Reflective Learning

Reflect or Respond?

It is imprudent to respond without reflecting whether it be after reading a piece of news, watching a movie, or answering the teacher’s question, not to speak of many other circumstances of life.

Let us reflect on this issue by evaluating the benefits of reacting after due reflection. “I exist, therefore I reflect” reflects the underlying philosophy of this blog. Humans are uniquely endowed with the ability to reflect–a skill grossly underused by students. It is rather easy to react instantaneously, but requires training and discipline to engage in reflection.

Objective of Reflection

There is no better way to make good decisions than to reflect well before responding. The quality of the decision is only as good as the degree of reflection that goes into it. While reflection is not rocket science, its seeds ought to sown when children are young. Consequently they get a chance to learn and apply this skills for the rest of their lives.

Reflection in Education

Let us explore a practical scenario.

It is common for the teachers to expect learners to respond to a given question or issue.  If the question is simple, requiring recall of memory (lower order thinking skills), responding instantly is probably acceptable. Educational institution’s primary goal is to hone in higher order skills like: analysis, evaluation, synthesis, especially on issues where there is no one correct answer.  Given this scenario, the teacher should nurture students to apply the skills of reflection.

The issues require careful consideration all relevant factors–weighing the pros and cons, opportunities and threats, asking the “what if” questions, apart from considering alternatives. No doubt, these require of the learners to reflect and cannot be expected to post an instant response.

Reflective Process

Reflection is akin to what happens inside a tumble dryer.  It is the putting of certain issues or questions in our mind and going over it, like inside a tumble dryer–up and down, down and up, left to right and right to left. Like the clothes in the dryer, the issue or idea is tossed around, in our mind, in all directions. Overall, the reflective process helps one to better perceive the issue and see the possible implications and outcomes in a clearer way.

The answer that evolves as a result of the reflective process is bound to be far better in quality and more valuable. In other words, there is no learning that is devoid of reflection.

Fosteringreflective learning is one of the most valuable lessons that teachers can inculcate.  The outcome is worthwhile and long lasting. Students will be wiser and learn to think for themselves. In short, this is lifelong learning.

Teachers, how do you instill reflection in learners? I am keen to hear your ideas.

Students how do you practice reflection? Tell me your experience.

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Who will drive Teaching: Teachers or Students?

Driver: Teacher or Student?
Tradition wisdom dictates that teaching ought to drive learning. If the issue is viewed through the lens of the future, the picture might look reversed.  How students learn (learning process) in the next 10-15 years will largely determine how teachers ought to teach.
It is NOT the teachers, therefore, but students who will fix how the teaching is to be done to foster learning. This presumes that the education scenario will change significantly in the next decade or two. What is the rationale for this claim?
The Rationale
Let us consider two recent news items. First, Encyclopedia Britanica announced it will stop printing its iconic book sets (after doing it for 224 years); shifting the focus to digital encyclopedia and education tools.  Second, Amazon.Com’s sale of e-Books surpassed printed books for the first time in June 2011.
These two developments are not to be lightly taken. Their significance is enormous as it points to the on-coming tectonic shift in education. The advances in Information and Communication Technology (ICT) is not only driving the emergence of new business models, but changes every aspect of our lives, including the way teaching and learning happens.  The emergence of e-books, smart phones, tablets, cloud services and apps are not fads.
C-gen students are embracing ICT at a speed much faster than most X-gen teachers. Learners have no qualms using e-books, smart phones, iPads, apps and Blackboard or Moodle. They are quick to embrace Web 2.0 tools like Wikis, Blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Flicker as part of the learning process.  On the contrary, teachers’ response to ICT leaves much to be desired. Many prefer the traditional chalk and talk or PowerPoint and talk model.
The Widening Gulf
The education sector is facing a widening gulf between teachers and learners in the use of technology. The constant innovation in ICT goes to further aggravate the gulf between the teachers and students. In the long run, the education system cannot sustain, if the teachers and students choose to live in two different worlds. The market forces will find its own way to bridge the gulf. The question is: How?
The Choice
Teachers will be forced to change by embracing technology, though reluctantly. It will be foolhardy to expect students to go back in time and adapt to the traditional approach of teachers. There is, but, only one way to resolve the issue–teachers ought to change and align with the needs of students in using technology for teaching. Those who defy the change will be left high and dry, in the world of chalk and talk–talking to empty classrooms.
John Dewey said, “If we teach today’s students as we taught yesterday’s, we rob them of tomorrow.” He is absolutely right!  The teachers do not have the right to rob students’ of the joy of learning by refusing to embrace technology for teaching. ICT will arm the students to their teeth, depriving the teachers of the luxury of teaching without technology.
The Future of Teaching
The future of learning is fast changing even as I blog this piece. Technology is revolutionizing the education industry. And students are at the helm of the teaching process because they control it through the technology-infused learning process. It is the students and NOT the teachers who will drive the future of the teaching.
What are your thoughts on this issue? I love to hear your views and comments.

