Significant Learning Environments

I woke up Thanksgiving morning, and my television had been on all night. I often fall asleep to old TV reruns on TVLand or some other network. On that morning, I awoke to reruns of the Andy Griffith Show. This particular episode was about Opie’s new teacher (and Andy’s later love interest) Miss Helen Crump. As a first time teacher, coming in to a school where she believed the children to be seriously “behind” she asked the children to read a great deal from their history text, and to write answers to several questions about the history they were learning. Young Opie complained to his father, who told him that he had struggled with history too… adding that Opie came by his struggles in learning history naturally. Sheriff Taylor suggested that young Opie should tell “Old Lady Crump” that maybe history is hard for some. The child translated that interaction as children do, and told his teacher that his father had told him that history was hard for everyone, and that he did not have to complete his homework.

Of course that interaction of the parent/child may have been somewhat inappropriate. But the classroom scene the next morning was, in my mind, appalling. The teacher, Miss Crump, asks a question of the class, and calls on Opie for a response (even though he has not raised his hand to answer, indicating that he is probably unprepared.) She requests that he stand up, focusing the attention of the other children on him. When he cannot answer, she bullies him.. belittles him, asking him in front of all of his classmates if he did not do his homework… and WHY he did not do his homework. After an interchange, where she repeatedly asks him why he did not read his text or do his homework, the young boy responds defensively, telling the teacher that his father says history is unimportant, and he does not have to do it. Of course Miss Crump later approaches the boy’s father, and expresses her disdain. How difficult is it already to teach children, but when parents undermine the work that the teacher is doing the process approaches the impossible.

So I ask you… have you ever been in a situation like this child? Well, I have. I attended 26 schools before I graduated high from school, at 16 years of age. l experienced way too many teachers who preferred fear and humiliation tactics  to actually sharing knowledge with learners. I had some serious external motivation to learn, but sadly we know that not all kids have that. As a new kid literally every year of my academic life in K-12, I was in many classrooms where I was put on the spot… on display, and feeling attacked by the educator who should have been protecting me… much like Opie in that episode of the Andy Griffith Show. Humiliation is not conducive to learning.

If you’ve ever watched the Andy Griffith Show, you know that Sheriff Taylor was smart and savvy, though his small town casual attitude often belied his intellect. In this situation, he knew the teacher was right, even though his son had misconstrued much of what he’d said. He had, indeed, undermined her efforts. So to rectify the situation he chose to use his story-telling skills to spark interest in history, to create a significant learning experience. Here’s a clip from that episode:

How can we inspire learners when they have become disillusioned by the learning process?

In the clip from the Andy Griffith show above, the sheriff piques the interest of the boys by mentioning a special gun… a gun that fired a shot “hear around the world.” The youngsters clamoured around him, wanting more. And Sheriff Taylor spun a tale of intrigue… about the American Revolution, using language and colloquialisms that were familiar to the boys. Language they understood. Terms they could respond to. And they were fascinated.

This particular episode is one that I think of often, when I think about how education is failing our learners. In this episode, the young educator is trying to force learning using something akin to a prescription. Teachers are told that they must meet specific learning objectives within a specified timeframe. This tends to result in teachers telling student what they should (according to state or federal guidelines) be learning.

Learning is change. Fink (2003) describes a taxonomy of significant learning that I think is a natural evolution to the taxonomy created by Bloom in the 1950’s. Where Bloom has us B moving toward eventually synthesising,  Fink’s taxonomy of significant learning becomes more reflective. Beginning with questioning, and growing to understanding and application, Fink’s Taxonomy of Significant Learning addresses how the learning connects the learner to others… how it changes self… and how it affects those around us.

A new culture of learning

By shifting the lesson to a format that would appeal to the children, a lesson was delivered in a more learner-centred environment. The children were engaged… asking questions… wanting to learn more. Now, imagine adding technology and rich digital media to the learning environment.

As educators, it is our responsibility to find ways to reach and engage our learners in ways that are meaningful to them, and that help them make the connections needed for learning and growth. As our world changes, advancing technologically at such a rapid pace, it would be irresponsible for us to not change the learning environment to follow.

The challenge in implementing… Modelling change for our adjunct faculty

Because my innovation plan is focused on leveraging technology to engage part-time faculty in professional development and support, the challenge will revolve around faculty buy-in. How can we help our faculty recognise the importance of shifting learning to create significant learning environments? My innovation plan involves leveraging existing technology to create professional development and support opportunities for part-time faculty. As outlined in my  Why, the faculty will be given opportunities to learn new technologies, new skills, and new ways of doing things that will help their learners become more engaged in the learning process. As part of the structure of the plan, we will be modelling the behavioural changes we expect to see among our faculty.

The impact of a new culture of learning

The impact of the network of support and development for part-time faculty will help the part-time faculty feel more connected to their learners and to the college. The part-time faculty will have experience the technology as a learner, in a learning environment that is designed to incorporate technology and media to create a more engaging and significant learning environment. They will have opportunities to incorporate what they have learned into their own courses, and through mentoring and feedback sessions, will be able to demonstrate how they are evolving as educators.

How can we inspire learners when they have become disillusioned by the learning process?

In the clip from the Andy Griffith show above, the sheriff piqued the interest of the boys by mentioning a special gun… a gun that fired a shot “hear around the world.” The youngsters clamoured around him, wanting more. And Sheriff Taylor spun a tale of intrigue… about characters and situations… about the American Revolution, using language and colloquialisms that were familiar to the boys. Language they understood. Terms they could respond to. And they were fascinated.

This particular episode is one that I think of often, when I think about how education is failing our learners. In this episode, the young educator is trying to force learning using something akin to a prescription. Teachers are told that they must meet specific learning objectives within a specified timeframe. This tends to result in teachers telling student what they should (according to state or federal guidelines) be learning. It cannot possibly be fun… the educators do not have time for fun.

But think about that few minutes from the Andy Griffith show… He changed the way those boys think.

Learning is change. Fink (2003) describes a taxonomy of significant learning that becomes more social, and that I think is a natural evolution to the taxonomy created by Bloom in the 1950’s. Where Bloom has us remembering, and moving toward eventually creating something new from what we learned,  Fink’s Taxonomy of Significant Learning becomes more reflective. Beginning with questioning, and growing to understanding and application, Fink’s taxonomy addresses how the learner connects the knowledge, and how it changes us and others. Significant learning experiences allow the learner to make connections in deeper and more meaningful ways.


SO… what next?

In order to ensure that all faculty at Odessa College are thinking in terms of creating significant learning experiences for our learners, all faculty must experience significant learning experiences as learners.

Read more about my innovation plan Developing a Network of Support for Part-Time Faculty: https://makingwaves.blog/2018/06/18/the-plan/

and my literature review supporting that plan: https://makingwaves.blog/2018/09/20/developing-a-network-of-support-for-part-time-faculty-at-the-community-college-level/


References

AMSOMmp, Andy discovers America [Video file].
Retrieved from https://youtu.be/aGXCH7zBdc4]

Thomas, D., & Brown J. S. (2011). A New Culture of Learning: Cultivating the imagination
for a world of constant change. (Vol 219) Lexington, KY: CreateSpace

Fink, L. (2003). What is significant learning?
https://www.wcu.edu/WebFiles/PDFs/facultycenter_SignificantLearning.pdf

 

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