For many of us, learning is something we just do. It’s not something we learn to do well.
Sure, we all understand that some people are better or faster at learning than others. But that’s often attributed (incorrectly) to “natural ability”. We think some people are just smarter than others.
As teachers, our job is to teach. We went to university to learn how to teach reading, science or music. We were told how students learn. But how many of us were taught pedagogy for teaching students to become better learners? Where was the subject “Teaching Learning”?
There’s a gap in our teaching practice, and that gap is Learner Agency. How do we teach students to become better learners? How do we identify the type of learner a student is? And what behaviours should we target to help them become better learners?
Our curriculum guides and professional conversations are dominated by:
- What needs to be learned (curriculum)?
- How much was learned (coverage)?
- How well was it learned (assessment)?
- Which students have learned more (standardising)?
… but they do not explore how to teach students to become better learners.
In my new book, The Learning Landscape, I outline a powerful metaphor for visualising the learning process. This metaphor allows us to engage in a meaningful conversation on how to help students become better learners.
The metaphor of the Learning Landscape maps the abstract concept of learning as a physical journey in the real world. In doing so, I make the learning process tangible and accessible to learners. I give both teachers and students a way to think about how we develop as learners and increase our Learner Agency.
Our learning journey takes us across the Learning Landscape. As we explore far and wide, we uncover new knowledge and understandings.
We also encounter challenges in the form of four different types of Challenge Pits™. Conquering these challenges, by climbing out of these Pits, requires learners to develop their climbing skills so they can ascend high up the mountains of expertise.
In my book, the concept of Learner Agency is defined by how effectively you can move through the Learning Landscape. Becoming a more effective learner is analogous to becoming a better, more effective climber.
Becoming a better climber, and therefore increasing Learner Agency, relates to how you:
- Develop your attitude towards taking on challenges and the types of challenges you take on.
- Prepare and equip yourself with the Habits of Mind to climb out of a Challenge Pit™.
- Use information from feedback and mistakes to improve.
- Distribute your time and energy to climb higher in the Learning Landscape.
Far from being about “natural ability”, how effectively you move through the Learning Landscape, how you create your learning journey and build your backstory all come down to what you do! And that’s something that can be understood and taught through this powerful analogy.
For teachers, developing Learner Agency is about using the metaphor of the Learning Landscape to help students understand the learning process. It’s about helping them recognise that how well they learn and what they achieve comes down to a set of learnable actions – not who they are. We are all capable of learning how to become better learners!
More importantly, the Learning Landscape offers teachers a way to talk about the learning process that helps develop Learner Agency. Using a set of observable behaviours related to the qualities above, teachers can identify a student as a particular type of learner.
These observations allow the teacher to give specific and tailored formative feedback to students to lead them on their journey towards becoming better learners.
Further, this analogy guides our pedagogy to match the “learning to learn” needs of the student, ensuring we target and tailor our practice.
With the Learning Landscape, you don’t ask students to put in “more” effort. You provide explicit, tailored instruction on how they can become better learners!
James Anderson is a speaker, author and educator who is passionate about helping fellow educators develop students as better learners. James’ work combines Growth Mindset with Habits of Mind and Practice to create Learning Agility. He puts the growth back into Growth Mindset. And through creating and describing the Mindset Continuum, he provides the cornerstone for effective Growth Mindset interventions.
James is a Certified Speaking Professional and speaks regularly at conferences around the world. He has published several books including Succeeding with Habits of Mind, The Agile Learner, The Mindset Continuum and The Learning Landscape.
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