This is the fourth post in our series on “Powerful Learning,” a set of principles guiding our work supporting schools and educators to develop learning experiences that engage the hearts and minds of learners as we introduce new technologies. In this series, we explore the design principles and the research that grounds them to inspire and guide you in making your own learning and teaching practices more powerful and empowering.
Powerful learning must be inquisitive and reflective. Inquiry and reflection are strategies for engagement as well as for enduring learning. They are also critical skills for students’ futures. Today’s students must be able not only to attain new knowledge, but to also ask questions that lead to new insights. Reflecting on newly developed and prior knowledge allows us to deepen understanding of what and how they have learned. Teachers who make inquiry and reflection a regular part of instructional practice ensure that students are attending to the learning, strengthening memory, and building skills for their future.
When learning is driven by asking questions and seeking both answers and new questions in response, it shows students that knowledge and growth, not memorization and recall, are their goals. Guiding questions presented by the teacher can help students define a topic, create meaning from new information, and make connections between their learning and their world. “If young people can develop a sense of deep understanding through inquiry-based teaching and learning, then they will not only possess the knowledge they have developed, but will be able to perform their understanding of a particular topic,” explains researcher Edward Clapp of Harvard’s Project Zero. When students have autonomy in asking guiding questions as part of their learning, inquiry can also amplify student engagement and empowerment.
Learning sciences research shows that the ways in which reflection is designed, including when it is practiced, can support memory. Retrieval practice, in which students recall learning from long-term memory, makes learning more enduring by improving memory. Teachers can provide opportunities for students to recall information from previous learning either to support connections to new learning or as an opportunity for formative assessment. Spacing learning and recall out over time also supports enduring learning and improves memory. When students recall and reflect on prior concepts to synthesize new ideas, learning is deeper and longer lasting.
Equally important to the recall of learning content is reflection to enable meaning-making from learning. Educators must deliberately create space for reflection that is separate from activities of information gathering and knowledge construction. Researcher Mary Helen Immordino-Yang suggests that, “Simple reflection strategies like Project Zero’s ‘I used to think … Now I think …’ help kids become more aware of their own knowledge structures and how to explicitly rework their beliefs.” While reflection may feel like a pause from the activities we usually envision as learning, it is vitally important, and just a few minutes a week can offer students the opportunity to reflect on their learning and learning process to deepen their understanding of themselves and their world.
Challenge Based Learning (CBL) provides a framework for authentic student learning driven by guiding questions. For a model of a CBL project, check out the Reduce Your Carbon Footprint Challenge. Teachers are provided with sample guiding questions as well as a resource for designing questions. Students can co-construct and prioritize the inquiry questions with teachers.
Use the learning environment to create a dedicated space for reflection, and help students establish reflection as a natural part of their learning process, as students at the Arizona School for the Arts did by creating Project Booth.
Check out our Powerful Learning video playlist to see examples of powerful learning from Digital Promise programs in action in schools and communities:
If you are an educator creating powerful learning experiences for your students that are inquisitive and reflective, consider earning some of these educator micro-credentials to be recognized for and share your accomplishments:
The principles of powerful learning guide educators to design learning experiences that are personal and accessible; authentic and challenging; collaborative and connected; and inquisitive and reflective. These learning experiences provide opportunities for students to deeply engage in their learning while using technology in ways that contribute to closing the Digital Learning Gap.
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