Establishing a positive learning community encompasses every component of teaching and learning. This, I believe, is why teaching is an art. A teacher is constantly making decisions that will shape each characteristic of a classroom community. Each characteristic is essential because they are so closely connected. In this week’s screencast, Dr. Williams shares features of an effective learning community. These features include learner-centered, knowledge-centered, assessment-centered, and community-centered. (T.Williams, personal communication, January 19, 2013). I think a learner and community-centered environment must be established prior to developing the knowledge and assessment features.
In this week’s screencast, learner-centered is defined as attending to the knowledge, skills, attitudes, and beliefs of learners (T.Williams, personal communication, January 19, 2013). Each year is so vastly different because the background and understandings of students changes the environment. Bransford, Brown, & Cocking (2000) state, “All new learning involves transfer based on previous learning, and this fact has important implications for the design of instruction that helps students learn” (p.53). As I design lessons in my classroom I am asking questions and making decisions. What misconceptions do my students have? How am I going to assess background knowledge? What questions am I going to ask? What strategies are the most effective? Should the lesson follow the inductive model or inquiry-based approach? Bransford et al. (2000) states, “The principle that people learn by using what they know to construct new understandings can be paraphrased as “all learning involves transfer from previous experiences.” This principle has a number of important implications for educational practice. First, students may have knowledge that is relevant to a learning situation that is not activated. By helping activate this knowledge, teachers can build on students’ strengths” (p. 68). Part of establishing a learning-centered community is knowing your learners. What strengths do they have and how am I going to build upon them? What prior knowledge do they have and how am I going to activate it?
I think part of understanding your learners is using their strengths to establish a community-centered environment. In this week’s screencast, Dr. William’s defines community-centered as how learners work together towards all of their goals. Community-centered includes utilizing norms for people learning from one another and continually attempting to improve (T. Williams, personal communication, January 19, 2013). I believe this is an essential component. It is crucial not only at the beginning of the year to involve students in establishing norms that support a safe and respectful learning environment but to continue to improve this process each day. Students need to feel safe to share, make mistakes, and learn from one another. I think a community-centered classroom involves students in the decision-making process. Students are establishing expectations and take responsibility for their own learning and behavior.
In my classroom students are taught the school promises: I promise to never hurt anyone on the inside or out, I promise to respect myself and others, I promise to respect school property. Student voice is used to establish the rules and procedures for learning activities in the classroom and throughout the school that model the school promises. This artifact (artifact 3) shows student-created examples of what the behavior would look like and sound like during each activity. This includes expectations for the restrooms, hallway, cafeteria, recess, teaching time, transitions, group and independent work, lining up, check-in, and pack-up. These student-created expectations hold students accountable for contributing to a safe, respectful and productive learning environment. Establishing classroom management, routines, and a safe learning environment prepares students to work productively and engage in the learning process.
I think when students are involved an establishing a community-centered environment they can transfer their ownership to the learning process. Dr. Williams defines two other features of a learning community. This includes a knowledge-based community, which involves helping students learn the well-organized bodies of knowledge, identifying the learning goals and explaining how students can use that knowledge. (T.Williams, personal communication, January 19, 2013). I think an assessment-based community is a part of developing student knowledge. Assessment-based includes using informal and formal opportunities for feedback on understanding to encourage and reward meaningful learning (T. Williams, personal communication, January 19, 2013). Part of developing knowledge is building on what we know about our learners to introduce new content. Bransford et al. (2000) states, “Caregivers attempt to build on what children know and extend their competencies by providing supporting structures or scaffolds for the child’s performance” (p.104). I think scaffolding involves engaging the student in understanding of the learning through various strategies and using assessment to meet the needs of the learner throughout the lesson. Bransford et al. (2000) states the development of a repertoire of flexible strategies has practical significance for learning” (p.101). It is valuable for students to have multiple strategies that help them move beyond memorization to understanding they can apply in multiple contexts.
In order to develop these features of an effective learning community I want to include more opportunities for making thinking visible. If my students are thinking aloud about their learning I will have a better understanding about their prior knowledge, misconceptions, and understanding of the learning targets. I also want to include this strategy as a part of cooperative learning. I think students’ participation and engagement will increase if they are responsible for explaining their thinking to others. This too would strengthen the classroom community because students are working together to understand the learning.
Bransford, J., Brown, A., & Cocking, R. (2000). How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press.
Click to enlarge artifact 3: