Can the conditions of learning be used to inform all teaching or learning enterprises for teaching the skills and knowledge needed to develop expertise or know-how in any area of knowledge and/or skill?
I believe whether it’s a highly academic domain like maths, science, medicine, biology, or highly technical areas like computer programming, electrical engineering, or more creative areas like writing, painting, acting, or sports like tennis, golf, swimming, or even more mundane real world skills like driving, ironing shirts, knitting, crocheting, the conditions of learning I’ve researched for the last fifty years can be used to inform and shape the teaching and learning which needs to occur.
This conviction is anchored to, and emerges from the data I collected from teachers who granted me the privilege of observing, documenting, and analysing their classroom practices for sustained periods of time as they responded to my request to explore how they might use the conditions of learning I’d identified to inform their classroom practices for teaching reading, writing and other accoutrements of literacy like spelling, grammar, vocabulary.
I spent several years asking these teachers how they applied these conditions to inform their classroom practices for teaching literacy. I also observed, recorded, and otherwise documented what I observed of both teachers and students in these settings.
My data show that, over time, these teachers were able to apply the conditions to
create a learning ‘ethos’ or ‘culture’ that supported and encouraged deep engagement with the literacy learning sessions they designed and implemented.
I asked these teachers to describe an ‘ideal literacy learning classroom’. While they used different words in their responses, the content of their responses were very similar. Basically they wanted to create learning settings in which students would:
- engage as deeply as possible with all the demonstrations of effective literacy behavior their teachers provided;
- respond to the learning opportunities they provided by,
- approximating (or ‘having-a go’)
- employing (‘using’, ‘practising’, ‘applying’) the literacy knowledge and skills underpinning the learning tasks they specifically designed for them to complete.
My data suggest that they created learning settings which supported these learning behaviours through the ‘discourse’ they used while interacting with their students. By ‘discourse’ I mean they way they talked about learning to be an effective user of literacy. Fundamentally they used a discourse which I described as ‘pro-learning, pro-reading, pro-writing’
This discourse was delivered through the messages embedded in the expectations they continually communicated. My data show that six ‘Expectation Messages’ were continually and pervasively repeated and reinforced in the discourse these teachers used as they helped their students become effective users of literacy.
Message 1: Becoming an effective reader, writer, speller, talker, are extremely worthwhile enterprises that will greatly enhance the quality of your life.
Message 2: All members of this learning community are capable of becoming
effective readers, writers, spellers. No one in this group can fail to become an effective user of literacy.
Message 3: The best way to become an effective user of literacy is to share and
discuss the processes and understandings you are developing with other members of our learning community. This means taking risks and “having-a-go” both as a member of a group and individually. It also means approximating, and reflecting on the feedback you receive.
Message 4:When discussing the meanings you construct through
reading or writing, all statements, comments, and judgments related
to those meanings should be justified using plausible and sensible arguments and examples.This means rather than merely saying “ I liked/didn’t like this book” you have to add a because clasuse; “I liked/didn’t like this book BECAUSE. . . . .”
Message 5: It is safe to “have-a-go” in this setting.
Message 6: One can be said to “know” and “understand” when one has made that which is to be known and understood one’s own. (Sometimes this was expressed as “taking responsibility for one’s learning.”)
I believe these expectation messages can be adapted for any kind of teaching or learning setting, whether at the university level, the school level, or for sports coaching, or even mundane everyday learning.
Here’s something I’d like you to reflect on:
- Think of an area of successful ‘out-of school’ teaching and learning you’ve completed. (For example I successfully learned to iron shirt when I was 54 years of age)
- Think of an unsuccessful example of ‘out-of school’ learning you’ve failed at. (For example despite numerous courses and classes I’ve taken I’m hopeless at fixing things—being a ‘ handyman’)
Here are two questions I’d appreciate your responses to:
- Which ‘Expectation Messages’ were present or absent from your successful and unsuccessful out-of-school learning experiences?
- How might you embed these ‘expectation messages’ in the language you use to teach something to others?
Please share your responses to either or both of these questions.