What we learn when we learn by doing

Mureren med sin murerske

Everyone in the education field is familiar with Dewey’s axiom “learn by doing.” It is well known that experiential learning is not only preferable by students, but also more effective. I recently started taking a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) on Coursera that helped me understand better what learn by doing is. While I was going through the weekly readings, I could see that the following three basic questions were being addressed: what is learning by doing? what do we learn when we learn by doing? when learning is not motivated by learning to do something (practical/experiential), what is the motivation behind It? In this post I will try to share some of the answers I found to these questions through the readings and the connections I made to my experience as an EFL teacher using technology to advance my own learning and that of my students.

First let’s try to define what learn by doing is and give some examples. Learn by doing is experiential learning. Students learn by doing when they do things instead of being told about things. It is many times easier said than done. In the language classroom, students learn to speak the target language by speaking it, not by being lectured about it. The same goes for writing, reading, and listening. However, for students to speak, there should be a reason for them to do so. Therefore, teachers usually create scenarios or simulate situations to bring about a need to communicate. The more realistic the situation is, the more effective it seems in generating real communication. Having understood that, we should say that using Web 2.0 tools should follow the same “learn by doing” guidelines. Students learn about blogging by actually having a blog, posting, adding, and replying to comments.

Once we know what learn by doing is, we need to understand what one learns when he learns by doing. When there is experiential learning, what is learned cannot be put into words. If you ask a teacher who integrates technology into his teaching to tell you how to create a blog, for example, he will probably be able to show you step by step the procedures for doing it. However, he might not be able to tell you about it without visualing a given blogging platform and actually testing its features. Therefore, when one learns by doing, he learns micro scripts and scripts that help him assimilate and index new experiences. When a student has to create a blog, he first has to create an account. This one is probably a micro script that he has already assimilated. He probably knows automatically that to create an account he will have to provide his e-mail address, a user name, and so on. So what he will learn by doing will be how to customize his blog, how to insert a video or an image using HTML code or just copying and pasting. Besides that, he will also learn how to create a post and with this he will be familiar with rules for typing and editing text. He will learn that paragraphs have to be indented, that capital letters are required in the beginning of new sentences (the later might sound weird, but this is true for my teenage students). So, the scrips I have listed are extensions that are incorporated to the micro scripts he already possesses. The digital native claim proves to be a myth when it comes to creating content. This holds true especially if we are talking about young learners. So that is what is learned when one learns by doing.

However, it is not always that learning is guided by such an experiential tone. Sometimes learning is driven by reasons other than learning how to perform a specific task. In this case, learning is motivated by the willingness of knowing more. This is generally what guides professional development: a desire to learn about the philosophy behind a given practice, a new way of thinking about a given area of knowledge. It is learning for learning sake. I guess that in the field of language teaching this is the reason why EFL/ESL teachers, that supposedly already know enough about the English language, go conferences conferences as attendees or presenters and take other professional development initiatives such as reading/commenting/posting to blogs, connecting with peers through social networking channels, and taking online courses.

Finally, I would like to say that learning by doing also applies to writing. And this is exactly what I am trying to do with this blog and my posts. I confess that writing is not easy for me and I make a big effort to make my ideas come accross the way I want. Nonetheless, I never give up. I have been reading books about writing, I have just decided to blog with my students (I mean writing a short blog post after ech class reporting what went on). I did that because I read that if you ask your students to blog (which I frequently do), you should blog to. Finally, I am just about to begin a course in writing and hope I will feel more confident as a writer when it ends.

Classroom Interaction

Foldable for reading activity

Techniques and behaviors for increasing student participation and practice in class.

On July 25 Dr. Ron Schwartz came back to teach and entertain us a little bit. This time we also had the pleasure to have Madeleine Schwartz as a lecture. The topic of the day was classroom interaction and here is a summary to myself and my readers.

When we teach English, we do not just teach a language, we teach communication. If communication is the goal of our teaching, then classroom interactions are really a vital part of our classes. Therefore, this workshop made us reflect on our practices and gave some ideas on how to promote classroom interactions that help our students learn. This reflection, however, was coupled with experiential learning. Such feat was achieved because the techniques and behaviors discussed were role played during the entire workshop having participants act as teachers or students.

One of the tips shared by Dr. Schartz was a chart in which we could mark the kinds of interactions happening in class. As Dr. Schwartz proceeded with the lecture, participants marked on the hand out the equivalent interaction pattern (teacher asks question, student answers question, student volunteers, etc). This exercise reminded us of the importance of guaranteeing even participation and monitoring the quality of language produced by our students. Although the procedure demonstrated seemed to some of us a little challenging to be execute, it could be used by a peer teacher to observe our classroom and later feedback. A chart like this could also serve as check list to keep on the back of our minds, as a reference to remind us of promoting good exchange and real communication.

As we discussed interaction, the theoretical discussion came to the foreground. This gave us an opportunity to reexamine our, beliefs, methods, and approaches to language teaching in the light of our experince as teachers and the context of our institutions and countries. This was good exercise because it allowed us to share our perspective and reminded us that there is no such a thing as one size fits all method or approach. The ideal method or approach is the one that takes students needs into consideration and is flexible and not restrained by theoretical limitations.

Still related to classroom interaction, we discussed techniques and behaviors that conduct to effective leaning. At this point, Madeleine Schwartz gave us a sample class for teaching very young learners (eleme notary students). We played the role of students and she conducted a very instructive reading activity. The used of foldables together with reading strategies such as predicting, clarifying, asking questions, and summarizing gave us precious tips on ways to engage young learners in reading activities.

On a cultural note, we were reminded that culture affects one interaction style. Although this is little stereotypical, but is helpful to understand the way people interact. Americans are monochronic/linear and when answering to a question go straight to the point and do not give much extra information on the topic. Latins, on their turn, are polychronic and tend to zig zag as they answer a question or tell a story. So being aware of these differences between our culture and the target culture is helpful in making our spoken (and even written – essays) interactions more successful.

Integration is key

Hi dear blog readers,

I am posting this from Facebook. One thing I love about facebook is the fact that it is always integrating most of the websites and tools I use into its page. I myself have sometimes found it difficult to move around and do the things I want to. However, I still think it is one of the best places to make friends and do lots of other interesting things.
I have lots of friends in Farmville right now. I tried to play it, but just did not find it so interesting. I guess I am not really a game person. On the other hand, I always find myself playing around with its more productive applications. A big hand to social networks and the power they have to connect people.