What do you believe about learning?

A. has just turned 6. His parents have told him not to talk about the fact that he was selected to participate in a group for gifted kids in the local area, as it could be seen as showing off. He missed starting school  in September because his birthday was a little too late and his kindergarten teacher doesn’t believe in pushing kids ahead.

His mother is thinking a little anxiously about what will happen when he starts school next year. Based on the experience of her older children, she tells me the class will be big and she doubts there will be individual attention. She wonders what he will do while the teacher teaches the whole class the letters of the alphabet, when he is already now reading books. I tell her that hopefully he will learn and flourish in spite of school and not because of it! It’s a picture that bothers me.

I know I’m lucky to work in a private school in a country with an advanced education system, but this can happen in Australia too. The more I think about it, the more incongruous it seems that the education system dictates what you can learn and when you can learn it, based on your chronological age. It’s equally bizarre that schooling is often a one-size-fits-all affair, which often doesn’t take into account the uniqueness of every learner. One size can never fit all

Our new flexible learning space at my school’s K-3 campus has an open-plan layout that provides opportunities for specialised, personalised learning. It’s a setting that could facilitate teaching and learning in mixed age groups, in ability groups or in interest groups. Yet it’s proving challenging for many of the teachers. Have we done things in certain ways for so long, it’s difficult to even see other possibilities?

In the end it should come down to what we believe about teaching and learning. Last year, we worked together to articulate our school’s learning principles

  • We learn in different ways, depending on abilities, learning styles, preferences and interests.
  • Learning takes place through inquiry: questioning, exploring, experimenting and problem solving.
  • Learning includes acquisition of skills and knowledge, constructing meaning and transfer to different contexts.
  • Learning is active and social and is enhanced by collaboration and interaction.
  • Learners need to feel secure, valued and able to take risks.
  • Learning needs to be challenging, meaningful, purposeful and engaging.
  • Learning includes meta-cognition and reflection, which support learners taking ownership of their learning.

If we really believe the things we say we do, we surely can’t still be teaching the way we used to teach…


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11 thoughts on “What do you believe about learning?

  1. Another great post, Edna.

    You’re so right – one size certainly doesn’t fit all! In the classroom, I try to take opportunities to have students working at their own level but I won’t deny it is difficult. I can only imagine how hard it is for the prep teacher who has a student who can read while most don’t know the alphabet!

    I think this is an issue that has to be addressed from a school level, rather than a classroom level. I know I have tried sending advanced students to different classes in the past but timetabling doesn’t make this easy and socially it seems a bit disjointed to send kids off to unfamiliar environments like this.

    The open-plan classroom situation you described seems like the perfect solution and this really is something that is implemented from a school level. No doubt it needs of lots of support from all aspects of the school community to make it work but I look forward to hearing about how your school progresses with this!

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  2. If you ask most teachers, they will tell you that they know that all children are different and have different instructional needs. It is unfortunate that so many times our practice does not reflect what we say our philosophy is….

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  3. Thanks for the interest and good to see students getting involved in the big issues about learning. In Australia the new school year is about to start, so I hope to write more about the flexible learning set-up as the year unfolds..(It’s a brand new building and they have only had a couple of months there so far.) It’s based on the vision of a forward thinking school head… Hopefully learning together and working on how best to benefit from the environment will mean that teachers and learners will all thrive in the coming year!

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  4. you don’t want your kid to be at a lower level of his abilities cause he or she will moved down to the ability of the lower kids and not show his full potential. If he is already progressed the material and is ready to move on, i say move him on if he agrees and is truly ready!

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  5. Well said…Really, it all comes down to differentiated instruction. It is the responsibility of the teacher(s) and school administrator to meet the needs of EACH individual student. The curriculum and pacing guide should be just that…a “guide.” We need to better evaluate student competencies and determine their present levels of academic performance when delivering content-rich lessons. Therefore, it is imperative to meet the needs of the under-, over- and average performers across all grade levels. By the way, I really like the website…I am glad I stumbled across it!

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  6. I think part of the problem is that our schools are still very much organized on industrial age practices (batches of students, sorted by ‘date of manufacture’) which isn’t really meeting the needs of the digital age.

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  7. Every parent thinks that their child is a genius. I have found that the children of the parent who is most connected or most vocal usually get their child placed in the best class no matter the child’s ability. The less connected child is usually left behind. I have seen children who were placed in gifted program in elementary school who are burnt out by high school and barely graduate. I have also seen children who parent pushed them into specialty schools who perform average in their later years. In conclusion there should be a standard for every student and the teacher should work to achieve this standard. Parent can add to this standard if they feel that their child can take on the extra work.

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