Mirror, mirror….

One thing that I have come to value more over the past year is the importance of incorporating time for reflection. This is crucial not only for my students, but also for myself as a teacher.

Reflection is about allowing and encouraging individuals to vocalise and discuss the events which have taken place, to think out loud, to suggest solutions they may have discovered and to perhaps pose more questions that they now have. It is a guided practise and one, that when done by skilled educators, has the potential to transform both the learning and culture within the classroom.

As a busy classroom teacher, time is often our nemesis. There is rarely enough time to cover what we want to, so it can be tempting to not bother to try and fit yet another thing into each lesson. However, reflection is not the element to omit! Without an opportunity to revisit what learning has taken place and why the learning was necessary, it can make the entire activity somewhat meaningless. Reflection allows learners to discuss their thoughts and interpretations of the activities, to make connections to their real lives as well as to prior learning, and to begin to pose hypotheses about what future learning they are still yet to uncover.

As a teacher, reflection of our own practice is just as crucial. It requires few resources other than our own observations and honesty, but it can be incredibly powerful when the effort is made. It may not always pretty, and perhaps this is why some educators don’t incorporate it into their schedules. However, reflection reveals incredible insights into the synergy (or lack thereof!) between our lessons and our learners.

Reflecting on your own teaching practice can be as simple as deliberately evaluating our lesson goals compared to our student outcomes. It can also take the form of written notes, peer observation, or even student feedback. The next step is to ensure that whatever revelations are exposed are used to inform your practice – what have you gained from your insights?; what was the purpose of your teaching?; do you need to make adjustments to improve your students’ understanding or mastery?; how does this influence what you will do next?; and so on.

There are a myriad of ways for educators to establish and maintain a reflective practice, as well as methods to encourage and build a classroom culture that celebrates student reflection. Perhaps, however, the most important component is to just ensure that it actually gets done.

Happy teaching!

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Limbo within the liminal space

The term ‘liminal space’ may be something that is unfamiliar to many, yet it is possibly one of the most common spaces learners (and people in general) find themselves in. The liminal space is reference to the process of transitioning through a period of change. It is a conscious awareness of knowing that you don’t know something. This is a direct contrast to being blissfully unaware of something altogether (hence, the phrase “ignorance is bliss”, one would assume!). The liminal space defines the transition that learners experience as they travel from the known into the unknown, which for our students (and hopefully ourselves) is something that we experience regularly.

However, many learners (and educators) are unaware that there is a definition of this crucial aspect of learning. Furthermore, many learners (and educators!) are uncomfortable inhabitants once within this space. Some will even resist entering it altogether through procrastination and work avoidance.

The liminal exists whether we like to admit it or not. I believe that our attitude as we approach this space heavily influences the process. Once it is embraced, it becomes our companion that will travel with us from “the ‘what was’ to the ‘next’ (Liminal Space, 2016, n.p.).

As we guide our young learners to embrace this space, we may need to help them to navigate the emotional ambiguity that can come with it. This can be done by reinforcing feelings of self efficacy – the belief that they are capable of learning and mastering new skills and knowledge. It can also be supported by encouraging reflection – making time for learners to consider their own learning, to make connections with prior experiences, to contemplate what they know, what they want to know, and possible strategies to employ to achieve this. We can also model our own transitions through liminal spaces and allowing our students to understand that this is a natural process that all learners experience.

The following quote from Richard Rohr shared by Liminal Space (2016, n.p.) beautifully describes this space:

“where we are betwixt and between the familiar and the completely unknown. There alone is our old world left behind, while we are not yet sure of the new existence. That’s a good space where genuine newness can begin. Get there often and stay as long as you can by whatever means possible…This is the sacred space where the old world is able to fall apart, and a bigger world is revealed.”

The liminal space is one that educators should aspire for their students to embrace one day. This may take time and guidance for this to occur, but having an awareness ourselves of this space allows us to both respect and support the transition. Most importantly, it allows our learners (and ourselves) to respect the experience of being within the liminal space. We want our learners to know not to resist it, nor to plough through it panic-stricken and searching for ‘sameness’, and instead understand the beauty and value that comes from the limbo experience of not knowing….yet.

