Deeper Learning = Empowered Learners

Episode 5 Podcast: Deeper Learning (or the Bridge between Inquiry, Traditional Literacies, and Digital Learning)

Chapter 5 in Maximizing School Librarian Leadership: Building Connections for Learning and Advocacy addresses the need for deep learning and strategies to achieve it. This chapter was intentionally offered as a bridge to the next chapter: “Digital Learning.”

The goal of deeper learning is what connects inquiry, traditional literacy learning, and digital learning. Deeper learning creates a condition in which students and educators are empowered to direct their own learning. What does it mean to be “empowered”? This Oxford Dictionary definition rings true to me: “the process of becoming stronger and more confident, especially in controlling one’s life and claiming one’s rights.”

If schools and school systems are creating opportunities for students and educators to become stronger in knowledge, skills, and dispositions, the result will be confident, empowered students and educators who control their own learning process.

Students
Chapter 3: Inquiry Learning is, in short, about educators guiding empowered students through the inquiry process. Connecting inquiry to required outcome targets and curriculum as well as to students’ background knowledge and interests is an ideal way to help students find relevance in schooling. It is also an ideal way for students and educators to meet required learning targets and find the “sweet spot” on a Venn diagram where required learning outcomes and personally meaningful learning overlap.

A focus on one “right answer,” high-stakes testing, and grades can rob students, who might otherwise experience joy in learning, of their sense of empowerment. Guiding students as they connect to or build prior knowledge provides a launch pad for thinking that helps students develop their own questions. Empowered students flourish when they pursue questions of their own choosing…

Educators
and so do educators. The Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) recently published an issue of Educational Leadership titled “When Teachers Lead Their Own Learning.” In their article “Choose Your Own Adventure: Action Research for PD,” Stephanie Dodman, Emma Zuidema, and Amy Kleiman note that “action research utilizes teachers’ own questions about their work and about student learning as they transform their classrooms (libraries) into dynamic learning laboratories” (2018, 75). The authors offer a process that includes valuing curiosity, purposefully paying attention to questions (or problems of practice), and establishing trust and motivation.

Through classroom-library and team collaboration or coplanning and coteaching, educators refine their questions about practice. Two heads (or more) are definitely better than one when clarifying goals and objectives for student learning and questions for action research. With the support of administrators and colleagues, educators learn from the data they collect, analyze, and act upon as well as the reflecting on outcomes. Action research leads to empowered instruction. In Maximizing School Librarian Leadership, action research is suggested as a component of educators’ professional portfolios (page 121-122).

T-I-M-E
Inquiry learning and action research are deeper learning. They are not superficial coverage of topics and materials or fly-by responses to learning challenges and problems of practice. Deeper learning, like deep reading, requires the investment of time—time to build background knowledge, time to formulate personally meaningful questions, time to pursue multiple resources and perspectives, time to collect, analyze, think critically about data, and reflect, time to organize and present new knowledge. Deeper learning simply requires t-i-m-e.

Inquiry learning and action research are ways that students and educators own their learning processes and products. These processes create empowered learners—youth and adults alike—who can apply the process to other learning experiences and transfer new knowledge to new learning situations.

Deeper learning builds behaviors that are applied in lifelong learning.

Questions for Discussion and Reflection

  1. In what ways does your school/district’s curriculum empower learners? Does it also dis-empower them? If so, how does it do so?
  2. How do educators demonstrate that inquiry “works” as a lifelong learning strategy?

Work Cited

Dodman, Stephanie, Emma Zuidema, and Amy Kleiman. 2018. “Choose Your Own Adventure: Action Research for PD.” Educational Leadership 76 (3): 72-76.

Curiosity in Spring

I love spring! All of the clichés are true. Spring is the herald of new beginnings and new growth. Spring offers promises; it invites hope.

Even in my Sonoran Desert home where the signs of the season can be a bit subtler than in lush green places, the spring blooms on the prickly pear and saguaro cacti are welcome sights to desert eyes.

When I served as a school librarian, I especially loved spring in the elementary library. (While I also enjoyed the feeling of spring in secondary school libraries, some of that feeling was not as conducive to academic learning…)

In spring, primary-age students noticed nature in a way they may have set aside over the winter months.

Students looked to the sky and remarked on cloud formations. They observed the effects of rain on plants. They felt and welcomed the change to warmer temperatures. They captured insects on the playground. And most exciting for their teachers, they brought their questions about the natural world into the classroom and into the library.

“Curiosity starts out as an impulse, an urge, but it pops out into the world as something more active, more searching: a question” (10).

The image above shows a child observing the bright orange caterpillars he found in a neighbor’s yard. Why were they that color? Didn’t the color mean that birds would see and eat them? He learned to harvest the plants on which he found the caterpillars and wondered whether or not they needed water as well as food. He learned about metamorphosis and asked questions about how these creatures would change their form. When he observed the chrysalis in the terrarium, he wondered if what he was seeing could possibly be what he had learned from asking questions.

It wasn’t until the butterfly emerged that he believed this process was real.

“Curiosity is a form a power, and also a form of courage” (15).

Through curiosity and questioning, he was motivated to learn more. He experienced the power of change—both in the caterpillar and in his own understanding of metamorphosis.

He also had the courage to do what he knew was “right.” He set the caterpillar turned butterfly free—free to be its transformed self.

Students’ curiosity and questioning are the driving forces in inquiry learning. In some schools, student-led inquiry is practiced in primary grades only; in a few schools, it is practiced throughout the grades.

In many schools, secondary students conduct traditional “research” projects that may not spring from students’ interests and as a result, fail to motivate and engage them. For some secondary students, their “senior project” may be their first K-12 learning experience prompted by their passion to pursue a personally meaningful question. It may be the first school-based learning experience that inspires them to take action in the world based on their new knowledge.

When school librarians aspire to coteach empowered learners, we show respect for students’ minds. We show that we trust them to be curious, to ask questions, to seek answers, to learn, and to take action in the world. We believe in the power of knowledge to transform students and the world.

Here’s to the opportunity spring affords us. Let’s see students’ learning and our instructional practice through fresh eyes. Let’s trust in the learning process—students’ and our own.

Let’s be curious – together – and reach for a “bigger life”!

Work Cited

Grazer, Brian, and Charles Fishman. A Curious Mind: The Secret to a Bigger Life. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2015.

Image Credit: From the Personal Collection of Judi Moreillon, Used with Permission