Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Advice from David Perkins to make learning Whole

David Perkin's book 'Make Learning Whole' concludes each chapter with very practical advice to create positive integrated learning environments.

Advice from David Perkins 'Making learning Whole'

One: 'Play the whole game' not fragmented bits.

The problem Perkins says is there is too much problem solving ( teachers problems ) and not enough problem finding - or figuring out often 'messy' open ended investigations. 'Playing the whole game' is the solution resulting in some sort of inquiry or performance. It is not just about content but getting better at things, it requires thinking with what you know to go further, it is about finding explanations and justifications.It involves curiosity, discovery, creativity, and camaraderie. It is not just discovery learning - it needs strong guidance gradually faded back.

To get students involved in any learning game teachers need to present 'threshold experiences' suited to the students developmental level. And students need to see the point of the game in any content area.

The best 'threshold experiences are playing 'junior versions' that provides students opportunities to see the 'big picture' of the activity . All 'games' have 'hard bits' to practice. 'Whole language' is a good example but with the inclusion of necessary skill development so to 'play the game' of reading well. 'Junior' versions can be played in subject areas such as mathematics or cross curricular investigation that integrate the total curriculum. 'Junior versions' need to involve learners at different skill levels, and need to challenge students to get better at the game, and, to 'stick', students need plenty of practice.

Ideally the language and numeracy blocks ought to contribute to students being able to involve themselves skillfully in such bigger open ended investigations.

The critical thing is that students can 'perform the the game' ( reading, maths, an inquiry investigation) with flexibility and understanding.

Teachers need to:

1 Try to introduce all learning as a kind of inquiry or performance involving problem finding and solving learning that students see the point of it.

2 Such learning should produce something worthwhile - a solution, greater understanding or research that students value.

3 The best way is to find a 'junior version' of the activity, a 'threshold activity', that is attractive to the learners. A ' junior version' that stimulates curiosity, discovery, imagination camaraderie and creativity.

4 Such 'threshold' activities need to provide opportunities for meaningful practice

Two: 'Make the game worth playing'.

Worthwhile games have intrinsic motivation. Students often start school highly enthusiastic but become increasingly less so over the years as schools focus on measureable achievement rather than developing a love of the game of learning. Most students simply forget most of what they are taught - it does not 'connect' or 'stick'.

Worthwhile learning resonates with learners' interests and concerns, and provides opportunities for greater success, insight and understanding. Teachers need to introduce 'generative' topics to develop powerful learning. Good topics provide, writes Perkins, 'enlightenment, empowerment, and responsibility'. Topics, or 'junior versions' of any game, must provide reason for students to want to learn more. Sometimes students don't know what they want until they have had a significant amount of experience through playing 'junior versions'. A good topic provides the opportunity for students to develop their understanding and provides opportunities for guided choices and teacher feedback to develop meaningful skills. Teachers need to provide a 'culture of opportunity' to 'make games worth playing', to communicate high expectations for all learners and toencourage the value of practice and effort.

The first step is choosing a game worth playing.

Teachers need to:

1 Search for 'generative' topics that illuminate fundamental questions of human learning.

2 Organize learning, through 'Junior versions', that develop personal goals, worthwhile performances and ongoing assessment.

3 Provide a climate of high expectation for all students to develop proactive mindsets and provide step by step assistance so students can improve their learning capacity.

4 Provide opportunities for students choice,creativity and imagination as their confidence and skill develops

Three: 'Work on the hard bits'

Students need to appreciate that to get better they need to work on and practice the 'hard bits'. If the desire to get better at playing the game is present such practice is understood as necessary. 'Hard bits' need to be valued as a means to improve and requires ongoing assessment by both the teacher and the students. Feedback need to focus on strengths and shortfalls and should clarify intentions, provide appreciation and indicate concerns and suggestions for 'next time'.

Feedback fails to 'stick' unless it is infused back into the setting of the whole game. After any separate 'hard bit' lesson students need an opportunity to make meaningful use of it for it to be integrated. Deliberate practice is needed, with experience teachers will gain insight into the areas of 'troublesome knowledge' to assist students. 'Junior versions' themselves are a way to practice missing skills. 'Learning conversation' with students having difficulty - with students describing their actions- are another way of finding problem areas.

