Can You Spot Learning?

classA great experiment for classroom observations is noting how long it takes you to know whether learning is happening. There most likely isn’t much time needed to know whether learning is going on in a classroom. This is a good thing for educators to think about, as well, when preparing lessons. If it takes too long for students to get to the learning part, the engagement part may expire before you get to it. Even in this technology-classroom age, educators need to display an essential question somewhere for each lesson, and hope to have students answer it before the class ends. If not by the end of class, there should at least be a completion timeline set for answering essential questions. Students should know where they’re headed at the beginning of class.

There are essential question connections in the career world, as well. Work meetings are a perfect example, for if they meander without direction, not much gets accomplished. It’s frustrating for adults, and just as frustrating for students. Realistically, everyone at a work meeting, and every student in lesson, regardless of position or age level, should be able to put into words a pretty good notion of company or class lesson direction. That simple success tip makes sense and works. Knowing direction bolsters confidence.

Students should be a part of the learning direction and process, too. The lessons aren’t for the educators, although many teachers learn from them. To engage students, lessons must be important enough to them from the start. Having students participate in forming those essential learning questions is a good start for engagement. While it can happen at the beginning of class, it’s probably better to have students participate in essential question creation toward the end, during the summing up, as preparation for home studies, and the next day’s lessons.

Three teaching things to think:

  1. Everyone—teacher and students—should know learning direction, based on an essential question, from the beginning and throughout the lesson.
  2. Active learning, with engaged student participation and feedback, should be noticeable immediately.
  3. There should be a summing up time before a lesson ends, where new essential questions are brainstormed and developed for home, or the next lesson.

All these things can happen in a quiet classroom, or a noisier workshop-style classroom, and they have meaning where there is no classroom at all. There’s no formula for students attaining a joy of learning. Most of us believe students are born with that joy of learning. Keeping the learning flame going strong, or re-sparking it when it begins to wane is what educators do. Lessons that include actively engaged and interested students with plenty of room for those uncontrollable teachable moments have the best chance for success. When students participate in manipulating and challenging the prescribed curriculum, they are vested in their own learning. When students take ownership, you will know immediately whether learning is happening in a classroom.

Ken Royal

Ken Royal is an educator with 34 years of classroom/school and instructional technology teaching experience, as well as a blogger on all things education and education technology. Teaching accomplishments include: 4-time district teacher of the year, Connecticut Middle School Teacher of the Year, as well as Bill and Melinda Gates award for Technology School of Excellence. He is an Education storyteller. Follow @KenRoyal on Twitter.
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