Journal — Quote #4

Journal Entry: Quote #4

“… the overriding goal of educational institutions at any level would be to learn how to learn, since specific content becomes obsolete in a fast-changing society.” (Merriam, p.84)

Image from E-Portfolios for Learning.

Image from Ian Fox, as discussed at E-Portfolios for Learning.

This quote, paraphrased from Robert Smith’s work, argues that schooling ought to be less structured than most current educational options — people should have control of a self-paced, learn-as-you-need set of organically adaptive curricula (84). We are beginning to see global efforts to offer free materials online — MOOCs, for instance, mirror semesters of traditional learning with videos of lectures and open source course readings through efforts. An example is this free online John Hopkins University class called University Teaching 101. However, it is unlikely that completion of free web-based offerings will be recognized by academic institutions and employers to the same degree (pun intended) as traditional, tuition-based proof of graduation complete with seal and signature from a major university.

One of my self-assessed strengths is challenging students to engage a variety of paradigms. Whether I’m working with an immigrant having difficulty with an almost mathematical, one-for-one translation approach to language, or a Canadian-born EI recipient struggling with addition and subtraction of fractions, or even a person who immediately blurts out the correct answer but cannot explain how they have reached it, I ask the student to back away from the problem at hand and examine the ideas behind it from several points of view. Sometimes, this approach is met with an exasperated sigh, or even refusal to do the exercise. Often, however, students find this exercise helpful; they are able to attack the problem from a new direction, and achieve more success in this way.

My efforts to have students explain not just their answer, but how they have gotten it, are based upon a general idea that they should own their education. If they are less dependent upon the teacher at a given step in the learning process, they will be more empowered to learn more things, more often — in particular, they will need less assistance to move forward, and be less emotionally dependent upon the approval of a teacher or authority figure for feelings of well-being and success. The exercises I have espoused, however, dwell more deeply in the concept of developing self-reliance than I had previously realized. “To become self-directed learners, students must learn to assess the demands of the task, evaluate their own knowledge and skills, plan their approach, monitor their progress, and adjust their strategies as needed” (Ambrose, 191).

Sadly, my Aha! moment here is a direct result of the political thimblerig played by the provincial and federal governments with post-secondary funding dollars. Information (“specific content”) is outdated (“becomes obsolte”) by technological developments (“in a fast-changing society”); similarly, skills (such as teaching ESL) can be suddenly determined less valuable (largely defunded) by policy makers with no relevant knowledge or experience.

In the past, I have attempted to console those worried about a perceived loss of expertise or excellence — told “I was a writer before I moved here”, I might coach a student to designate alternate goals, or to determine a course of action that might allow them to establish themselves in a similar role here in Canada.

Having experienced governmental interference in my career path several times in the past few years, I understand the feelings of hopelessness associated with what some students perceive to be a useless act. What is necessary is the feeling of control. Current anti-education political will suggests that my efforts to improve as a teacher are a waste of time; what needs to appear is a reasonable positive outcome in order to motivate further action, further introspection.

As an instructor, I must not only give students the opportunity to see things from a different point of view, but a motivating reason to do so. Students chasing a correct answer — like a teacher working paycheque to paycheque or tax return to tax return — might gain short-term results. To build adaptive ability, and thus long-term success that is not reliant upon maintenance of the status quo, requires a desire to establish success through self-evaluation, reflection and the achievement of reasonable goals as opposed to outside measures. Students must be introduced to the process of self-analysis: how they think, how they learn, and how they measure their own successes and failures.

Specifically, I will ask learners what specific skills they are trying to build. Then we will together determine what measures of success are true predictors of ability, knowledge, performance or improvement. This introduction of metacognition may translate into a little more work for me in amassing (or translating) test scores and grades, but it will deliver a more satisfying result to my students.


Ambrose, Susan A. How learning works: seven research-based principles for smart teaching. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2010. Print.

Merriam, Sharan B., and Ralph Grover Brockett. The profession and practice of adult education: an introduction. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1997. Print.


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