Saturday, May 11, 2013

Conditions for Learning

In the book The Learning Tree: Overcoming Learning Disabilities from the Ground Up Stanley Greenspan and Nancy Thorndick Greenspan propose that "becoming a better thinking ins't primarily about learning facts. It's about mastering senses, movement, and emotions"  and then go on to say "intelligence is the progressive transformation of our emotions to produce more mature thinking abilities.  Said another way, each transformation builds higher levels of thinking and intelligence into a view of the world where each sense and emotion is strongly developed and integrated with the rest."

Pedagogy is the study of teaching methods, including the aims of education and the ways in which such goals may be achieved.  How we define what learning, thinking and intelligence are impacts our practice as educators.  The combination of taking graduate in both neurology and inclusive educational practices, changes that are being made by Alberta Education and the experiences that I've had in my job over the past few years has put in a place of constantly questioning these definitions.  Again and again, it seems to come back to the idea that (1) sensory modulation and processing and (2) social and emotional thinking are critical building blocks for student learning. 

I don't think anyone would argue around the importance of these.  I think the question we should be exploring is how explicitly should be teaching these things on the universal level and how important they are at the intervention level.  Perhaps a necessary condition for learning is a classroom environment that focuses on self-regulation and social-emotional thinking skills as much as it focuses on traditional academic courses. 

But in the spirit of inclusivity, I'm not convinced that these things need to be separate from traditional academic courses.  I'm reminded of Alberta Educations 21st Century Learning visual...

The subject/discipline areas are further out on the circle with the competencies inside of the circle.  Developing the competencies become a critical part of learning while the actual content becomes less important.  Ideally we want to get to the comptencies outlined in this document but initially it seems that we need to build that base of social-emotional thinking skills and self-regulated learning skills.  When working with students with complex needs these big picture ideas need to be broken down further in to the little steps and sometimes also need to be looked at from a developmental perspective. To appropriately support some students we need to really get to the root of it.  Getting to the root of it with these students serves all students as it allows us to understand how to support all student's learning. 
It also ties perfectly in to the concept of Universal Design for Learning.  By giving students multiple means of representation, expression and engagement, students are encouraged to come to understand themselves as learners.  They come to understand their processing strengths and weaknesses and use this awareness to ensure that they are making choices that allow for optimum learning.  Learning is about meaning making and meaning making involves interaction with people.  That indirection may be direct (dialogue, connection on internet...etc.) or indirect (reading, researching, watching video...etc.) but it is still interaction with someone else's thoughts.  Learning cannot happen without social-emotional thinking skills. 
The bottom line is that if a student is having trouble learning, perhaps it is about those literacy and numeracy skills but I think we also have to deeply consider what we can do to support sensory modulation and regulation and social-emotional thinking as developing and supporting these skills ensures that we are supporting learning at the student's ability level rather than remediating learning at a level that may be reflective a skill deficiet in one of these areas. 
Are we doing this or do we fall back on remediation and "teaching kids at their level" rather than working to create the right conditions for learning for that student. 
And my last question for this post... is it possible that we could focus on "conditions for learning" in every situation where we currently focus on "behaviour"?   

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