Monday, 13 March 2017

Making Learning Inviting and Engaging

I've been reading lots lately about how to make learning engaging for children and youth.  Over the years that I have been a coach, a summer camp director, a teacher, and a school administrator, I often thought of the key to engagement being enthusiasm.  But as I've read more and reflected more on the topic, I've realized there is more at play to creating inviting and engaging learning for youth.  I've recently been reading John Hattie's Visible Learning in Mathematics (2017).  Hattie is an educational researcher from New Zealand who has conducted meta-analysis research of meta-analysis studies aiming to discern what influences on learning result in the largest gains in achievement.   For me, because of my background as a coach and athlete in cross country skiing, I often find myself building relational knowledge with the reading I do - so instead of Hattie's book simply being a 'how can I improve math achievement, for me, the learning is also about 'how do these ideas relate to creating inviting and engaging ski instructional experiences for children and youth.

Referenced in Hattie's writing is a researcher, William Purkey, wrote an article in 1992 called 'An Introductional to Invitational Theory' published in the Journal of Invitational Theory and Practice.  Purkey states that there are four patterns with which learners perceive the lessons:  intentionally disinviting, intentionally disinviting, unintentionally inviting, and intentionally inviting.  He writes that Teachers (Coaches) who were intentionally disinviting were easily recognizable because of their dismissive and harsh tone.  Coaches who were unintentially disinviting were negative and pessimistic about their students/athletes capabilities - the low expectations were evident to the children they were teaching.  They might sound like 'today we are going to learn one skate, this is really hard, and many of you will struggle with this, so you will have to pay close attention'.  Unintentionally disinviting coaches (teachers) are in essence telling their kids that they will not be successful in the lesson.

Another group of coaches (teachers) are those that are enthusiastic and energetic, but lack a clear plan for the journey of learning.  Children/youth like being with these coaches, but don't benefit as fully as they could because instruction is inconsistent and naive.  This type of coach might sound like 'Good morning future ski champions, today we are going to learn more about offset, and I can not wait to get started'. The instruction is unintentionally inviting because although the focus is on getting the kids excited, what the coach (teacher) says doesnt talk about the kids will learn or why it is important.

The last group of coaches (teachers) consists of those were consistently positive and are sensitive to the needs of the children/youth they are working with.  They take action and promote a growth mindset. Mostly they have an ability to create a sense of instructional urgency.  They share out learning intentions and success criteria and set a tone of achievement with their kids.  These 'intentionally inviting' coaches (teachers) might sound like 'Good morning athletes, you may recall that week we worked on having an upright posture as we offset.  Today we are going to add to that by responding to the terrain by either becoming more upright or less upright depending on the steepness of the hill we are climbing'.  Hattie says that learning intentions are more than just statements to convey what is important about what is to be learned, they also a means for building relationship with each athlete.

A great deal can be learned from educators about how to optimize learning, especially with children and youth.  Its great to reflect on your own coaching and on the type of messaging you give your athletes and to what degree your comments or framing make learning inviting and engaging.  We only get the kids we work with for a short while, lets make the most of it by thinking about how we go about the work

Roy Strum
Canmore, AB