Teachers need to:

1 Help students work on the 'hard bits that feedback into the 'whole game'.

2 Figure out ways to give students frequent rich feedback from themselves or other students.

3 Embrace 'hard bits' and provide actionable feedback and immediate opportunities to apply.

4 Try to anticipate 'hard bits' and organise teaching to assist.

5 Make use of students specific difficulties to help teach smarter.

6 Find some 'whole game' exercises that focus on practicing the targeted 'hard bits'

Four: 'Play out of town' - the issues of transfer.

People often do not transfer learning in one context to another ( 'they can't play out of town). If the task is similar ( reading another book) then 'near transfer' applies. It it involves reading in an inquiry situation it might not ( 'far transfer'). To develop transfer students need to build up 'rich extensible action repertoires' .

Transfer does not happen by itself. It can only be achieved if the pattern of learning favours it. Teachers need to pay attention to developing transfer ensuring that students develop awareness to make use of skills learnt in other situations.

The more students are encouraged to transfer learning by being involved in situations that require them to use such skills the more learning is transferred. Transfer involves both content and process. Teachers can point out where transfer is required by doing activities close to the original application ( called 'hugging') or in a new situation ( Perkin's calls this 'playing out of town') and by reminding students of the need to use previous learning ( called 'bridging' ).

Teachers need to make the most of transfer opportunities.

1 Ask how can I help students make connections?

2 Focus on areas where transfer might be a problem -applying reading or maths skills to inquiry topics.

3 Design learning activities that involve transfer - teaching research skills in literacy block to integrate into the current class inquiry study.

4 Remind students of their prior knowledge of content and process ( 'key competencies').

Five: 'Uncover the hidden game'.

Almost everything people learn in school has its hidden aspects. Getting good at things means getting below the surface. What is often missing is self management- ways of analyzing, questioning, clarifying problems and then organising approaches. To do this students need to be able to explain things to themselves - to be aware of strategies, for example, in reading new texts. Thinking about thinking , to be successful, need to undertaken and made explicit in real contexts ( or 'whole games'). Each learning area, or discipline, has its own 'hidden games' to appreciate and once again these are best learnt by being involved in 'Junior games' - by being mathematicians so as to 'surface' how mathematicians work.

What teachers can do to make 'visible' 'hidden' learning - 'key competencies'

1 Reveal 'hidden' strategies to students through examples and discussion, or help students discover them for themselves with your help.

2 Keep things simple at first with very 'junior versions' .

3 Encourage self management and 'good moves'.

4 Help student appreciate the learning process - how the 'game is played' in any learning area - to think like scientists.

Six; 'Learn from the team' - to learn from and with others.

Too much of schooling, Perkin writes, 'is a solo activity' - reading and listening rather than interacting. In life we generally learn ( or 'play whole games') together; learning is a collective enterprise. To achieve this teachers need to set up 'participation structures' to ensure all students are involved. Focused group work is required. 'Newcomers' can be ' scaffolded' and helped just above their developmental level and by 'participating as apprentices' graduallay become more involved. Ideas thrive in an environment of discussion and collaboration while undertaking real tasks ( or 'whole games') that result in group performances or presentations. Peer, or small group problem solving, (with each group working on different elements of problem), active listening, thinking aloud, cross age tutoring, and reciprocal reading are ways of working on the 'hard parts' and are examples of learning from each other. Demonstrations and sharing ideas and critiques of each others work are other means of learning from others. Teachers can also share ideas by circulating around groups 'nudging, prodding and cajoling to help students in advance' with the 'hard bits'; focused teaching.

All the above builds up a 'community of practice' where students actively share and talk about what is on their mind and what they have learnt, or need to learn. This is an ideal situation to to integrate newcomers to the room - this applies to new school staff as well as class members. The school as a inquiry or learning community.
Such collegial sharing 'makes the game worthwhile'.

What teachers can do to ensure 'learning from the team'.

1 Use various well defined group partciation activies.

2 Think of different ways for students to share and help each other.

3 Plan ways to involve newcomers ( beginners) to any activity: pair problem solving, 'jig saw' tasks, cross age tutoring, debates, project based learning.

