What is Learning?

“So, how do you know that a child is learning?” This was recently asked of me at a parent coffee I held. This question emerged as I was discussing the progress monitoring that this school had instituted in their reading program. I was explaining as to how I view the yearly achievement testing as one piece in a student’s educational portfolio. A way to monitor progress from year to year. But my views on achievement testing are not what I want to discuss in this post. Rather I want to think through the idea of learning and how we can help parents understand this complex idea.

If you Google ‘ways to learn,’ you will get a variety of answers. One theory, the VARK model, identifies four primary types of learners: visual, auditory, reading/writing, and kinesthetic. Each learning type responds best to a different method of teaching (https://blog.prezi.com/the-four-different-types-of-learners-and-what-they-mean-to-your-presentations-infographic/). My computer dictionary says learning is: the acquisition of knowledge or skills through experience, study, or by being taught (Apple Dictionary, 2108). Another way to look at learning is The Seven Learning Styles (https://www.learning-styles-online.com/overview/). Constructivism is a learning theory that defines learning as the way people construct meaning and knowledge from their experiences (https://sydney.edu.au/education_social_work/learning_teaching/ict/theory/constructivism.shtml). Again my goal in this post is not to write a review study of learning. But a quick reminder of the variety of ways our students may learn does demonstrate that there is no easy answer to, “So, how do you know that a child is learning?”

As educators we monitor learning growth in many ways, from quizzes to writing samples. Teachers listen to children read and use running records. Comparing previous running records to see if self-corrections have increased or look at words per minute read to evaluate fluency development. There are a variety of computer based progress monitoring systems, STAR 360 and iReady to name but two (and yes these both proclaim other uses too but that is another blog post). We diligently record growth in report cards and progress reports. Maybe some of your schools use portfolios to demonstrate growth. All these ways and more coalesce to display student growth. So why did this parent ask, “So, how do you know that a child is learning?”

I think the real question for this parent is: ‘How do I know that my child is learning?’

Just as we educate our students, we need to take an active step in educating our parents. That was the purpose of the coffee I was having, helping the parents understand what this school is doing to monitor learning growth. Further what is being done with the data interms of support, enrichment and identifying students who need a nudge. I was encouraging parents to read with their children and questions to ask to push their thinking. I suggested conversation topics based on the curriculum, to read the weekly newsletters to know what their children were studying in school, to look at the planners as conversation starters, in other words talk to their children meaningfully about school. Listening to conversations over time will give parents some insight as to the learning taking place.

I also reminded the parents that morning that with anything, practice makes learning develop. Check out this related blog post, How to Improve-Practice, http://edtechease.com/index.php/blog/how-to-improve-practice. Parents need reminders that learning does not just happen because a child grows taller. They need practice. Practice retelling stories, giving directions, reading!

“So, how do you know that a child is learning?” Reach out with your ideas via Twitter (@edtechease) or Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/edtechease/) or email me, swladis@edtechease.com

Originally posted on Thursday, 10 October 2019.

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