Reflection on Learning and Understanding

12 May

Learning is an essential developmental process performed by people for their entire lives. From an educational standpoint, teachers are a key influence for maximizing  each unique learner’s development and potential. As a teacher, I have observed that no two children are the same. Therefore, teachers need to consider that no universal method exists for addressing each learner’s needs. In fact, humans “come to formal education with a range of prior knowledge, skills, beliefs, and concepts that significantly influence what they notice about the environment and how they organize and interpret it. This, in turn, affects their abilities to remember, reason, solve problems, and acquire new knowledge” (Bransford, Brown and Cocking, 2000, p. 10). This challenges teachers to assess preconceptions of each child and make appropriate adjustments to individual learning. Overall, learning depends upon the learner, but with the right techniques every learner can reach their fullest potential.

Creating an environment that enhances all learners is possible by assessing previous knowledge and concepts about the topic at hand. I begin the school year with an assessment to see what each student understands about the year’s concepts. This allows me to set up a complete idea for where each student stands in his or her understanding. After that, I can help students through changing misconceptions and begin activation of new information. However, when a teacher neglects this assessment the student “may fail to grasp the new concepts and information that are taught, or they may learn them for purposes of a test but revert to their preconceptions outside the classroom” (Bransford et al., 2000, pp. 14-15), resulting in the teacher’s potential failure to develop deep, authentic understanding in the students. Teachers experience success by instructing the subject content in-depth and not covering only the surface on a variety of topics. Simply, it is more beneficial for students to learn one concept fully than to learn many concepts loosely. Children and college students alike have fallen victim to learning simple rules and not the applicable understanding each concept holds. Bransford, et al. offer an example of this dilemma through college physics students and children failing miserably when attempting to shoot a target in a real-life application. The college students could mathematically calculate exactly what was necessary to hit the target with the least amount of speed, but could not apply the concept to the real physical world (p. 16). How, then, does the learner develop understanding and the ability to apply concepts elsewhere? The authors suggest that teaching for the transfer of learning accomplishes greater understanding of concepts and the ability to apply them in other contexts.

Teaching for the transfer of learning is possible in four ways: (a) mastery of content, (b) time on task, (c) student self motivation, and (d) learning over multiple contexts. Mastery of content occurs when the teacher instructs for understanding and not only memorization of facts and rules. Knowing all the properties and functions of human arteries is important, but far better when one can recreate a fully functioning artery using the knowledge about how those properties affect function (Bransford et al., 2000). I have experienced both how time on task and student self motivation affect transfer of learning. World language is best acquired through immersion programs because students are listening to the target language all day . Exploratory programs of 30 minutes once or twice a week are only able to cover surface level experience of a different language, memorizing vocabulary, with no real application. This, in part, is due to the contrast in “time on task” between the two. Student motivation is another powerful variable for creating transfer of learning. Identifying highly motivated students is easy, the challenge is creating a desire to learn in those who are less motivated. Learning over multiple contexts enhances transfer of learning by exposing students to apply a single concept to solve a variety of problems outside the original context.

Technology is a resource that is useful to enhance student learning for achieving their greatest potential. In terms of student motivation, technology provides a platform that allows students to receive feedback promptly. A teacher offering proper, timely feedback for students will have a greater chance for learners taking ownership of their learning. Thus, resulting in students becoming “learning oriented” as opposed to “performance oriented” (Bransford et al., 2000, p. 23). When students have a deeper understanding, they are able to face new challenges and meet their highest potential.

References

Bransford, J., Brown, A.L. & Cocking, R. R. (2000), How People Learn: Brain,

                 Mind, Experience and Schoo(pp. 3-78). Washington, D.C.: National

                 Academy Press. Retrieved from

                 http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?isbn=0309070368

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One Response to “Reflection on Learning and Understanding”

  1. briannajwilson May 13, 2013 at 12:24 am #

    I completely agree that everyone learns differently. I like how you pointed out that with the right techniques, everyone could learn to their full potential. I also agree with the fact that it is more important for students to learn one topic completely than many topics incompletely. Do you ever feel pressure as a teacher to teach the quantity of standards rather than the quality? This is something I have struggled with as a new teacher, I cannot find the time to teach each topic as in-depth as I would like! You were able to summarize our reading very well. ¡Buen trabajo!

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