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Posts Tagged ‘learner-centred

I shared this cryptic tweet during the last #edsg fortnightly chat.

We had been focusing on the possible “game”-based changes to the Primary mathematics syllabus in Singapore.

I use “game” because what a teacher might understand as a game is not necessarily what students experience as gamers. A drill-and-practice “game” might be a welcome addition to the teacher toolbox, but it is not necessarily a game as the child understands it.

Hence, Godin’s blog entry was timely, specifically this part:

That’s why it’s so important to understand the worldview and biases of the person you seek to influence, to connect with, to delight. And why the semiotics and stories we produce matter so much more than we imagine.

Another dimension of differing world views is the focus of the activity. To a teacher, it is MATH game; to kids, it is a math GAME. For an adult, the game is for learning a math principle; for a child, the game is for racking up points, being the fastest, or topping the charts.

The students are likely to enjoy game initially because of the novelty effect. They might even participate over a longer term because of the extrinsic rewards provided by gamification tools (which are not game-based learning).

Neither a reliance on novelty and extrinsic drive are desirable because a teacher might be forced to take part in the race to hyper stimulate and entertain.

If a teacher does not get forced into the “engage them” race, it is because students soon realise that drill-and-practice is not really a game and they reject this practice.

Adults rarely get into the child’s headspace when trying to plan activities that are supposed to be good for kids. So here are three guiding and core questions (as contextualised in game-based learning):

  1. What does the child think (is a game/about gaming)?
  2. How do they think (as they game)?
  3. What can I design based on sound educational psychology principles and rigorous research?

For the good of kids, we need to focus on what is good for kids. We start with a focus on kids, not curricula, syllabi, assessments, or policy. To be learner-centred, you have to be kid-centred first.

This tweet reminded me that there is the giving of feedback and there is the acting on it. Merely giving feedback is not going to change behaviour or cause learning.

This is similar to something I tell instructors: Teaching is not the same as learning. You may teach, but that does not mean anyone has learnt anything. You may test and there might be short term results from it, but that does not necessarily lead to meaningful learning.

This might seem obvious to most, but given the busy work of teaching, grading, and chasing the curriculum, it easy to forget that going through the motions of teaching does not guarantee learning.

I have spent most of my working life as an instructor of some sort. A significant portion of it was as a teacher educator in NIE where my colleagues and I prepared teachers. But I wonder how much we focused on teachers being learners all the time.

By this I mean understanding the learner and what they struggle with. In the context of receiving feedback, this could mean knowing how to help them take action.

That the tweet echoed like a lonely voice in the desert and that some will read the tweet and nod in agreement is recognition that most teachers still focus on their teaching and not enough on their students’ learning.

Most teachers in Singapore know the differences in behaviours that are teacher-centred and learner-centred. Being pragmatic, they also know when to toggle between the two modes.

But there should only be one mode and that is being learner-centred. All the time.

If you are learner-centred, you will realize that it is not enough to mark up an assignment with feedback. The assignment must be important to the learner, the feedback must be timely, the feedback might come from other learners as well, the learner must know what to with the feedback, and there must be evidence of learning.

If a teacher is learner-centred, then flipping is not the flipping of instruction but the flipping of roles (who the teacher is, who the content creator is). Game-based learning, project-based learning, and other x-based learning are not just pedagogical strategies but also philosophical orientations on what it means to be a learner and how we learn.

There should only be one mode and that is being learner-centred. Anything else is a compromise or an excuse. The only question left is: How learner-centred are you?

Granularity by velmc, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 Generic License  by  velmc 

Ask just five well-informed people what it means to be learner-centred and you are likely to get different perspectives.

For some, this might mean using instructional strategies that get the learner more involved in the processes of teaching and learning. Examples might include think-pair-share or a jigsaw method. The learning tasks may be problem-based, case-based, scenario-based, game-based, etc.

This is a fine level of granularity. This is the operational detail of being learner-centred.

Zoom all the way out and there is the mindset of focusing on learning and the learner instead of teaching and the teacher. This might manifest itself in experiences instead of lessons, being demand-driven instead of supply-driven, and orienting to more just-in-time instead of only just-in-case instruction.

That is a coarse level of granularity and a philosophical orientation.

You would think that the coarse grain should reveal itself in the finer details. But I have noticed people who claim to be learner-centred but behave otherwise.

Why? It is easier to make claims than to back it up. Theory is not practice. A description is not a prescription. Being well-informed is not the same as being well-practiced.

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