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Monday / April 23

Instruction that Builds Lasting Learning

Without question, Professor John Hattie’s Visible Learning research has made a significant contribution to the quality of instructional decision-making. Knowing the effect sizes of a variety of instructional practices can help us to focus decisions and strategies in the direction most likely to build academic learning.

But instruction that builds lasting learning requires more than applying a set of strategies shown to be more effective than others.

The best instruction we can offer builds the skills of students to be self-regulated, motivated, independent learners. The old adage: Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day; teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime, presents a useful metaphor for examining what learners experience every day in schools.

Unfortunately, for too many students their daily learning diet features unappetizing offerings that serve little useful purpose from their perspective. In fact, they see the learning diet as so unattractive and lacking in relevance that they often choose not to participate at all unless forced to do so.

For other students, the learning fare is comprised of fish the teacher places before them that gets them through the day but builds little capacity to be a better learner the next day. These students see their job in response to the daily fare they are given as finishing the meal, but not building skills and gaining knowledge that will help them to grasp significance, expand their understanding, make connections and guide their own learning efforts.

For still other students, their learning diet is filled with what they see as attractive and nutritious content and features the added benefit of learning to “catch” their own learning food. The strategies and skills necessary to learn are given at least as much and, at times, even more attention than the daily fare. Learners are given ever-increasing opportunities to catch and consume their own learning food.

The most important difference in these three scenarios lies not in the intentions of the educators, but in the experiences of the learners. The instructional actions may have been well intended, but from the perspective of the learner the value of the experiences vary widely.

So what are the keys to moving from instructional fare that often generates unpredictable learner responses to those that hold a high degree of predictability for increasing their capacity to become independent learners? Here are three examples that will make a difference and get you started.

1. Match your instruction with each learner’s readiness to learn

There is a difference between good practice and effective practice. It is important to remember that learning is most likely to occur at the intersection of learning readiness and the right amount of challenge. Instructional activities that have been shown in research to be good strategies become effective strategies when they tap readiness to learn and rigorous challenges from the perspective of the learner. Strategies that have been shown to work under a variety of circumstances with a range of learners represent an appropriate place to start, but to reach the full potential of the strategy you must match appropriate instruction with each learner‘s readiness to learn.

2. Focus on the value of learning

Attracting the attention and tapping the learning energy of students is easiest and most consistently effective when we focus on “why” over “what” and “how.” Help learners to grasp the value and purpose of their learning and they will be far more likely to invest in the search for “what” will be necessary for learning success and “how” they can approach the process so they can learn what is needed to satisfy their “why.”

3. Let students take ownership of their own learning

Rather than making every significant decision about the timing, strategies, activities and demonstration of learning, find ways to give learners opportunities to be active agents in the process. Learners are far more likely to commit to their learning when they play an active role in setting learning goals, building action plans, planning and managing schedules, monitoring progress, engaging in self-assessment and providing input regarding how they can demonstrate what they have learned.

Effective instruction starts with the learner.

Image: © Can Stock Photo Inc. / michaelmill

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Dr. James Rickabaugh is currently Director of the Institute @ CESA #1 and former Superintendent of the Whitefish Bay Schools in Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin, a north Milwaukee suburb. Previously, he served as Midwest Regional President for Voyager Expanded Learning of Dallas, Texas. He also served as Superintendent of Schools for the Burnsville-Eagan-Savage School District in Burnsville, Minnesota, a south suburb of Minneapolis.

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