Since the panel discussion on November 17th, I’ve been pondering the idea of “social learning.” Dean Shareski made a really interesting point that the advantage schools have over any other institution is that we have students and he’s absolutely right. I was also very fortunate to have Mark Carbone visit my 3UU students and he also raised this idea with my students. With both of those deep thinkers discussing this idea, I’ve been thinking about how we make learning social and reflecting on my own practice.
When I think about my own learning, I do spend a lot of time reading and expanding my knowledge base, but where my deep critical thinking happens is through the thought-provoking conversations I have with others. I have a number of people that I discuss my ideas with and I feel so much more energized and inspired after I collaborate with a peer. The other important detail is that I’m not being assessed on my learning. I’m learning for my own benefit about topics in which I’m interested.
It makes me then think about the classroom. I think in many cases that although classes do group work, we don’t value the concept of social learning. As all the panelists mentioned, we are social beings and it’s human nature to share so we need should be honouring that component of human life in the classroom. Students want to share and deconstruct their thinking but so many times they are told that they need to work on their own because they are going to be assessed at the end of a unit.
In my classroom, I’m encouraging the idea of open dialogue and that we need to share our thinking in whatever form makes sense for each student. I have students who use the white boards to brainstorm and draw connections, as well as others who have roaring conversations with their peers face to face in the classroom, others who open a Google Doc and share it with their peers then add their ideas and discuss both out loud in class but also through comments on the doc, and in many cases, a combination of all three. It’s fascinating to watch how they now naturally share their thinking in my classroom, but it has taken a lot of work to create a culture of sharing as the idea of keeping learning to ourselves is ever present in the education system.
I’m also considering this idea by observing my own children. They are five and almost three and they share everything they learn with us. My five year old is currently learning to read and as she discovers more words and strategies to figure out unknown words, she wants to share with us. On our end, we have allowed her to gravitate towards books she is interested in as well as don’t push her to achieve a specific standard. She has autonomy and intrinsic motivation and we are helping, guiding, and cheering her on.
At the heart of it, that’s what I feel that we should be doing as educators. We should be creating a culture that promotes social learning as a means of achieving the ultimate goal of deepening the learning in the classroom. Sharing and working together is a natural human instinct and if schools want to stay relevant, then it’s an area that requires more focus.