Is wonderment a skill and, therefore, part of a learning process? And what about empathy? How do we create a learning environment where students are able to show their resilience, vigor or modesty? All of those are essential skills for the future, if you ask me. Jelle Jolles, University professor of neuropsychology in Amsterdam, made a list of twenty-four skills that are not tested on primary or high school exams in the Netherlands. The question is easy: Would you be willing and eager enough to learn how to assess skills, such as: curiosity, humour, leadership, courage and patience?
Together with the students of the minor EmbraceTEC (Fontys University of applied sciences), my fellow teachers and I started an adventure to search for new ways of learning, which would make students feel challenged again. Moreover, their desire for learning would increase as well. Also, we searched for an opportunity to let students make a substantial contribution to the world, while learning at the same time.
Therefore, we didn’t talk about an academic half year, related to final qualifications. We only focussed on creating an environment where the learning space would be fun and challenging. School should offer a place, in which you would wish you could stay there the entire week, together with other students and teachers. A learning space that would be constructed by students themselves. Where teachers would continuously ask students what they really want to learn. I would rather start today than tomorrow. Off course, with personalized coaching and guidance.
The basis of every good learning is trust; a confidence that each student is willing to learn. Therefore, acknowledgement and recognition is essential. Every student is entitled to be acknowledged for who he is and who he wants to be. And, the core values of the relationship between a student and his teacher and the relationships between a student and his peers are based on: Can I be the person who I really am?
To guide this learning process based on trust, we translated The power of feedback (Hattie & Timperley, 2007) in questions like: Where am I right now? Which obstacles did I come across? How do I create the right learning environment? And these questions were related to Embedding formative assessment (Black & Wiliam, 2009).
However, the learning practice seemed to ask for a complete different approach. Some students felt supported by these specific questions, other students didn’t express these specific needs. Some individual coaching sessions started off from structure and a good grip, others from an actual situation. Some beautiful sessions produced many positive learning outcomes, but they didn’t identify any growth or learning development.
During a learning process a student develops him or herself. Sometimes this development stalls; other issues ask for the student’s immediate attention. Suppose you were able to use a thermometer to measure the learning development of a particular learning task? Suppose you were able to measure the amount of creativity of that particular task or the amount of vigor a student needed to perform well in an interview with his peers? Is it possible that the student is willing to fill in his own thermometer and maybe compare this with his peers or teacher? Maybe he thinks his amount of empathy is important for his learning process? Or he might develop some of his own thermometers and relate them to the ones, developed by his coach. A lot of input for a interesting coaching session.
As a human being you are a prototype that develops throughout your whole life, in a formal and informal way. Your learning outcomes are personalized and not related to the average of a group. By using thermometers, a student receives insight of his condition in a certain context. A student is able to describe for himself the meaning of a high, medium or low temperature. Therefore, he creates his own learning space, by means of a personal foundation.
After a period of, for example, ten weeks, he is able to compare the thermometers and visualize the difference, without value judgement. These thermometers put the student and his learning process at the centre, instead of a school system or academic standards.
Freedom to learn
Is it possible to determine the correct education level of the student? After fifteen weeks of experimenting in the Fontys minor EmbraceTEC, I would like to point out that the majority of our students was already able to surprise us to a great extent. One student, Maartje, mentioned that she and her peers had made long days working on their project: “I was unable to blame the system or the school, I could only blame myself.” Leandros told us: “I felt more owner of the process, felt more responsible, also for my peers.” Edo: “We’ve made some pretty long days and that wasn’t what I’d imagined when you mentioned “freedom to learn” in the beginning of the project.” Tom: Internal motivation is the most sufficient one. Because of that we felt ownership; we didn’t care about time or other duties. We just kept focussed on our project.”