The Head’s Tale – Making Learning Meaningful

Learning is all about making connections. As I like to remind people, the why is equally—if not more—important to the what and the how of what we teach or expect students to learn.  When learning something new, it is crucial our students understand the relevance and the connection to their daily lives and to their future.  Without that connection, learning lacks meaning, and without meaning, students often struggle to find the motivation and the energy needed for the hard work of mastering content or skills.

As we continue to implement the redesigned curriculum and its focus on big ideas and core competencies, deep learning (depth) rather than surface learning (breadth), becomes the goal we are trying to achieve at St. Margaret’s.  We want our girls to make “text to self” connections, (personalizing the learning), to focus on “content to content” connections, (interdisciplinary thinking), and, finally, to focus on “text to world” connections (transferring theory to practice and real-life application). The challenge for us is to determine how we assess deep learning and how we help our students and their families fully embrace the importance of a learning mindset.  In this context, the ability to ask questions, research effectively, and develop “learning how to learn” skills become the focus of our assessment practices.  

There are three areas of competencies that we are trying to instill in our girls:

1. Cognitive: reasoning, problem-solving, critical thinking, being creative, and having the capacity to transfer meaning from one context and apply it to another—being an innovative learner.

2. Intrapersonal: developing self-management, persistence, and self-directed skills—becoming an independent life-long learner.

3. Interpersonal: expressing ideas, communicating, and collaborating with others—participating as an engaged and active learner.

These competencies lead to success not only during our education, but also in our careers and as we take care of our health. At SMS, we go beyond asking girls to acquire information and build up their knowledge base before applying it to the real world.  We encourage our students to try to make sense of new ideas, to expand their thinking pathways, and to be co-creators of new knowledge. Ultimately, we want to help our girls develop as individuals capable of finding solutions to challenging human issues, while also solving complex global problems. That can only happen if they find meaning in what they are learning and can develop personal understanding or connections to the concepts presented.

At SMS, we spend less time on girls retrieving information and more on helping them connect and apply what they have learned—hence the focus on inquiry based and experiential learning. While we use technology to personalize learning, we also leverage the power of the internet to help seek out a diversity of knowledge sources and perspectives.  We are creating a more thoughtful, deeper curriculum, which will also allow us to explore new ways of learning, assessing, and celebrating diversity in the way we demonstrate that learning. Education is changing, but SMS is definitely up to the challenge!

“As students cross the threshold from outsider to insider, they also cross the threshold from superficial learning motivated by grades to deep learning motivated by engagement with questions.  Their transformation entails an awakening, even, perhaps, a falling in love.”

                                                                                    John C. Bean

“The modern global economy doesn’t pay you for what you know, because the Internet knows everything.  The world economy only pays you for what you can do with what you know.”

                                                                                    Andreas Schleicher


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