Thursday, January 1, 2015

My Beliefs About How Students Learn Best

Day 1 of the Reflect and Renew Blog Challenge from Reflective Teacher @TeachThought 

It's not often we sit down and have to articulate our beliefs about the way we teach and our students learn but I believe it's one of the most important, and often neglected, parts of what we do.  I wonder if we take it for granted that we know what we're doing and we do what we do, but it's not until we pull apart the why of what we're doing that we start to perhaps question and challenge those beliefs.
For me it helps me to be a reflective practitioner and to be very clear about what I'm doing and why.  Having said that, I think it's also incredibly important to be open to new ideas and ways of thinking and to challenge your beliefs - sometimes on a daily basis - so that you are constantly striving to be the best you can be and to meet the needs of every individual student you come in contact with.

I've started by creating a list and it's one I'll keep returning to, and adding to, this year.

1.  Involve the students in the learning process at ALL stages - from planning through to assessment.  They are the key part of the process, don't leave them out.  Students must be at the heart of everything we do.

2.  Listen to your students - Student Voice is one of the most powerful tools we have at our disposal.  Discussion in the learning environment is crucial. Silent classrooms where learning is not being created together are not powerful learning environments.  Teacher talk needs to be monitored too.

3.  Be prepared to be a learner alongside and with your students - "We are all teachers and we are all learners in our learning environment."

4.  Embrace and harness the power of technology but be very clear about the learning and teaching first BEFORE including it in your learning and teaching.

5.  Learning must be relevant and connected to the world outside the classroom - break down those classroom walls by creating real and relevant connctions.  As teachers, we need to be relevant and connected too.  Worksheets don't cut it for me.

6.  Feedback is key but it needs to be the right kind of feedback - check out a presentation from my Masters research from 2011.  They also need time to digest, process and act on the feedback.

7.  We need to teach the skills our students need - including the digital ones.  Don't assume that they are  'Digital Natives' and can handle all technology willingly and confidently.  Yes, they've grown up with it, surrounded by it, but often not with a specific learning focus as critical thinkers and users of
technology in their learning.  Help them learn these skills and become confident users of tech.

8.  Be careful of how you use praise and of what 'type' you are using. Carol Dweck and James Nottingham are my guides on this.

9.  Students - and teachers - must be absolutely clear about what is to be learned and why.  They need to be able to articulate this.  Clarity in the Classroom is written around this and has taught me so much over the years.

10.  Above all, students learn best when they know that you care about and respect them; that  you value them as individual human beings and not just as 'the class' or 'the student', etc.  

Here's a clip from Carol Dweck which focuses on the Growth Mindset and the role of Praise.  The more I read of her work, the more I know I have to keep learning in order to help my students learn best.


  1. Justine... your thoughts are similar to mine... and you are right, we add to them, alter them as things change. Part of being a reflective educator. I learnt a lot from the paper Advanced Studies in Motivation and Learning about 'praise' and agree it has to be given carefully and thoughtfully, depending on who we are giving it to.
    One of my personal goals this year is to not only read blog posts but to leave a comment... I know I love this when people do this on thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  2. Thanks for that Kerri. Great to connect with like minds! Your goals are similar to mine. I just need to manage how I run this community one and comment on all the blog posts from my students!