In my role as a teacher, I enjoy the opportunity of not only guiding students through the learning process, but of spending enough time with them one on one to discover how they learn and what kind of strengths and weaknesses they bring to the experience. Often at the beginning of the lesson, I have to cue them in on what to expect from the learning environment that I have created. Immediately, some of them respond with a sense of confidence and spend the rest of the time almost teaching themselves and using me as a resource to maximize their experience. Others have no idea how to proceed and need careful step-by-step explanations of the procedures, what I might want from them, what they should expect from themselves, and why it’s okay to make mistakes in the process of learning.
Learning Fluency: What is Missing?
This second group of students demonstrate a lack of training or experience in what I have come to call learning fluency. They don’t know how to ask questions to get new information, they don’t know how to experiment with technology to see how it works, they are nervous about relating to me as a teacher, they fear themselves almost more than the challenge before them, and would be completely lost about how to proceed if there was no instructor providing clear direction. Certainly, they clarify the reason that teachers are essential to the learning process. However, they are also the ones that tend to learn less than their counterparts who know how to seek information, explore technology, communicate with others, laugh at themselves, and challenge their skill levels.
The five factors present or absent for each of these two groups can be summarized as information literacy (or fluency), technology fluency, interpersonal fluency, intrapersonal fluency, and academic fluency (Jenson, 2015). Usually examined separately, these five factors appear over and over throughout academic literature dealing with student engagement and achievement. Ideally, students should have equal opportunity for success in education.
Learning Fluency: Where Does it Come From?
However, apart from the information (reading, writing, math) and technology (computer class), students are mostly expected to manage developing learning fluency on their own or with the support of parent or peer groups. Many times none of these are equipped to help the student improve in these areas. It seems from my informal research with students that those who have parents and friends who are high achievers also tend to be, and those who have parents and friends who have not mastered learning fluency (a feature of high achievers) tend to struggle more.
Further questioning revealed that even when they have knowledge in a particular subject area, parents struggle with the means of transferring this knowledge to their own children. This means that for many students the only recourse for developing learning fluency must be found in the school setting where they are surrounded by education professionals who have developed these skills for themselves and should be aware of their value.
Learning Fluency: Why Does It Matter?
Without some outside intervention of resources and training, those students who are not equipped to learn will begin to fall behind their peers who are more prepared to take advantage of the learning environment. If education is to be an equalizing opportunity rather than one which differentiates the privileged from those less fortunate (Jenson, 2015), a program like this must be implemented. Piaget proposed that development must come before learning could take place – emphasizing the significant role of the student’s level of preparedness to engage in the learning process. On the other hand, Vygotsky noted that it is possible for students to engage in learning that goes beyond their level of preparedness with the help of an instructor (or scaffolding) (Smith & Ragan, 1999). What might happen if instruction was used to improve the students’ level of development so that they could engage more deeply in the learning process?
Zain, Muniandy, and Hashim (2016) expect that the instructional experience can be designed to help reduce the variation in student ability by providing multiple forms of learning. However, they also note that without a strong grasp of pedagogy, content, and teaching tools, teachers cannot expect to provide all students with a robust learning experience.
Learning Fluency: What Can You Do?
Rather than depending upon the teachers to account for such a broad range of student abilities, perhaps it would be helpful to begin addressing the disparity between student ability by providing training in the skills that they need to succeed: the five learning fluencies. Any experience can be a good learning experience if the student has been given the tools to make it so (Dewey, 1997). On the other hand, research on the student use of technology shows that without proper training most are unable to use it effectively for learning purposes (Jenson, 2015).
Academic support programs primarily focus on the first two aspects of learning fluency: helping students with reading, writing, or the use of computer programs (Candy, 2002). However, students need a foundation of all 5 aspects of learning fluency if they are going to become successful lifelong learners. “Mastery of these learning skills plays such an important role in student success that some have suggested including information fluency (or learning fluency) as its own discipline instead simply trying to incorporate its ideas into the general curriculum of a school (Mokhtar, Foo, & Majid, 2007; Virkus, 2003)” (as cited in Jenson, 2015). However, in order to maximize learning transfer, I believe it will be most profitable for this training to offered as a supplement to the classroom or the educational experience as a whole. This allows students to apply what they have learned to an immediately relevant problem.
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This training will be designed for teachers and instructors who want to see an increase in student engagement and performance, but will also be open to students that want to maximize their own learning experience. In addition to raising awareness of how these factors influence the success of students, the training session will include the development of tools and strategies which can be used by the individuals and classrooms that will implement this solution.
The specific learning goal for the class is for students to create a personalized strategy for mastering one relevant aspect of learning fluency. A secondary learning goal is that students are equipped with the knowledge and resources needed to continue developing learning fluency on their own.
Questions or Thoughts? I look forward to hearing from you!
Candy, P. C. (2002). Information literacy and lifelong learning. White Paper prepared for UNESCO, the U.S. National Commission on Libraries and Information Science, and the National Forum on Information Literacy, for use at the Information Literacy Meeting of Experts, Prague, The Czech Republic. Retrieved from http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi:10.1.1.119.5676&rep=rep1&type=pdf
Dewey, J. (1997). Experience & Education. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Jenson, K. (2015). Behind The Screens: Developing A Digital Learning Literacy. Retrieved from https://humancenteredlearning.wordpress.com/portfolio/behind-the-screens-developing-a-digital-learning-literacy/
Jenson, K. (2015). The Impact of Learning Fluency on The Achievement Gap. Retrieved from https://humancenteredlearning.wordpress.com/portfolio/the-impact-of-learning-fluency-on-the-achievement-gap/
Smith, P. L., & Ragan, T. J. (1999). Instructional design (p. 3). New York: Wiley
Zain, I. M., Muniandy, B., & Hashim, W. (2016). The Integration of 21st-Century Learning Framework