Let's talk about Learning

The focus of this inaugural blog is "How People Learn: Bridging Research and Practice" by Suzanne Donovan.

I have been very fortunate to work with some very good educators who have a deep understanding of learning - they have been great guides and prompted me to revisit this research. In doing so I am reminded just how much of the current thinking around contemporary learning and teaching practice is seeded in this work and how important it is for teaching teams to have a shared understanding of learning, particularly when making choices about practice.

The principles outlined in this book, which build on the ideas contained in the initial release of the research in "How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience and School" by John Bransford, Ann Brown and Rodney Cocking, provide an important framework for educators as they are critically reflect on and evaluate their practice. A deep understanding of the science of learning not only allows an evaluation of what teaching and learning practices are most effective, but also an understanding of why they work and more importantly when they should be used. This is critical if we are to differentiate instruction and meet the diverse learning needs of the students in our classrooms.

This understanding is also critical in the current 'takeaway - fast food' climate of educational fixes. It is all too easy to jump on the lastest advice and do something because the latest research indicates 'x' and 'y' have high effect sizes. In saying this I'm not admonishing the research or such practice but rather, I'm raising the point that things taken in isolation without proper consideration of context and requisite foundations in place, can sometimes have a paradoxical impact on learning. There are no short cuts - learning and our work as educators takes place in a complex environment where everything is connected and interdependencies need to be fully understood. The implications for learning environments and pedagogy are critical.

So why is revisiting the principles of learning important for teachers and school leaders as we evaluate current and future practices?

Well simply, learning is all our work, consequently we need to:

  • engage our own often well established preconceptions and form a shared understanding of learning (Principle #1);

  • establish clearly agreed organising frameworks (Principle#2) to facilitate professional discourse and develop a deeper understanding of contemporary practices (Principle #2);

  • be conscious of our thinking and our assumptions, enable sharing and learning from each other, and continually reflect on the impact of our work in an environment that is safe yet encourages risk taking (Principle #3).

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