Helping students develop as learners must include helping them understand how to learn. Of course nearly every teacher would say they want their students to learn how to learn and many notions of education reform call for students to be actively thinking about their own learning and their own thinking. Unfortunately, the dominant message being sent to students concerning learning is that the teacher is the holder of knowledge and their job is to pour that knowledge into students’ heads. This “student as empty vessel” model was once popular among teachers, but education reform documents call attention to the learners’ role and the need for active mental engagement in order for conceptual change to take place (Posner et al., 1982; NRC, 2000; NRC, 1996; AAAS, 1989). Unfortunately, teaching practices that focus too much on recall, completion of worksheets, and cookbook activities do not make clear the role of the learner in learning.
The implicit messages sent by traditional instruction are powerful. When students see that “being right” is more valuable than creative ideas and synthesis of concepts, they are likely to develop problematic views toward learning. Students’ naïve views on cognition and learning can affect their engagement in reforms based instructional activities (Kruse & Wilcox, 2009). Some problematic student views include:
-learning is recall
-teacher’s job is to tell students right answers
-knowing the “right” answer means you are smart
-learning is linear or straight forward
-only “right” answers have value.
These student views are not surprising considering the typical classroom atmosphere. Cookbook labs and PowerPoint slides do not encourage students to wrestle with ideas. These strategies value efficiency over identifying and working with students’ prior knowledge. If we are to help students deeply understand content and learn how to learn, we must help them gain more accurate views of what learning is and what it means to learn. The research is clear; the way people view learning and thinking affect their ability to learn and think (Schommer, 1990; Jehng et al., 1993; Songer & Linn, 1991; Schommer, 1997; Kardash & Scholes, 1996; Chen & Pajares, 2009). If students are to be encouraged to improve as learners, they must understand that learning is a difficult process that rarely happens in a straightforward manner. In the coming posts, I will discuss a research study designed to assess to what extent students’ views on learning are malleable and outline numerous strategies implemented to actively change students’ views on learning and thinking.