Focusing on the Process: Letting Go of Product Expectations

I am a process-oriented educator. I focus on how to learn rather than what to learn. I’ve addressed this in Freedom to Learn:

freedom-to-learn

In order to facilitate these desired elements of learning, I believe it is important to focus on the process of learning rather than the products of learning.

When learning is viewed as a product, and the same performance measure applies to all students, learning facilitation can be reduced to cookie-cutter teaching: same pieces of information and instruction are seen sufficient for all students. In a product-centered learning environment emphasis is often in doing activities – worksheets, charts, pre-designed projects – that are either teacher-made or provided by the publisher of the curriculum. The important part of completing these products is getting them right because these products are usually graded! Skilled and obedient students comply with these requests and try hard to get their tasks done right, yet there are many students who just leave them undone.

What about viewing learning as a process? Because students begin their daily/weekly/yearly learning from different levels of knowledge and understanding, they also will end up in different competency levels. And that is okay, honestly. We are not clones. Students shouldn’t be treated like ones. When learning is understood primarily as a process of acquisition and elaboration of information, the natural consequences in the classroom are ongoing differentiation and individualization. Approaching learning as an individual process helps us refocus learning and teaching: the student is in the nexus of her/his own learning, (Is Learning a Product or a Process?)

The following principles from Rogers’ Freedom to Learn are directly addressed when the process of learning becomes the intent of instructional practices:

Much significant learning is acquired through doing. “Placing the student in direct experiential confrontation with practical problems, social problems, ethical and philosophical problems, personal issues, and research problems, is one of the most effective modes of promoting learning” (p. 162).

Learning is facilitated when the student participates responsibly in the learning process. “When he chooses his own directions, helps to discover his own learning resources, formulates his own problems, decides his own course of action, lives with the consequences of these choices, then significant learning is maximized” (p. 162).

The most socially useful learning in the modern world is the learning of the process of learning, a continuing openness to experience and incorporation into oneself of the process of change. If our present culture survives, it will be because we have been able to develop individuals for whom change is the central fact of life and who have been able to live comfortably with this central fact. They will instead have the comfortable expectation that it will be continuously necessary to incorporate new and challenging learnings about ever-changing situations. (pp. 163-164)

Weibell, C. J. (2011). Principles of learning: 7 principles to guide personalized, student-centered learning in the technology-enhanced, blended learning environment. Retrieved from https://principlesoflearning.wordpress.com.

To truly focus on the process rather than products of learning, the educator needs to let go of expectations about the specific products that should be produced by the students. There are expectations regarding some of the processes in which learners should engage (e.g., divergent thinking, questioning, researching, creating, innovating) but the educator lets go of the pictures in her or his mind about what the products should look like.

The benefits for my learners include:

  • They are not limited by my expectations nor the expectations of a lesson or assessment developed by an outside entity (e.g., textbook or testing company).
  • Their engagement, motivation, curiosity, and excitement increase.
  • They learn to tolerate and then embrace ambiguity.
  • Natural differentiation and individualization result.
  • They learn skills such as self-directed learning, taking initiative, locating resources, asking for help that can be transferred to all learning endeavors.
  • It reflects and models how learning occurs outside of school.
  • There is an increased investment and pride in their work.
  • They develop both a sense of confidence and a sense of competence.

The benefits for me, as the educator, include:

  • I work hard to pre-plan process-oriented classroom activities but the learners work harder than me during class time. Students should work harder than the educator during class time.
  • I am continually surprised at and elated about what learners produce. Because of this, I get to learn from them, too. We become a learning community.
  • I get to directly observe how each individual student approaches learning tasks. This furthers my ability to plan learning tasks tailored to the learners’ unique abilities and interests.
  • I get to experience the joy with them as they accomplish a learning task on their own using their own personal abilities, intelligence, learning strategies, and struggles. This joy rarely occurs with standardized curriculum and assessments.

Here are some examples of process-oriented learning activities I have done with my students:

  • Design Thinking Activities for Elementary Students
  • Designing a Video Game
  • Maker Education Activities
  • Halloween Wars

Exploring Wealth Inequities: An Experiential Learning Activity

One of the legacies I want to leave with my students (of all ages) is a desire to engage in global stewardship. For more about this see my post, Empathy and Global Stewardship: The Other 21st Century Skills.

As part of my gifted education classes, I am asking my 5th and 6th graders to choose, explore, research, and report via their own Google Sites on one or two of the 17 Global Goals found at The World’s Largest Lesson. Here is the list of global goals selected by my students:

IMG_2591

To supplement their online work, I am doing a series of experiential activities with them (FYI – this also supports my desire to balance technology and no technology activities, where student need to communicate and collaborate with one another without the use of devices). We began these activities with Exploring Wealth Inequalities, which I explain below.

Goals

  • Explore inequalities of wealth and better understand experiences of economic inequality.
  • To graphically demonstrate the vast differences in wealth between different areas of the world.
  • Generate ideas for action towards economic equality.

The Task

To use the supplies given to your group to create a model city.

Materials

  • Masking Tape – both for creating the boundaries and for building
  • Paper or Plastic Cups
  • Straws
  • Index Cards
  • Candy such as M&Ms, Skittles, Hersey’s Kisses.
  • Paper Bags

The Set-Up

The setting below is set up prior to the learners’ arrival.

setup

Randomly separate learners into three different groups. Bring them to their area one group at a time and explain the task.

The Wealthy Group:

The wealthy group has more area in which to work, more supplies, and bags of candy with much more than enough for each learner. The facilitator explains the task offering lots of help if they ask for it. They can leave the boundaries of their area. If they ask for more supplies or goods, the facilitator will get it for them – taking it from another group if needed. An unspoken, hidden rule is that they can offer and give any of their supplies to the lower income groups.

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The Middle Income Group:

The middle group has everything in moderation – a moderate amount of area to work in – a moderate amount of supplies to build their city.  They each get a bag of candy with a few pieces of candy per bag. The facilitator explains the task but doesn’t offer support.

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The Poorest Income Group:

This group is given a taped off area in which there is very little room to move; very limited supplies; and a few pieces of candy to share among the group members. The facilitator briefly and impatiently explains the directions to build a model city with the supplies provided.

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Debriefing

Students are shown the following video:

. . . and then discuss the following questions:

  • Were you treated fairly?
  • What aspects of this game represented how the world’s wealth and power are distributed?
  • How did the members of the different groups feel about their situation?
  • After playing this game do you have a better understanding of the situation or attitude of poor people/nations? Of the situation or attitude of wealthy people/nations?
  • Who are the “haves” and the “have nots” in the world today? Who are the “haves” and “have nots” in our country today? In our state or community? Why?
  • Should the “haves” be concerned about the situation of the “have nots?” For what reasons? economic? moral/religious? political? Why might the “haves” give money or resources to the “have nots”? Is this a way to solve the problems of poverty?
  • What might the “have-nots” do to improve their situation? What are some actions that “have-nots” have taken around the globe and at home to address the inequalities of wealth and power?
  • Do you think there should be a redistribution of wealth and power in this country? Why or why not? If yes, how would you propose to accomplish this? What principles would guide your proposals for change?
  • Do you think there should be a redistribution of wealth and power throughout the world? Why or why not? If yes, how would you propose to accomplish this? What principles would guide your proposals for change?

(http://hrlibrary.umn.edu/edumat/hreduseries/tb1b/Section2/activity2.html)

Here are some of the comments from my students during the debrief.