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  • Writer's pictureInstructional Leadership Team

A Reflection on... What is Learning?

Updated: Mar 9, 2021

Students and Educators across our district have been trying to crack open the word 'learning.' As with many words in the English language, the word learning holds many worlds within it. By exploring the question 'What is Learning?' these students and teachers are trying to create collective knowledge about what learning means to them, and what they believe learning is and should be.

Many of them are using materials, like clay, watercolours, and acrylic paints, to help them think about this big question.

Because they have been generous enough to make their thinking visible to others, I have the ability to learn from their valuable voices. I wanted to summarize some of what stands out to me from their conversations about learning.

Learning happens when we are struggling just enough.

  • Linden: "Water colour to me is not that easy to do without the water. Like when you are trying to learn something and there is a challenge. When you add the water, it becomes easier."

  • Kasey: "We make ourselves struggle, but in a good way, not a bad way. Everyone is building off each other's thinking."

  • Jenn: "I saw the kids in one group struggle for half an hour. The teachers never gave them the answer. The students know that they are going to spiral and that’s ok, because it’s a safe environment. The teachers NEVER stopped the thinking by telling."

  • Trent: "The word struggle has resonated with me all the way through. That's where learning really happens. Anything where we get kids out of their comfort zone. And if they have that growth mindset, they persevere."

  • Brent: "You could almost interchange the word struggle with learning. I'm struggling at long-division. No, I'm learning at long division."

Learning is emotional.

  • Marley: "Learning happens in your brain because you are thinking about it and then your brain explodes with math. It is a really big feeling in your brain."

  • Elionna: "I feel like in grade 5 I've become human. I see who I am now. Last year I felt like it was, ok, you are learning about this. This year I get to be a person and have my own pathway.

When students know that we care about them and that we believe that they are capable, competent and curious learners, they feel brave enough to believe that about themselves.

  • Paige: "Our teachers accept us for who we are as a mathematician, and as an inquirer. We learn about far more incredible things that you can actually realize. It’s an experience that can lead you higher and higher. It actually leads you to your future."

  • Christine: "When kids feel safe and valued, courage and learning happens. Children are really capable, they want to be engaged in deep and meaningful work."

  • Jessica: "It's about meeting the kids where they are right now, but also where they are going. You are helping them become self-aware. It's not just preparing them for grade two, it's preparing them for what they are going to do in our world."

Learning is about the learning, not about doing work. It is an exploration of who we are as learners.

  • Casey: "We are exploring who we are as learners. We are still trying to figure that out. Each day we learn something about ourselves or our peers."

  • Pathe: "Learning looks different with everyone. I might have a hard time learning about space, but know a lot about math. Everyone has different thinking. If we all had the same thinking, it would be boring. We all figure it out in different ways. There is no one answer."

  • Rosie: "We talked a lot about growth, being flexible, and trying new things. We looked at how our learning is different and that's okay. We can express ourselves in different ways."

  • Paige: “When you are learning with inquiry, your learning never ends. You’re always thinking about what you're learning even at home. You want to go deeper and deeper and deeper. It’s not just one lesson about surface area that your teacher plans.”

Learning is social. We can learn so much more when we are thinking with others and building collective knowledge.

  • Shilo: “We ask questions that can spark other people's thinking. We are open to any thoughts that any people have. We are all kind of resources for each other. We feel like we belong.”

  • Mia: Community means strength. We each have our own strengths and we can use them to lift each other up.

  • Shilo: I think our community is full of exploration. It is a place to learn. We put our brains together to make something special.

  • Sara: Community means we are never done learning. We include others, work hard, extend our thinking and make others feel welcome, whether they are new or not.

Teachers are learners alongside their students. None of us has it all figured out, but if we take the time to listen to our students and value their thinking, we can learn so much. Our students can teach us and guide us.

  • Toyosi: "Everyone is here to learn. Even the adults. Even the parents."

  • Linden: “Like Casey said, they don’t rush us. They give us time to think about what it is we want to learn about instead of just deciding really quickly. Our teachers don’t choose what they want you to be interested in you get to choose that."

  • Mallory: "The students have taught me so much. They have so much to share and teach us if we just give them the right materials. We just need to nurture wherever they are at. It's focusing on the learning, not on the work."

  • Andrea: "As they sat here, [the students] felt that they were equal and had such a purpose in teaching us. I felt like a student in that moment and that was powerful for me. I started wondering about 'the why' of what we are doing. The students understood 'the why' more than me. I feel so grateful today as a student learning from the students."

Thank you so much to the students and educators at Watson Road Elementary, Casorso Elementary, Shannon Lake Elementary, and Mar Jok Elementary for being brave and sharing their thinking with us.

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