When students reflect on their own learning in practice

The first round of collecting data at the Teacher Education Programme is now over, and I’m starting to get into my data.
The data collection ended with presentations from the students, where they shared their reflections on, their experiments in practice and how had an effect on their learning.  The students had many interesting points, and it seems that the overall design did support them in transforming knowledge and ways of participation between education and school.
Since the first cycle of data collection is now completed, this blog post will focus on some of the first impressions I have regarding my data as a whole.  Even though I have not fully begun to analyze my data in depth, some indications slowly seem to show, by just looking at my observation log and the reflections provided by the students, through my interviews and their presentations. Mainly four topics have caught my interest at this point, namely:

  • Observation groups as a valuable design element
  • How experiments in practice prove helpful for transformation of knowledge
  • Students ability to reflect directly and indirectly on their learning
  • How different kinds of tasks and activities afford differently on students transformation of knowledge

The first topic is on the role of the observation groups as supporting structure for the visits in practice. The intention of the observations groups was, from the beginning, to give the teaching group feedback on their performance in the classroom. From my point of view as a researcher, they also had a role in supporting or challenging my views on the observed. As a way of distancing myself from the field (reducing bias), the observing group could provide valuable insights and arguments that could support or challenge my interpretations. However, the observing groups, as a concept, has proven to be much more than that. The students repeatedly expressed how valuable they thought the groups were both as a feedback mechanism and as a way of being inspired through the use of dialogue and reflecting on practice. At the same time the observing team felt that by observing fellow students, they learned much as well. The observations seemed to be a good foundation for their future planning as well being able to negotiate ideas, building on the other group’s teachings and getting an insight into the classroom culture and the prerequisites of the 5th-grade students.

However, the observing groups, as a concept, has proven to be much more than that. The students repeatedly expressed how valuable they thought the groups were both as a feedback “mechanism r structure” and as a way of being inspired through dialogue and reflection on practice. At the same time the observing team felt that by observing fellow students, they learned much as well. The observations seemed to be a good foundation for their future planning as well being able to negotiate ideas, building on the other group’s teachings and getting an insight into the classroom culture and the prerequisites of the 5th-grade students.

The second topic relates to how the practice experiments proved useful for the students to transform knowledge between contexts of education and school. By now my data indicates some different interesting findings, but one special point of interest for me is, to which extent the students themselves manage to connect the two contexts, the requirement characteristics of them and how much the design needs to afford this process. How much support do the students need? Do we have to design for these connections or do the students grasp these opportunities themselves?  Transfer mechanisms, boundary crossing, sense-making and patterns of participation become relevant topics for me here.

The third topic is tricky. It relates to my analysis of my interviews with the students. The challenge is that the students not necessarily can explain or even are aware of what they know or how they have transformed their knowledge from one setting to the next. This is a hard and a very complicated affair to investigate and requires me to dig deep into my data and draw lines between the students learning trajectories, how they planned their experiments, how the acted and reacted on practice and how the articulate while in situ and afterward reflect. Nevertheless, the student’s abilities to reflect on their learning must be a specific interest if I am to counter the critique of transfer research first put out by Jean Lave in the late eighties and afterward emphasized by others. I here think on the critique that research within the field only recognize transfer that occurs within what we can measure between the given learning situation and the transfer situation. So seeing what the students do not necessarily see or can reflect upon is also a focus for my research. And that might prove hard to do.

The last topic seems easier to get on with since it’s more fit for an analytical approach. Through my observations, it became very clear to me how tasks and activities supported students in different ways and that the students reacted differently on taking up the opportunities presented through the tasks and activities.  Roughly three main categories of activities approached. The first relating to the domain or subject matter of the course, where students engaged in reflections and discussions on a meta-level and were much based on theoretical concepts. Here the students needed to be very aware of, how the content could relate to practice. The teacher very explicitly had to point most students in the direction on how the theory could be applied to teaching students at school and how the theory would relate to this practice.
The second type of tasks and activities could be characterized as simulations. Often the teacher would start out with the phrase: “If we now try to act as if we would be at a real school” or “now we play that I’m the teacher and you are the students of a fifth-grade class.” These type of activities already have an expanded framework where the fifth-grade classroom as a concept is providing the setting for the activity. Throughout these activities, the students were more aware of the end goal of teaching, and the tasks and activities seemed to scaffold and support the student’s transformation knowledge from educational toward practical grounded.
The third type of tasks and activities are directly applicable and not necessarily (as the two previous) dependent on a specific subject. These activities were generic in the sense that they could be applied under many different circumstances. Eg. Throwing a beanbag and rhyming on the letter “B” or reading out loud from a textbook at the beginning of a lesson.

No doubt that transformation of knowledge depends on the student’s ability to learn in a given situation. But throughout the first iteration of the design, it became apparent to me, that the design both had to be for learning (as both acquisition and participation) and transformation.
How the design supports the student to notice and take up opportunities to learn, seem to rely on both the affordances of the tasks and activities within the design as well as support structures that prepare them to meet the prerequisites of future (teaching and learning) situations. But conclusions on these parts are yet to come 🙂