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Human Connections Make Deep Learning Possible

Human Connections Make Deep Learning Possible

Cover Photo by Rémi Walle on Unsplash

Introduction: Literature Review

Hello, readers! In this week’s post, I thought I would try other approaches to help me respond to the reading this week. Last week I tried making a video and I used my iPad to write notes, annotate, and interact with the text. Unfortunately, my iPad was out of batteries today, so I decided to do a traditional blog post Hwith text. The difference in my approach today is in deciding what media I consumed first. Usually, I go in order from top to bottom as COETAIL has posted the materials, but today I decided to focus on video and visual media first before diving into the text-heavy content. My goal was to get a general, big picture idea, and then to move into specifics. I hoped that that would help me when skimming some of the longer texts.

One thing that stood out to me immediately was this week’s enduring understanding: Our (invisible) biases and the language we use in our classrooms/schools have an impact on student learning.

This has been on my mind lately because I just finished my second round of Cognitive Coaching in which the comic below was shown to the participants.

The point of the session in which we saw this comic was to examine our own “filters of perception”– how race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, age, religion, etc. influence the way we see the world. I remember my instructor, Ochan Powell, said when displaying this image: “we see ourselves [when we see the world]”.

Thinking back to our reading in Course 3 by Harro, questioning our views, raising consciousness of our own biases and filters of perception are two ways to create change in our practices that will ensure all learners feel safe and welcome in our schools. Similarly, in a #PubPDAsia Twitter chat, I had @MattIves_ suggested Project Implicit— a Harvard website in which users can test their bias on a wide variety of subjects. Something to consider, as bias is something that we are often unaware of and this site can help us become aware of our own thinking.

Finally, as a part of this literature review from this week, I had one more connection I saw. The Deep Learning Progression sounds strikingly similar to the Thinking Collaborative’s idea of holonomy; that is, we are both an individual and a part of a group. We are constantly under a certain kind of tension to realize who we are individually and also how we fit into a larger group. The interdependence n the DLP and the connectedness of holonomy helped clarify the idea of Fullan’s moral imperative. That is, educators serve all learners by realizing their unique characteristics and also helping them to fit into the whole of the school community. Do our biases interfere with students’ abilities to form their own identities? Connect with the school and wider community? Or can we honor and respect that which makes us unique?

Reflection: in your school, what does it look like when you partner with students in designing the structure or process of the task?

Photo by Scott Umstattd on Unsplash

I started at my new school this year and I started teaching one of my Design classes with a similar idea– the students would be active members in planning their learning. I went in gung-ho, I had an entire unit planned out with all the inquiry questions, ways to be assessed… the whole nine yards. What I found was that the students were accepting what I had written and gave me the go ahead after doing several activities to process what I had written.

In hindsight, I think there were two things wrong with that picture, if my goal was to engage students in shaping their own learning journeys.

  1. The students had likely never been asked something like that before. Taking the reigns of one’s education after having a teacher write all unit plans for years and years? It’s going to take some scaffolding before students are comfortable with agency.
  2. I had written the unit already! I had done all the thinking for them! What did they do? They took the path of least resistance and let me do the hard work. As I had mentioned above, the kids had been conditioned to that and were happy to let me do it all for them. And you know what? I was happy to do it too.

The big problem here is that this sort of thing (writing units before we even meet our own students) leaves little leeway for their own passions and interests. For example, I had decided that the students were going to focus on portraiture as a way of expressing a person’s perspectives on the world. But one boy walked into my class and was ready to work on a dog leash project he had planned. Did my unit become irrelevant to him in the first moments of class? Did he just acquiesce when he peers wanted the path of least resistance?

Without digressing too much, what I’m trying to say is that one way we as educators might bypass our biases is by allowing the students to personalize their learning. When things become prescriptive, students lose their personal connections, interest, and school becomes about what the teachers wants and not necessarily a reflection of the student.

What I’m arguing for here is not necessarily about how one might be sensitive to others varied opinions. Instead, what I am saying is something that I write often about, which is listening. If I had less rushed to get into the content and allowed the students to learn how to plan a unit, I believe their unique perspectives would have manifested more in their plans and projects. What we ask of students is to adjust their thinking and learning styles to the teacher’s plans and activities. What if instead we adjusted to theirs and helped activate their individual potentials?

Reflection: What might you shift in your practice based on this week’s readings in order to create an environment that embraces equitable deep learning tasks?

To take my own advice from my reflection above, I think one thing that I would like to do is to have more of a coaching culture within my classes. I was inspired by Fullan and Langworthy’s “A Rich Seem” in which they discussed a socratic seminar with personal coaches. The gist of the approach was that students would argue, then pause and turn to a personal coach who would give feedback and suggestions before resuming the debate again.

What I wonder is could students in Design learn how to peer-coach and how to peer-consult? Could they support others in the class with coaching techniques by being good listeners and suspending autobiographical listening? One of the best ways to take someone’s perspective is to empathize through active listening and acknowledgement of their feelings.

I think that this sort of classroom culture would help the students to see diverse perspectives and consider their own biases, but I think there’s one more important thing to consider. The teacher’s energy, approaches, and structure influence the students, but the students also influence the teacher. I believe that if I had a class full of mindful, calm, active listeners, it would enhance those qualities in me much like if I was anxious and frenetic, it would create stress and confusion in the students.

In short: to create a students and educators that are willing to take others’ perspectives, we need to slow down, listen, and allow time for students to become active members in one another’s learning. It is then that students will be in the mindset and have the routine of honoring one another’s perspectives, even if they might be different from our own.

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