In the first post in our series on professional learning, we shared our belief that the learning process involves the same components for every learner – child and adult. Visually represented, the learning process could look like this:
This is, of course, a simplification of a complex process. For one thing, we know the learning process isn’t linear, as the graphic might suggest. As a matter of fact, it’s cyclical — after experiencing each of the components, the learner begins again with new goals, or continues to refine learning about the existing ones.
We also looked at how, in a professional learning context, you might determine your learning goal and have some idea what success would look like, your success criteria.
In this post, we’ll examine the second component, learning tasks. Think about the learning process as it occurs in the classroom: what actions do teachers take to cause student learning? They design and then ask learners to do tasks that are intended to help them learn knowledge and skills, to practise, and to show what they are learning.
What would this doing look like in a self-directed, collaborative adult learning context?
There are a variety of ways to “give ourselves tasks” to learn, in other words, to put ourselves in situations that will support our learning of new knowledge and skills. To give this post some context, let’s imagine a group of educators who have formed a self-directed learning group, to learn more about effective questioning, an instructional and assessment practice that is significantly important to student learning.
They’ve set the following learning goals and success criteria:
Learning Goal: We are learning to ask questions that help students learn, and give us information about their learning.
Planning the Learning — When planning a learning experience, I:
- design open-ended questions that require learners to think deeply about the concepts and skills to be learned;
- plan a sequence of questions that introduce and build on a concept or skill;
- design questions that anticipate and expose individual student misconceptions or learning challenges;
- determine a way to gather and record what I learn about each student’s learning when they respond to a question.
Teaching the Lesson — When teaching a lesson, I:
- pose questions that are related to the knowledge and skills of the expectations;
- give learners time to process their ideas and think deeply about the question;
- display the question visually to focus learners’ attention;
- use a variety of strategies to engage all students in thinking about a question, (e.g., Think-Pair-Share, allowing time for individual reflection and collaboration, followed by a No Hands strategy)
- use a variety of strategies to record the learning that students make visible in their response to my questions.
What might educators do to learn? What adult learning tasks will support the development of the desired knowledge and skills about questioning? Here are some ideas:
Research: Gathering information about effective questioning strategies is a useful starting point. For more information, the educators in our learning group used a research database* to locate a number of current papers about effective questioning strategies. They also did an internet search and found a variety of resources, including a series of classroom videos of effective questioning practices.
Planning: The task of planning a lesson should include planning questions that will elicit learning. When planning, the educators in our learning group considered and applied the criteria listed in the ‘planning’ section.
Questioning during a Lesson: Educators in our learning group intentionally ask questions in a way that meets the criteria in the ‘teaching the lesson’ section. Being intentional and purposeful about what kinds of questions they ask, and how they use the questions and the students’ responses during the lesson are the learning tasks that present opportunities for analysis, feedback and reflection about effective practices.
Reflection: Another ‘task’ that our educators did was to meet regularly to reflect on the impact of their actions, and, using the success criteria as a guide, determine their next steps in learning.
In our next post, we’ll talk about sources of feedback, and how to respond.
One last thought, and a call to action:
Oliver Wendell Holmes reminds us that, “A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.” What ‘learning tasks’ or experiences will you and your colleagues choose to ‘stretch your ‘assessment’ mindset? How can you be purposeful and intentional about doing to learn? Let us know your thoughts!
*Teachers in Ontario have access to a variety of research databases through the Ontario College of Teachers website.