4 Make use of a 'demonstration - lecture- students at work, and critique' ( reflection) approach that 'allows students to watch and learn from one another'. The same applies for teacher professional development.

Seven : 'learn the game of learning'.

Students need to 'drivers' of their own learning and not 'passengers' - much of this sense of agency will come from playing 'whole games. To be 'drivers' students need to make their own choices. Too easily learning can be micromanaged and, if so, students will not develop a 'take charge mindset. We need to teach them to feel what it is like to 'drive their own learning' - and there is no other way without letting them drive. This about student agency -about developing classrooms that work happily even without the teachers presence. Teachers in charge of their own learning. Such 'driver-seat school cultures are very good for building the skills and dispositions of learning to learn ' - the 'key competencies' required for unknown times. Students in such classes do not easily give up as they have learnt to value effort and responsibility for their own learning. How teachers relate to students, the messages they give about learning, are vital to develop 'confident, creative and connected' learners able to 'seek , use and create their own knowledge'. 'Such students have been drawn into deep and self regulated engagement in learning'. Creating opportunistic learning situations, high expectations for all students, realistic learning contexts,modeling, coaching, scaffolding, and focused feedback to make learning 'visible' or explicit are key teacher ingredients. Any separate stand alone lessons, if necessary to practice 'hard bits', need to be put to use as soon as possible. Such teaching, Perkin's writes, ' does not call fr absolute freedom, but rather a measured latitude that supports as much as it frees, guides as much as it permits, shapes as much as it allows'.

All the previous six points contribute to developing to students learning the lifelong 'game of learning'. All learning is preparation for the as yet unknown that lies ahead.

What teachers need to do to help all students learn the most important game of all - 'the game of learning.'

1 Do everything to capitalize on the 'driver not the passenger effect' in learning so learner develop skill in the 'game' of independent learning.

2 Develop a 'driver seat culture by developing patterns of interaction that allow learners significant autonomy and choice promoting self reflection and self- management ( the 'key competencies')

3 Develop a 'deep' rather than a 'shallow' approach to learning, one that values effort rather than a 'either you get it, or you don't, mindset'

4 Teach specific skills of self management and learning strategies to develop student independence and responsibility.

5 Bear in mind that good learning benefits from explicit attention not just by osmosis.

Natural learning is immediately meaningfull and worthwhile; new knowledge is woven in as needed as well as revealed by the unfolding experience; conflicting knowledge is negotiated through thought and experiments; and considerable learning happens automatically extended by reflection and targeted rehearsal and practice of 'hard bits'. Each learning experience represents the larger 'game of learning'.

'We are teaching today for tomorrow' Perkin's concludes. The essential ingredient is the first principle - 'play the whole game' - or a 'junior version'. 'Teach today what students will need tomorrow'...'how to map it, how to cope with it and how to master the large understandings that can help make sense of it'.


Anonymous said...

Thanks Bruce for the holiday readings. With our fragmented system, full of isolated 'bits' and kids being taught things because some 'expert' thinks they might need it, it is no wonder so many fail.

New thinking is required - or, more to the point, putting into practice what we already know!

Anonymous said...

Thanks Bruce for the insights from Perkins' writing. His perspective on educational matters connects quite well with those of Alfie Kohn.

I remember "playing the game of school." As a current middle school and former high school principal, I see clear evidence that the "game" is alive and well in our public schools today.

Malbogats Blog - Making a Difference in Education said...

What Perkins shares resonates so perfectly with what Think Global School is trying to achieve - both in curriculum design and development and we how we implement our program. I really appreciate the key points made - very relevant. TGS opens its first Grade 9 class this September and it is really going to be an eye opener how the learning for these group of students unfolds. TGS is a mobile, international non profit school.

Anonymous said...

Hi Bruce
I'm going to do some work with Perkins and others such as Howard Gardner and Veronica Boix-Mansilla at Harvard's Future of Learning in Boston later this month. My school is a Harvard Project Zero partner school so we take this stuff pretty seriously because we see that it makes sense, it's teacher and kid friendly, and it's going to last; it's not an educational fad.
I'm very pleased that you're blogging from Taranaki, still the best place in the world