ETAD, Learning, Motivation, Professional Development

Learners or Students???

Is there a difference between students and learners?  This question has been rattling around in my brain for a while now. In fact it started almost 2 years ago when I read this amazing post about learners and students by David Warlick.  I began noticing that many people seemed to use the two words interchangeably as if they meant the same thing…but do they really?  In looking through dictionary definitions I failed to find any clarity.  Students are defined most frequently as people who learn in school.  Most dictionaries do not define learner.  Instead they direct you to the word learn and by so doing make the connection that learners are ones who learn.  All of the definitions gave me the impression that learners and students were the same thing and that the words could be used interchangeably.  

For me this just doesn’t feel right.  These definitions seem to fall short of capturing the true essence of what students and learners were.  So I’m back to my original question.  With the realization that the definition needs to come from me and be rooted in my experiences.

What is a student?  In my mind a student is a person who is learning, typically in a formal environment or institution.  Students are placed into grade alike classrooms, assessed and evaluated and moved on through the system one grade after another.  When I think of students I think of books, backpacks, desks, rows, and order.  Order in the classroom, order in the school, order in the system that is providing the education.  

Digging into my past experiences as a student in school I have many happy memories.   I was a great student.  I knew the “stuff” I was told I needed to know.  I knew how to be successful because I could easily figure out what teachers wanted from me.  I knew the game of school, what the rules were, how to follow them and could easily jump through all of the hoops.  I could memorize facts, poems, information, formulas and then recall them for my teachers when asked to do so.  I loved tests and exams because they allowed me to show how smart I was and almost always provided me with a chance to shine. 

When I became a teacher I realized that I had a problem…my learning as a student was not always helpful.  Knowing “stuff” didn’t matter, knowing “stuff” didn’t help the children in my class learn it, knowing “stuff” didn’t help me become a better teacher. What I needed to learn was not the “stuff” but how to use it, adapt it, make it my own and more importantly, make it work for my students.  From that day forward I needed to become a learner.

What was different?  As a learner I wanted feedback not grades.  I sought out opportunities for collaboration not competition.  I was in control of my learning and pursued not only areas of personal passion but also areas where I needed to grow to better support the learners in my classroom.  This learning was not always orderly in fact it was often very messy but it empowered me in ways that my learning as a student never did.  As a learner my learning was not confined by a building, a time or a preset curriculum it was set by me.  This learning was relevant, authentic, engaging and extremely satisfying

My inquiry is not over on this topic but I do believe that there IS a difference between being a learner and being a student.  This difference appears to lie largely in who is in control of the learning and in the creation of understanding that transcends any one place and time. 

ETAD, Learning, Motivation, Teaching and Instruction

Creating Motivation

Motivation is simply the desire to do things…be it to exercise, play, create or learn, motivation is what drives us to do the things we do.  Student motivation is a critical ingredient in learning.  Students need to want to actively participate and engage in their learning in order for it to occur.  Without motivation even the strongest students can fail to learn.  It is often easy to put the full responsibility for motivation on the student…after all it lives within them. However, students are not the only ones who have responsibility for motivation within our classrooms.  Teachers NEED to accept some of the responsibility as well.  Sir Ken Robinson compares teachers to gardeners in a way that is not only eloquent but also thought-provoking.   Gardeners add elements such as water, fertilizer, sun or shade to encourage plants to grow.  They do not make the plant grow…the plant does that itself.  Gardeners creates the conditions that can allow the plant to flourish.   Teachers also add ingredients through both content and process that create conditions for students to feel motivated and where learning can flourish.  Given the right conditions any learner can and will grow.  

Great teachers inspire motivation and learning.  They create environments where learners feel empowered, impassioned, and engaged.  They know their students, they know their content and they know how to motivate.   Up until a few years ago I thought motivation came exclusively from the content of my curriculum.  My learners were always motivated when it was time to learn about dinosaurs or study the oceans.  They were much less motivated when we were learning about adding or subtracting.  I had adopted and shared with my students attitude of “this too shall pass” and “grin and bear it”.  But what if I had thought like a gardener?  What if I would have said this the “soil” I have so what ingredients can I add to make my plants flourish? 

I believe that John Keller’s ARCS Model holds valuable insight into creating an environment that can inspire student motivation to learn.  Keller identifies four essential conditions:

AAttention What will grab students’ attention, arouse their curiosity and peak their interest?  This may come from the content but it can also come from the processes we use to teach.  Inquiry, problem solving, collaborative learning and choice can be very effective in motivating students to want to engage in learning.  

RRelevance  What is the link between the learning and the learners’ needs, interests, and motives?  Why would they want or need to learn this?  Just like in attention, relevance can come from the content and/or the processes we use.  Students may see a direct link between what we are teaching and their lives outside of the school.  They might also see relevance in opportunities that allow them to engage with others and socially construct their learning.   

CConfidence What can be put in place to help the learner feel like they can succeed in the task?  What can make them feel like they have something to contribute? This is where the teacher really needs to know the students.  Know their strengths and capitalize on them.  Know their weaknesses and support them.  Create an environment where “I think I can” is the motto.

SSatisfaction How can we celebrate the learning? the learner? the contributions that created success?  Sometimes this celebration can simply happen inside of the learner as they acknowledge a job well done.  Sometimes we as teacher need to create the conditions where this celebration can happen out loud.  Either way we need make time to honor the learning and the accomplishments of the learner. 

Growth is possible at anytime if the conditions are right.