Learning Takes Time
Learning is an incredibly personal process. Teachers, like myself, might forget that every single student in our classroom has a different preference on how they would like to receive information. Some students enjoy listening to lectures, taking notes, and studying said notes each night before the next class.
I feel confident that these students exist, because I was one of those students.
For others, that sounds like a living nightmare. These students would much rather work on projects, with their peers, and figure out the information by exploring their way through it. Still more students aren’t even sure of how they would like to learn! Their teacher told them they “had to learn,” so they’re just putting in their time. They can’t remember the last time they were even given an option in how they learned, so why worry about ways they learn best? It’s a bit of a moot point if no teachers give you the opportunity to try different methods.
We all know it’s impossible to meet the need of every learner perfectly on any given day. However, when we give students choice in the pace of how they consume the content of our classroom, we can get a little bit closer to meeting their needs than we were before.
This year, I made it my priority to give students the opportunity to learn at their own pace. I was struck by my own experiences in graduate school. Currently, I’m in a blended program. I attend several Saturday classes throughout the semester, but the bulk of my learning happens online. As with most online learning at the university-level, it’s self-paced. There are suggested due dates for modules.
I thought I would hate this style of learning. No classroom? No instructor? No peers? It’s like they took out all of the best parts of education. But once I began the self-paced online portions of class, I loved it. I could take notes slowly and carefully, in different colored pens, with elaborate doodles down the margins. I could read late at night or early in the morning. I could watch and rewatch videos over and over until I felt comfortable with the content.
My learning schedule matched the speed of my learning. That seems like an easy equation to master, but most of our educational experiences don’t fit that template. Instead, our learning schedules are expected to match the speed of the teacher’s calendar.
Inspired by my own learning experiences and blended learning training, I want to give students the time they need to take in the information I present to them. Here’s how it looks:
In a system heavily inspired by Keri Lauxman’s Learn, Practice, Apply, Teach (LPAT) technique, I create folders of resources via our learning managements system of Schoology. They are typically titled Learn, Practice, Apply, Assessment. Keri, do you see the similarities? :)
Keri does an excellent job of explaining her system in this episode of The Suggestion Box. Below is my take.
In the Learn folder, students are provided with several ways to learn material. This could include anything from YouTube videos of me giving instruction to a Google Slides presentation. The goal is to offer students a few options for how they can gain the information. Then, students proceed to the Practice folder. Often times, the Practice folder is optional. It includes a Quizlet or a Kahoot. It’s simply something to help the students solidify the information in their mind.
Next comes the Apply folder. Here, students are required to demonstrate their knowledge. Sometimes this is a conversation with me, a discussion board, an activity, or an assignment. Really, as long as they’re proving to me that they know how to use what they picked up in the Learn folder, I’m a happy camper.
Finally, students enter the Assessment folder. This is where we start taking grades, measuring whether or not the student comprehended the information. Sometimes the Assessment folder includes a writing assignment, a project, or a quiz. It depends on the circumstances. As we all know, assessments should match the information being taught.
Sidebar: There are, of course, exceptions to this folder system. For example, we are currently working on writing our first essay. The writing process doesn’t fit as nicely into these folders. So, we don’t use them. Instead, we take it back to basics with outlines, rough drafts, and revisions. That’s the great part about teaching: being flexible is encouraged.
Students proceed through the LPAA folders on their own timeline. I give them a date to be done by, explain a few instructions, and set them loose. When I first began this process, I was nervous. I had many concerns.
What if they don’t read the instructions? What if they skip a folder? What if a student moves too slow, too fast, or just stares at the computer screen like a mindless zombie the entire time? What if, what if, what if?!
The reality (at least so far) has been pretty tame. Students, when given the opportunity to go at their own pace and choose the method of their learning, do pretty well. “I don’t have to listen to you talk for 90 minutes straight while mindlessly doodling? Score. I’ll do anything to avoid that.”
For the most part, my students seem sympathetic to my poorly made instructional videos. They understand that they’re meant to be tools so the whole class can work at their own pace. Sometimes students are even kind enough to subscribe to my channel. Right now, I’m at 8 whole subscribers! Watch out, [insert famous YouTuber who hasn’t done anything offensive yet]. I’m coming for your brand.
Okay, remember the title of this blog post? “Learning Takes Time?” Having committed to this world of personalized learning, where students take the time they need to get their work done at a comfortable pace, I am absolutely struck by how much time they take to learn and grasp the material. My class is moving at a slower pace than ever before.
I see the thought bubbles popping into view above your head. Let’s address those, because they’re valid.
“Oh, Andrea, of course they’re taking longer to do their work, you’ve given them all the time in the world! They’re dawdling. Oh, Andrea, they’re taking advantage of your generosity! Oh, Andrea, you have to push them to their full, fast-paced learning potential!”
(For clarification, these hypothetical comments do sound like Scarlett O’Hara in my head. Not sure why…)
I strongly disagree with these concerns. This year, my students have been WOR-king. They are putting in time, with their noses to the grindstone, knocking out folders like Muhammad Ali. When I walk around the classroom, I see pencils furiously writing, I see hands shooting in the air to ask questions, and I see consistent progress.
They are just taking longer in their learning process. They’re choosing to learn in a way that doesn’t stress them out quite so much. They’re taking a break to grab a drink. They’re pausing for just a few minutes to find a better song to listen to. They’re taking the time they need to process the information and hold onto it as best they can.
I’m going to say that again, in case anyone missed it: They’re taking the time they need to process the information and hold onto it as best they can.
The reality here is not that my students are learning slower with this self-paced learning style. My students have always learned slower than the pace that I’ve been teaching. The problem has simply been that I’ve gone on teaching and teaching and teaching, while they were left in the dust. And, correct me if I’m wrong, but that doesn’t seem like great teaching.
It’s not that me flipping through the notes on the slideshow faster was helping them learn faster. It’s not that me having them play a review game before they were done learning the content was helping them learn the aforementioned content. It’s not that me quizzing them on my lesson plan schedule was actually helping them get to the next objective faster.
It’s that I was leaving the majority of my students behind.
Learning takes time. And the amount of time it takes varies from student to student. I’m not saying we should wait for the student who chronically sneak-watches YouTube when they should be writing their reflection essays. I’m not saying we cater to kids who try to cheat the system (although clearly there is something happening with that kid that we should look into but this is not the blog post about that I just need to mention that these kids need help).
What I’m saying is that it’s time that we seriously look at the way that we’re teaching our students and ask ourselves, are we giving them the opportunity, the choice, to work at a pace that is best for them?
It’s not about slowing down our entire classroom to give everyone a magical amount of time that will be perfect for all student learning. It’s about us giving students the choice to take the time they need to learn. Then, if you’re classroom is anything like mine, you’ll find that authentic learning takes more time than you had given it in the past.