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Our Approach to Teaching

At Focus 5, these are our foundational beliefs about learning.

Sean Layne

on 3 June 2012

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Transcript of Our Approach to Teaching

True learning requires that students think, feel and transform their understanding. This cannot happen without looking back on our experiences and examining what occurred. We plan time for students to reflect on their learning in various ways—by talking with each other, sharing their ideas with us, and in writing.
Students often work in groups, learning from and with their peers. We encourage learning-focused conversations between and among students and challenge groups to develop and refine their ability to cooperate.
As a teaching artist,
I believe that learning is…
Students engage in learning by doing. They are working hands-on and minds-on. They may be up and moving. The learning environment must be flexible, with furniture rearranged or removed for our purposes.
Students create understanding based on what they know. We ask many questions to help students form their understandings instead of just telling them the answers.
The arts engage students in the creative process, which naturally involves them in imagining, asking questions, exploring, creating, reflecting and revising, and generating and sharing novel solutions to real-world problems. Although we guide their work, we fight the urge to tell students exactly how to do something and encourage their discovery of multiple solutions.
Learning takes place over time. The creative process does not begin and end in a 45-minute session. It requires time to ponder, revisit, revise, and experiment. We recognize the evolving nature of the creative process and remain flexible to the group’s needs.

And with scientific knowledge doubling every 5.5 years, it becomes increasingly important for students to develop higher order thinking skills.

As educators call for more integrated instruction, problem solving often serves as a core curriculum strand that joins together various disciplines, concepts, strategies, and skills.
“To the best of our knowledge, humans are the only form of life that actually enjoys the search for problems to solve” and has a passion for making sense of things. We appreciate that there are alternative possibilities and enjoy generating novel solutions.
Guided by recent brain research and the evolving learning theory, educators are beginning to look for ways to involve learners in the use of higher order thinking skills, and in particular, problem-solving skills. Today’s educators look for ways to involve students in asking questions, investigating, and using a variety of resources to find solutions.
At Focus 5,
we believe learning is…
In contrast, there are many studies that support the notion that learning is most effective when it is social and collaborative. Student learning increases when they have opportunities to learn from their peers. When we review and reflect on our learning with others, we:
•gain multiple perspectives,
•see how others make sense of things, and
•how others react to our thinking

Through this interaction, we see things in new ways, have our own understandings challenged, and can pick up strategies from one another. By working collaboratively we learn to contribute to the common good, seek collegiality, and to draw on the resources of others. This is becoming increasingly true as our classrooms are becoming more and more diverse.

Studies also show that our intelligence actually gets shaped through interaction with others. Our learning is shaped when we have to:
•justify reasons
•resolve differences
•actively listen to another person’s point of view
•achieve consensus, and
•receive feedback
All human beings are born with a biological need to relate to others. Some scientists have said every human on the planet comes with what is called the “contact urge.” We seek social relationships with an emphasis on belonging, being recognized, listened to, and noticed.

Think about it: One of the worst forms of punishment is to deprive humans of their contact with others.

While humans naturally seek dynamic interaction with others, much of traditional education has focused on individual learning that isolates the learner from social interaction. Traditional approaches focus on learning as a one-to-one relationship between the learner and the material to be learned.
At Focus 5,
we believe learning is…
At Focus 5,
we believe learning is…
At Focus 5,
we believe learning is…
At Focus 5,
we believe learning is…
At Focus 5,
we believe learning is…
Robert Marzano writes about two ways to process experience: linguistic and non-linguistic. For many years, teachers have relied on linguistic processing, such as writing, note taking, speaking, and summarizing. Recent research shows the positive effects of “nonlinguistic processing” such as:
•making mental images associated with one’s experiences
•creating graphic representations
•making physical models
•drawing pictures and pictographs, and
•engaging in kinesthetic representations of the content.

Do these strategies sound familiar? The arts are remarkable exemplars of both types of processing.

Current literature encourages teachers to give students opportunities to process their experiences non-linguistically as well as linguistically.
To the best of our knowledge, human beings are the only form of life that can reflect on its own experience and thoughts. It is this reflection process that turns mere experience into experiential learning.

Educator and philosopher John Dewey believed learning required engaging the mind as well as the hands. Dewey called this reflective activity. It requires that we “do” and “think about” and “comment on” our experience.

When we learn, we look back at our experiences and examine what we saw, felt, and thought. We have an opportunity to make personal sense of the experience and to integrate new experience with past experiences.

Reflection can be introspective, however, there is greater power when reflection it is done collaboratively.
Applying this research to education leads to the conclusion that engaging students in real-world, authentic experiences, is the optimum way for them to learn. However, not any experience will do. Experiences must be carefully planned to embed the key knowledge/ skills/ understandings that students must learn.

The guiding question for teachers as they design experiences should always be “What will students have mastered when they are finished this experience?

Research also indicates that experiences are strongest when they include novelty, provide opportunities for instant feedback, and for student choice.

Thomas A. Edison stated, “I’ve never made a mistake. I’ve only learned from experience.”
Research has helped us understand that human beings are living systems in which the body and mind are interconnected. Our physical and mental functioning cannot be separated. When we interact with the environment, our thoughts, emotions, imagination, predispositions, and physiology all operate at the same time. Our entire being is engaged.
The meaning we construct is based on our pre-existing knowledge, understandings, and beliefs. Thus learners are not empty vessels in which we pour information. Instead, learners come to every situation with already formed understandings that are the raw material or foundation for new understandings.

The main goal of teaching is not the memorization of facts (although it has a place in some learning). The main goal is to help learners process their experiences in ways that allows them to add to, challenge, expand, or revise their pre-existing knowledge and beliefs. This is the kind of learning that sticks—it is not forgotten at the end of a unit. It is not the teacher’s or the textbook’s knowledge, it belongs to the learner.
Currently accepted educational theory states that learning is an active process rather than a passive one. We learn when we actively build or “construct” meaning from our experiences.
You worked the way others have done, and then branched out and took risks. Sometimes you failed, other times you succeeded. But your understanding continually evolved. Learning takes time.

For significant learning to take place, we need to revisit ideas, ponder them, try them out, play with them, and revise them. This cannot happen in 10 minutes or even a day. If you consider anything you have learned, you soon realize that it is the product of repeated exposure and thought. Moments of lasting and deep insight can be traced back to extended periods of thought and preparation.

Current thought in education suggests that the starting place for learning is our pre-existing knowledge and beliefs. Students come to the classroom with preconceptions about how the world works. As a result of our explorations, experiences, and reflections, our understandings change and evolve over time. Our experiences cause us to continually revisit and adjust our conclusions/ generalizations as our understanding grows and evolves.
While communication can happen with the click of a button, information can be instantly “Googled,” and packages can be shipped overnight, we cannot expect learning to happen in an instant. How much time is needed to learn something?

The old adage goes: “Teaching takes place in time, learning takes place over time.” Consider the time it required for you to learn how to do your job. Just taking a class, reading a book, or taking an online course wasn’t enough. You learned over time. You learned from your experiences. You observed, listened, and talked with others. You experimented, reflected and received feedback from someone more experienced than you.
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