Learn­ing by Doing

Septem­ber 8, 2023

Progres­sive educa­tion offers a unique oppor­tu­nity for students and fami­lies to think about learn­ing holis­ti­cally. Progres­sive educa­tion focuses on learn­ing by doing,” as opposed to memo­riz­ing. Many of us have the expe­ri­ence of relying on memo­riza­tion as the heart of the learn­ing expe­ri­ence. We often relied on cram­ming. Cram­ming is the process of stuff­ing in as much content as possi­ble in order to pass a test. As soon as the test has passed, we frequently forget every­thing we crammed. Progres­sive educa­tion encour­ages students and teach­ers to think and do, rather than cram and forget. We know that learn­ing is not linear. We know that skills are devel­oped with appli­ca­tion in the real world and we know that every student learns in differ­ent ways at different speeds. 

As educa­tors, we regu­larly ask ourselves: How do I know my students are learn­ing?” We regu­larly seek evidence of learn­ing and it comes in many forms – class discus­sions, home­work, projects, collab­o­ra­tive work, class­work, jour­nals, reflec­tions, and 1:1 conver­sa­tions between students and teach­ers. We are also looking at the various ways that we set expec­ta­tions and offer feed­back to students. Feed­back comes in as many forms as ways that we collect knowl­edge about the student expe­ri­ence. We want students to learn how to dialogue and self-advo­cate. This comes through meeting with teach­ers and asking questions.

As parents, it is essen­tial to regu­larly ask your students what they are working on and to ask them what they are learn­ing. Ask them to show you. Many students will share and many students will not. Encour­age your student to meet with their teach­ers, ask ques­tions about their process and the outcomes. The journey of learn­ing is as impor­tant as the outcome and students need encour­age­ment to pay atten­tion to both, regard­less of where they think the journey leads.

When students learn to talk about their learn­ing expe­ri­ence, they are engag­ing in a process called metacog­ni­tion – think­ing about think­ing. Reflect­ing on the learn­ing process deepens learn­ing. This is one of the reasons that talking with our students about what and how they learn nurtures their growth.

So this is your home­work: please directly engage your student about their learn­ing. Regu­larly. Be willing to move beyond an initial we didn’t do anything at school” or the occa­sional it’s all the same.” Regular engage­ment will empower your student to share, learn, and grow. Progres­sive educa­tion requires connec­tion between home and school. Between play and work. If your student asks you why you’re suddenly so inquis­i­tive, you can tell them, Clarke said I had to.”

In Commu­nity,

Clarke Weath­er­spoon
Head of School