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Developing a Learning Culture and Learning-Centered Climate

18 Sep

3 Resources

Cultures of Learning

1. What is a culture of learning? The short answer, posted by an Edutopia blogger, is this:

a culture of learning is a collection of thinking habits, beliefs about self, and collaborative workflows that result in sustained critical learning.

2. Rethinking our default definitions of learning is a crucial first step for thinking developing course, college, campus and/or community cultures of learning. In this, UK scholar Frank Coffield notes an important first set in developing a learning-centered culture or classroom as moving from a learning-as-acquisition metaphor in which a teacher delivers facts and skills that a student will receive and apply, to a learning-as-participation metaphor that works toward engaging learners with peers and teachers in working with course materials and activities such that learners develop “significant changes in capability, understanding, knowledge, practices, attitudes or values [as] individuals, groups, organisations or society.” 

3. A “Development of Learning Cultures” document, created by teachers within Scotland’s colleges, first engaged me in thinking about creating learning-centered rather than student-centered classrooms, and about fostering learning-oriented classroom communities. In setting up a framework for the learning culture I would seek to foster in my own classroom, the10 principles that shape this document were inspirational, especially the ones reminding me to structure learning to build learners’ skills in constructing meaning and deepening knowledge over time, and to share with learners why they are working together as a central part of learning in and beyond the classroom.

2 Examples

How might teachers shape learning conversations with students?

1. I regularly share Coffield’s definition of learning with students; in both graduate and undergraduate courses, I assign an education blogger’s Students or Learners? matrix as an active reading assignment as preparation for an inclass or online discussion. With the Mode of Operation (below, from the 8-item matrix) as an example, I am reminded as a teacher to plan for learning, and to talk with the people enrolled in the course about strategies for generally engaging as learners with the course, and more specifically about why particular learning practices will (or will not) support them in doing the work required for engagement with course activities and assignments.

Mode of Operation Student: Compliant, group-disciplined, objective-oriented, and trainable Learner: Persevering, self-disciplined, group-, goal-and product-oriented, resourceful, and learning in order to produce and accomplish rather than simply achieving learning.

If you’d like to see how one teacher shapes an early-in-the-semester classroom conversation about learning, please check the video demonstration (below) created by a St. Catherine University professor for use in our Preparing Future Faculty classrooms (where students create scripts for learning conversations they can share with students at different points in the semester).

How might teachers attend to classroom community throughout the semester?

2. Because a sense of community is foundational to developing and sustaining a culture of learning in which students are supported to interact and collaborate, to build knowledge and acknowledge dissent, as well as to access and create learning resources, the Disability Resource Center created a “Creating Community in the Classroom” resource to provide ideas and further resources for instructors. If learners in your course have joined you in a classroom climate conversation, you might return to the conversation via this resources for a early midterm review of how things are going – what is working, what could work better. If you’ve not yet had that conversation with learners, these early weeks of a semester work for a conversation based on improving/extending current classroom community practices.

1 Activity

1. Learning requires change – in knowledge, in study skills/techniques/strategies, in interpersonal communication/interactions, and in understanding of one’s own beliefs about learning and learners. In this, learning requires agents – learners – to take new actions as part of entering into new learning context (whether moving from high school to college, or from new to a field to becoming a practitioner in a field).  As part of creating a learning culture and maintaining a community among learners in a course, it becomes necessary to talk with about learning, and to engage learners in setting and meeting personalised learning-to-learn goals.  My go-to activity for this – once we’ve begun that conversation about learning and explored examples of effective learning practices within a particular course – is to ask students to complete some version of a 3 – 2 – 1 activity or a minute paper, making use of stem questions, such as the ones below, that ask students to reflect on ways they’ll need to stretch – develop new practices, consider new approaches, expand ways of thinking – to meet new learning roles and learner responsibilities, and to one way they can share their strengths with other learners.

  • List 2 ways you will need to “stretch” to meet learning roles and/or learner responsibilities that we discussed earlier today in class; then, list 1 learning “strength” you bring to the learning work of this course. 
  • Describe how you might go about seeking support for one of your particular stretches – perhaps by making use of campus online and people resources, course supports noted in the syllabus, formal or informal interactions with course peers, and/or personal  networks beyond this campus.
  • What learning question or concern would you like me to address at this point? Please share that with me as the closing comment here.  
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