Publisher PowerPoint: Teacher to Adopt or Adapt?

Book publishers render a handy service to the teaching community–gifting readymade PowerPoint that accompany textbooks adopted for the courses. While they render valuable help to busy teachers, it comes with a downside issue that require ironing out by teachers. Let’s explore the two options facing teachers viz., should I adopt or adapt these PowerPoint.

Why ‘adopt’ is not the preferred choice?

Publisher PowerPoint is not intentionally designed with the aim of engaging students in the learning process. They play a good role in capturing the key points and concepts to be covered in the classroom. While coverage is its strength, coverage by itself is inadequate to engage learners. No thoughtful teacher, you will agree, steps into the classroom presuming that coverage is the prime responsibility. Teaching is an art that demands more than information presenting or coverage. If, engaging student is the way to foster learning, outright adoption of publisher PowerPoints is not the best approach.

Why ‘adapt’ is a prudent option?

Teachers are constantly faced with the challenge of making sense of the content to be taught so that students gain a deeper understanding and are better equipped to apply the learning. This naturally calls for the teacher to reflect and figure out meaningful and innovative ways to teach the content that goes beyond the mundane task of covering the content using the publisher resource. The teacher, therefore, may opt the prudent option of adapting publisher PowerPoint by modifying, dropping, adding, and tweaking the content to meet the intended goal of learning. No doubt, this calls for investment of time and effort. The pay-off can be substantial.

Tricky issue of how to ‘adapt’

Chip and Dan Heath in ‘Made to Stick‘ propound 6 excellent principles using the acronym SUCCESs. Sticky Learning, in their view, is driven by Sticky Teaching. This happens when students are able to remember, understand, apply and change their behavior or opinion or value. In other words, adapting publisher provided PowerPoint is the best way to facilitate sticky learning. Try adapting using these 6 principles of SUCCESs.

The way forward?

What should teachers do? Ditch publisher PowerPoint? Not at all! They have value, though not to the extent desired by students and teachers. The motto: adapt not adopt  when embraced help personalize the publisher PowerPoint and put the interest of the students above everything–mark of a Great Teacher!

Thou Shall Teach, not Present

A Teacher is a Teacher and not a Presenter. Often, the unintended role mix-up between the two is a cause for confusion that leaves the Teacher and the Students in disarray. What is the risk when the Teacher presumes his/her role to be a Presenter?

Students stand to lose! They end up being burdened with information rather than knowledge and understanding. Is that not the primary goal of presentation? Students leave the class not knowing how to apply the content. Why so? Typically, a presenter adopts one-way mode of communication, often aided by a PowerPoint loaded with a wealth of information. There is little or no scope for interaction or discussion during the class if the role is seen as Presenter. The ‘Curse of Knowledge‘ is an added villain enlarging the gulf between the Presenter and the Students.

Whereas, if one intentionally chooses to teach and refrain from the role of presenter there is higher likelihood of learning taking roots. It is only when teachers teach that students learn. Unfortunately, it shall not happen through presentation. THOU SHALL NOT PRESENT…