalities and trends, and then started to define learning as a group.

Difficulties

I thought coming up with a common definition would be easier.  I think everyone in the group thought it would be easier.  Most of us struggled to define learning when it was just ourselves let alone when all of the definitions were next to each other.  The words mattered more when the same word was used in different contexts.  As the group met in December, we spent an entire hour choosing our words and coming up with the definition.  While tedious, we did come up with a working definition!

Results

We ended up with a three-parts to the definition, because just having the definition wasn’t enough.  The group decided we needed statements to reflect what the learning process is and what the product of learning is.  Without further ado...

Learning is the integration of values, or importance to the individual, and beliefs with new and relevant information, skills, and/or abilities for long-term application in life outside of the immediate task.   
The process of learning is an evolving journey that includes engaging tasks and processes, emphasizes voice and shapes meaning and authenticity. 
The product of all of this is an ever-evolving worldview, the development of skills and awareness to continually evaluate and reflect upon themselves and the world around them.  

Next Steps

Next semester, each person in the group is committed to living the definition.  It’s one thing to come up with a statement, it’s completely another to have the classroom experience live up to the definition.  I will be going back into their classrooms and following up with a conversation.  As I go into their classrooms they are committed to having the lesson reflect their beliefs on learning. Cross your fingers and I will hopefully be sharing further progress of our journey.

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