8 June 2013

Learning Boundaries, Learning Risks

Six months into the year 2013 and I should be rejoicing with positive progression in my teaching. 

The month of June, and I should be declaring all my successes as an educator. 

As I stumble across the writings of others, I rejoice in their achievements and successes in their classrooms. These blog entries remind me that successful classrooms are indeed possible. I have experienced them as well. 

Which brings me to my past 6 months, for which I will neither highlight successes nor achievements. Teaching does not imply learning. Learning, does not  necessarily need teaching. Ideally, I would wish they were inherently linked, but reality is different. A lot of learning takes place outside the classroom, without teaching. And there are always stories of  success and failures over a period of six months.  Neither will leave an infinitive mark on the world. Nevertheless  I can not help but reflect on the  inherent tensions in educational practices and how they may influence stories of success and failure. 

Over the past six months I have taught F2F in two very different contexts - my regular HigherEd context and as an EdTech voluntary trainer in a developing country. Despite the many differences in each context, two facts grimly remain on my mind:

1 - digital devices, whether desktops, laptops or iPads will not guarantee learning nor ensure motivation;

2 - there needs to be learner responsibility in the learning process. 

Increasingly teachers come under fire for using or not using digital tech. Despite already being the year 2013, discourse on "21st Century Learning" still is debated and promoted. Time to move on. Time to understand that bringing digital devices into classrooms is not the magic cure to all the incoherences  and tensions in education. Time to understand that yes, digital tools need to be introduced in context and have as much underlying pedagogical purposes in the classroom,  as the bits of paper which were used before. 

Except now we have a difference: whereas in the past, those strips and bits of paper were strewn all over the floor and the teacher would painfully have to collect them, spend endless time organising them back into envelopes and filing them, today, digital tools allow learners to display their work to all, without the teacher-centredness of distributing and collecting bits of paper. In such a context, the thinking and development of ideas and projects goes deeper - not merely a quick consumption of a game which will lie forgotten on the classroom floor. 

The degree of learning is deeper as the degree of risk is higher.

This applies to both teachers and students.  Learning cannot be regarded as sitting back and waiting for the edutertainment to begin. Yes, there is uncertainty in learning, for learning is a messy process, a chaotic experience. However, for learning to take place, whether with teaching or without, one needs to take those steps in uncertainty. Responsibility is critical, otherwise, one remains in the edutertainment zone, mindless and inconsequential. 

This is not to say that engaging and fun activities should not be introduced the teacher - by no means. Creative use of images, stories, mini presentations, mini research projects and so many other activities all have a place in classrooms (many mentioned in this blog). Yet learning takes practice, risk taking is inherent in learning and learner responsibility needs to be part of the process. 

In the popplet above, I include a visual on Social and Emotional Learning, which can be understood as:

  • Self-awareness: The ability to accurately recognize one’s emotions and thoughts and their influence on behavior. This includes accurately assessing one’s strengths and limitations and possessing a well-grounded sense of confidence and optimism.
  • Self-management: The ability to regulate one’s emotions, thoughts, and behaviors effectively in different situations. This includes managing stress, controlling impulses, motivating oneself, and setting and working toward achieving personal and academic goals.
  • Social awareness: The ability to take the perspective of and empathize with others from diverse backgrounds and cultures, to understand social and ethical norms for behavior, and to recognize family, school, and community resources and supports.
  • Relationship skills: The ability to establish and maintain healthy and rewarding relationships with diverse individuals and groups. This includes communicating clearly, listening actively, cooperating, resisting inappropriate social pressure, negotiating conflict constructively, and seeking and offering help when needed.
  • Responsible decision-making: The ability to make constructive and respectful choices about personal behavior and social interactions based on consideration of ethical standards, safety concerns, social norms, the realistic evaluation of consequences of various actions, and the well-being of self and others.
There will always be different learning styles among a group of learners. Educators themselves may demonstrate and model in different ways, hoping to meet the varied learning styles. None of this will matter much without learner training in SEL. 

As my semester finally draws closer to its end, I reflect on  my own risks, my own uncertainties  and learning process as an educator. 

One thing remains certain in my mind: the need to constantly connect reflection and practice,  connecting practice to reflection. 

And the need to connect learners - whether they be teachers or students - to how they best can learn for themselves.  Whether by whetting their curiosity or opening up different corridors of learning experiences, accepting that risk and uncertainty is part of learning should be calmly accepted. 

How do you view uncertainty in learning?



  1. Hey Cristina,

    Thanks for the useful blog post, got me thinking on a Sunday, I was just falling asleep reading a novel, so nice to have something to chew on this afternoon. I totally agree that students have to take their own responsibility for learning, as do teachers for becoming better teachers.

    I had a great FCE group this year, exam yesterday, and I'm sure they will all do well because they were all autonomous learners. I think we can motivate students, but at the end of the day if they don't want to learn they won't pick anything up.

    Thanks again


  2. HI Barry,

    Thank you for taking time to read and share your thoughts. Responsibility and learner autonomy are often on my mind; sometimes, more than whatever it is one teaches, it that ability to take responsibility for one's choices and learning that needs to be instilled in classrooms.

    Definitely a complex issue as so many other cultural and individual factors come into play. But as educators, we do a dis-service to our students if we don't try.

    I with your students all the very best in their FCE - mine have been messaging today with good news of having passed their (dreaded) IELTS! My week has certainly begun on a happy note :-)