Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Layers of Learning

Imagine that schools were communities of learning. What would it look like? How would it be different from what we typically do now? My colleague Dixie Good and I have many opportunities to observe and think about learning communities; sadly, most of the communities we observe are not schools. Our experience suggests some thoughts about schools and learning that… well, I don’t think Arne Duncan would approve.

Teacher teams in the St. Vrain school district (Longmont, CO) are embarking on action research projects that explore the effectiveness of various educational technologies: Document cameras; blogs; Google Apps; iPods;… How can they use such tools with their students to create demonstrable impact on what the kids know and can do? In September team leaders participated in a workshop led by action researchers connected with Colorado State University to learn how to guide their respective teams’ projects. 

Consider the layers involved. 
  • Leaders of teacher teams from across the district work in collaborative groupings to design action research questions and devise data collection plans for inquiries they will pursue with their team leader colleagues. 
  • The team leaders are also preparing to guide their school teammates in action research projects. 
  • All of these projects, of course, complement the work of each individual teacher with her own students. 
  • The team leaders are guided by a team of facilitators who, for the most part, are themselves classroom teachers. As they facilitate the team leaders' work, the CSU facilitators are also learning – about their own research questions, for example, and about how to guide professional learners. 
  • Dixie Good and I observe and participate so that we can give evaluative feedback to our colleagues, Michelle Bourgeois and Bud Hunt (who are leading this professional learning process). Our observations and participation help us to learn about action research as well as how people learn.
One of the CSU folks, a classroom teacher, said to Dixie, “I was dead professionally. And then I connected with this group. And then everything about my work became more interesting.”

The discourse of education (even the word “education” itself) is largely about what adults do to/for kids. Instruct. Teach. Close achievement gaps. It evokes an externally imposed, mostly detached view of the learning process. Behaviorism in its most thorough manifestation. That's how we conduct school, but it's not how we learn. Learning is personal and subjective. It happens when the receptors within each of us connect to the stimuli flowing among and around us, prompting us to construct networks of affinity and meaning.

Let me rephrase my opening questions: What if every person in a school were continuously engaged in the work of learning?


  1. Answer: We would have a very positive and fun environment. The best part of school is the learning. I know this is a simplistic answer but my experience tells me that schools that encourage learning are happy places!

  2. Good call, Scott! Increasingly I wonder whether what we learn matters as much as how we learn.