May 162011

Back when I was in grad school working on my M.Ed., I had to do one of those philosophy papers on my personal teaching philosophy. All my classmates whined and groaned, but as someone with a philosophy degree, I take that kind of assignment very seriously. In the end, I decided one thing for sure out of that assignment, that I did not want to teach students, but wanted to teach learners.

Yea, uh, okay. What is the difference? To me, I looked at the root of the words. “Student” is based on the root “study” while “Learner” is based on the root “learn”. Do I want the kids in my room to be studying or learning? I choose learning, therefore I need to create an environment where learning can happen instead of studying.

Yea, uh, okay. What does that mean? To be honest, not sure. The first thing I did four years ago is banish the word “student” from my vocabulary. That started a philosophical change in the way I approached teaching. I could not allow myself to call the people in my classroom “students”. By forcing a change in language (key Wittgenstein and his language games here folks) I changed my thinking about what I was doing.

Did it work? The first year I would say no. It was a failure. I taught like I had been taught. It sucked. I got more comfortable with the vocabulary though, and it make me more careful. I kept working at it. After year 4, I can say I am much much better at learning in the classroom instead of studying. That is good. I am not there by any means though.

So what prompted this posting today? In my Reader, up popped this post today by Scott McLeod. And I read it with great zeal. It mirrored some of my long time thinking. And there was the terrific chart in it that clarified what a learner was and what a student was.

  Students Learners
Relationship with educators Students are employees, required to obediently follow instructions. Learners are citizens with a vested interest in the learning society.
Relationship with other “Students” Students are competitors Learners are collaborators
Motivation Obligation: Students are culturally obliged to work for the teacher & for compensation (below) Responsibility: Learners are motivated by an understood and realized “value” in their work, especially when it is valuable to others.
Compensation Institution defined grades and gateways to college (another institution) and a good job (another institution) A sense of ongoing accomplishment that is not delivered but earned, and not symbolic but tangible and valuable — an investment.
Mode of Operation Compliant, group-disciplined, objective-oriented, and trainable Persevering, self-disciplined, group- and goal-oriented, resourceful, and learning in order to achieve rather than achieving learning.
Why? Compelled Curious
Equipped ..with packaged knowledge and tools for recording packaged knowledge — prescribed and paced learning ..with tools for exploring a networked variety of content, experimenting with that content, and discovering, concluding, and constructing knowledge — invented learning
Assessment Measuring what the student has learned. Measuring what the learner can do with what has been learned.

This chart was originally created by David Warlick in 2010.

Okay, that does a great job at breaking down the different aspects of why the words mean different things. I can honestly say that the “compensation” and the “Why?” are two reasons that I originally make the commitment to learning in my classroom.

Today, at the end of my 4th real year of teaching, I can say that t he relationships with educators and peers is another reason I have fully tried to commit to. The motivation and mode of operation are harder. Those are me creating an environment where those to can flourish. I try, but I don’t think I am always successful.

Assessment is still the killer. How do you create authentic assessments that will measure what the learner can do?

After 4 years, I can say I am beginning to be a decent teacher who is creating an environment where learning is the focus and studying is not. Let’s see what year 5 can bring my way!

  One Response to “Learners or Students?”

  1. Thanks for sharing your never-ending journey from ‘teacher of students’ to ‘teacher of learners!’ Great post!

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