Happy teaching!

References:

Liminal Space. (2016). Retrieved on 9th September, 2016 from https://inaliminalspace.org/about-us/what-is-a-liminal-space/

 

Putting the ‘personal’ into Personal Learning Spaces

After an absence from my blog, recent academic discussion that I have been involved in has prompted me to reflect upon my understanding and opinions about Personal Learning Spaces.

One’s personal learning space is something that can be highly individualised, but often one that is not consciously decided upon. It is only when we reflect on our own preferences for learning that we then begin to notice the key features that we required in order to be successful lifelong learners. The personal learning space is designed around what our students need in order to demonstrate self-direction in their learning, self-efficacy and self-reflection. For younger learners, these are skills which may only be in the earliest stages of development, but they are crucial skills which their teachers should encourage and support.

Each learner, whether they be a child, teen, or adult, will have reasons which motivate them to learn and offer them a sense of self-direction. Sometimes the motivation will be a desire to avoid failure. Other times, it will be a desire to achieve the end result (e.g. mastery of new learning, a new skill, etc). It may be linked to a learner’s belief of the value the new learning gives them once it’s achieved – is it personally relevant? Whatever it is, it allows a learner to take responsibility for their own learning experience (Smith, 1996, n.p.).

Learners will also have a level of belief in their own ability to succeed which may vary from task to task, subject to subject, and even day-to-day. A learner’s ability to begin a task with the necessary amount of self-belief that they will succeed may be linked to prior success in that area, comments or feedback they have received in that area, or their own perception of the cognitive challenge that lies ahead. I have also found that this area can fluctuate greatly when influenced by seemingly unrelated factors such as life-pressures, social struggles and/or times of stress or duress.

The final area that I am concerned that doesn’t get factored in enough is to teach our students (and ourselves!) to become reflective learners. Students need time to consider what they have learned, to make connections to prior knowledge, and to express their understanding of their new learning to themselves and to others. However, often teachers find themselves finishing up lessons without having included any time for reflection (for their students or themselves) and soldiering on to the next timetabled activity in order to keep up with time constraints.

Given that these factors are all highly personal for each learner (hence the name ‘Personal Learning Spaces’), how does one teacher ensure that they are encouraging and fostering these skills in all of their students? My personal belief is that it comes down to keeping it personal and knowing your students.

A teacher will find it difficult to foster a sense of self-direction if the tasks that they assign for younger students unless they are engaging, relevant to their real lives and have value. In some cases, some learners may need more explicit scaffolding in order to develop self-direction skills, whereas others will need minimal assistance. However, teachers will know when they’ve hit the ‘sweet spot’ in lesson design because their learners will be positively engaged in their own learning and require minimal assistance or external motivation in order to keep going.

I believe this is even more true for self-efficacy. The relationship that you develop with your students will allow you to gauge their self-belief as it changes day-to-day, task-to-task, subject-to-subject. Having a genuine relationship, rapport and understanding of what your students believe about themselves as learners who can succeed is crucial. This knowledge allows teachers to ensure that their students will be faced with tasks and activities that will be challenging, but will still allow for success on some level. We don’t want to be bombarding students with unrealistic tasks which will chip away at their self-belief. We can only avoid doing this when we have genuine relationships with our learners.

As for reflection, this is something that our young learners will need to be explicitly taught. As teachers, how are we factoring reflection into each of our lessons? What questions are we teaching our students to ask themselves about their learning? What do we know about their lives in order to make their learning relevant? What connections are we encouraging them to make with prior learning? When are we ensuring that we revisit the learning pathways we have guided our students along?

So, although ‘Personal Learning Spaces’ asks us to consider something that may vary for each of our learners, it is important that each teacher considers their influence on each component. Just as adult learners would be reluctant to invest time and effort into an activity that serves no purpose, that is not relevant to their needs, and appears unrealistically impossible, so too will our students. As teachers, we have to ensure that we keep things personal with our students in order to create harmony between the lessons we design and the development of the skills they will need to become successful life-long learners – self-direction, self-efficacy and reflection.

Happy Teaching!