Enjoy the Ride!
Last year, I got a bicycle for my birthday. I’m sure you’ve seen cyclists wearing those clingy bike shorts, looking like they’re training for an Iron Man. I’m not one of them. When I got the bike, I wasn’t in good shape or even sure how much I’d enjoy riding. Thus, I got a “comfort bike.” The seat is bigger and you ride upright which is more comfortable for shorter distances. Since I didn’t want to always ride alone, my husband got a mountain bike. It has more gears, disc brakes, and a skinny saddle. Mine is turquoise; the very snazzy, “highlighter on wheels” is his.
I recently brought the bikes in for spring tune-ups. The technician took one look at mine and said “Wow! You’ve logged a lot of miles. Way more than your husband. We’ll need to replace the chain. Good for you!”
That got me wondering how many miles I traveled last season. Our first ride was April 18. We rode about 4 miles. I know this because I used Map My Ride, an app that tracks route, distance, pace and time. I rode about 80 miles between April and October. Average speed increased from 4 mph to over 7mph and since most rides were about an hour, average distance rose from 4 to 7 miles. Not bad for a casual rider / non-athlete. Before the bike shop visit, I would not have estimated that I rode that far nor did I realize just how much my pace improved. Receiving a hearty acknowledgement from an expert made me feel great. I never thought of myself as a cyclist before!
Teachers, by virtue of our position, can do for learners what the bike technician’s comment did for me. We can influence perceptions about our discipline and shape students’ understanding of themselves as learners. What systems and practices help students identify and celebrate their growth as learners?
Gather & Examine Data. Learning management systems collect data about time on task and other metrics. This information can be used to scrutinize learning behaviors. The data can provide insights about study behavior. Teachers can help students identify strengths and weaknesses revealed by the patterns. Data can be the basis for recommendations about timing, duration and frequency of study. This kind of information is often looked at when teaching online, but it can be used in face-to-face as well. When students know this kind of information is being tracked and used by teachers, it adds a layer of accountability; this can motivate students to work more consistently or increase time on task.
Attend to Process, not just Product. Grades reflect content mastery, not intellectual development. Grades focus on product, not process. Teachers frequently lament students’ grades-over-learning perspective. Are teachers partly to blame? One way to shift attention toward learning is to provide data and feedback about process improvement in addition to grades. Be explicit about how students are advancing their understanding. In a large class this can be done by saying things like, “When we began this unit, I had to scaffold the entire process. I no longer need to do that.” In smaller classes, comments on papers can recognize qualitative improvement. Acknowledge an insightful comment during discussion. Recognize student effort. Informal and formative feedback can have a significant impact on motivation to learn, particularly for students who aren’t getting top grades.
Reflection. Kitsantas & Zimmerman (2009) developed a series of reflection questions in a document they call the SELF (Self Efficacy For Learning) form. It asks students about a variety of learning issues:
- When you discover that your homework assignments are much longer than expected, can you change your priorities to have enough time for studying?
- When you have to take a test in a subject you dislike, can you find a way to motivate yourself to study and learn?
- When you are struggling to remember technical details for a test, can you find a way to associate them together to help you remember?
Teachers can promote self efficacy and metacognition while teaching content by integrating a reflective component in some assignments. The reflections can be fairly short and teachers don’t have to read or grade all of them. The purpose is to get students thinking differently, or just thinking about how they’re learning, not just what they’re learning.
Collectively, data from the app and the expert’s positive feedback made me proud of what I accomplished last year. I’m motivated to ride more and work harder this season. Learning content is the destination. It’s important. But if we want to develop self-directed, life-long learners, we need to provide opportunities to practice and offer feedback about the learning process, not just grades. Because learning, like biking, isn’t really about the destination, it’s about the ride.
Reference: Kitsantasm A., Zimmerman, B.J. 2009. College students’ homework and academic achievement: The mediating role of self-regulatory beliefs. Metacognition Learning, 4:97-119.