Every student has the capacity for rich, meaningful learning experiences. How can educators tap into the motivation that helps drive a love of learning in students? They key might be found in the "deeper learning" movement.
By Kelly Morgan Dempewolf, PhD Lifelong learners. It’s a phrase that appears in mission statements of schools, districts, and state agencies across the country. It’s a worthy goal—to produce people that continue to learn and value learning throughout their adult lives. Despite being a fairly universal goal of educators and education systems, producing lifelong learners is not a process that has a set of concrete steps. Despite being a part of systems that included the phrase in their mission, I’ve never been shown how to actually make it happen. One way to encourage lifelong learning is to show students that there are things to learn that are relevant to their interests and their lives—things they are interested in learning for the sake of learning, rather than for grades or tests. Allowing students to seek out specific aspects of an overall topic that interest them or ask their own questions to guide their learning goes a long way in cultivating the intrinsic motivation that’s necessary if we want them to continue to learn later in life when it’s not required for a test or a grade. Second, we need to let them learn how to learn. Students spend years in classrooms taking part in lectures, discussions, assignments, projects, group work, activities, labs, and many other learning activities. However, the vast majority of those students are told when to learn something, how to learn it, when to be done learning it, and if they’ve learned it or not. When in this process have we ever shown them how to learn something on their own, without a teacher creating a schedule, telling them which things they need to do to learn it, and letting them know when they know something? We instead need to create an environment that promotes student-paced mastery learning and give students the ability to learn how to learn. Student-paced mastery learning allows students to learn to select between various learning opportunities to decide how they best learn different types of content. For a math lesson, they may want to watch a narrated lecture, with examples, that they can pause and rewind as necessary. Then, they may want to attempt to solve practice problems and have access to an answer key so they can check their understanding as they go, rather than waiting until the end. Practice makes permanent, not perfect, so why make the wrong way permanent by requiring completion of all practice before assessing and making corrections? For learning about the differences between physical and chemical changes, students may choose to read a passage in their textbook and discuss it with other students. Lifelong learners need to master the ability to seek out appropriate ways of learning when there’s no teacher there to tell them which things to read, watch, do, or experience. Student-paced mastery learning allows students to learn how to assess their own understanding. They determine when they are ready to show mastery on a concept. In the beginning, they often get this wrong and prematurely decide they are ready. This results in many retakes early in the year. However, by the end of the year, students in my high school chemistry class rarely need to retake a mastery quiz because they are much better at the meta-cognitive skill of assessing whether they understand a concept or not. Lifelong learners need to know how to evaluate whether to seek out more information, help, or experiences in order to understand something or whether they’ve got it and can move to the next thing. Student-paced mastery learning also allows students to develop perhaps the most necessary skill for independent lifelong learning: the ability to try again. Traditional classrooms teach students that they have one opportunity to learn something and demonstrate their understanding. They are not taught to pick themselves up, think about what they could do differently, and attack the problem from a new angle. Time and time again, we hear very successful people talking about how, without the ability to be resilient in the face of failure, they would not be the successful people they are today. Yet we’re not modeling that and teaching students how to develop that in our traditional classrooms. In order to truly be successful, lifelong learners need the ability to try again after something didn’t work quite right the first time.
In 1980, nearly half of U.S. counties -- 1,412 of them -- had populations that were almost exclusively (98 percent or more) white. Thirty years later, only 149 counties -- fewer than five percent -- fit that same description.
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