Learning Cycle. For Kids Only?

As part of a professional development workshop on Inquiry in the Classroom (which is a part of our school’s yearlong investigation), my fellow teachers and I were (re)-introduced to the Learning Cycle model.

The basic model, initially developed in 1984 by David Kolb, looks something like this:

This is nothing new.  Many teachers already know this, intuitively or from experience.

It goes something like this: Give students opportunities to explore a concept and/or material. Then see what is stimulated from the experience by reflecting on it — talking, discussing, writing, whatever.  Use the ideas, concepts, knowledge or misunderstandings from that reflection to devise/tailor content to meet students’ needs/interests. Then give students a chance to apply new knowledge in relevant context. Reflect. Repeat.

Below is an expanded version of the learning cycle with some guiding questions:

Such questions can help to steer the lesson/unit planning process. They provide the teacher with a loose framework for crafting any number of lessons in any number of subjects or content areas.

Below is an even more expanded and elaborate modification of the learning cycle replete with activity ideas:

Learning Without (Titled) Borders

My question is this: Why is it that we utilize (or at least realize we should utilize) this technique or model when working with students, but not always with teachers?

In many professional development situations — including introductions to new curricula and new technologies — teachers are expected, in one or two days of sit-n-git, to absorb and meld the new tricks with their old ones. The process isn’t that simple.

Teachers are often expected to accept something new not just as learners, but as competent instructors — able to implement and teach with a new tool, without mistakes, as complete adopters.  This is especially challenging for teaching teachers to take advantage of technological tools.  Understanding enough web 2.0 to teach with it requires a number of hours experimenting with various programs before ever reflecting on how to integrate it into the curriculum (a curriculum that is often pre-mandated to be supremely full and pulsing with high-stakes pressure).

While I often employ the strategy of not knowing what I’m doing and learning with the students (more due to reality and necessity than intentional, feigned ignorance), it is not a practical one in all scenarios.  How can we help teachers learn new tools to the point where they feel confident of introducing those tools to the class?

Turns out that threats and coercion have limited capacity for stimulating long term sustainable growth.

However, employing the learning cycle with teachers stands to bring us two benefits, at a minimum:

  1. Teachers learn how the learning cycle works in application as well as how it feels to be in a learning curve.  This builds their teaching repertoire while also building their empathy and understanding of the student experience.
  2. Teachers gradually attain proficiency over a new concept, skill, or curricular tool that can be implemented in the classroom.

Too often we seem in a hurry to either reform teachers’ practices & behavior or install some new get smart quick program that is guaranteed to raise student scores.  Such horse race schemes often put numbers and short term results over people, forgetting that things can take a while to change.

Slow change isn’t always bad change.  Sometimes its the change that lasts the longest.

Images: E-Learning Cycle, agpa.uakron.edu
Kolb’s Cycle, Serc.Carlton.edu
Learning Cycle, STEM Resources
Action Learning Cycle, Enviroschools.org
Confused dude, Icis.com
Inspector Gadget, QZABTeachers.wikispace.com

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15 Responses to “Learning Cycle. For Kids Only?”

  1. February 11, 2010 at 10:08 pm #

    RT @prestwickhouse: Learning Cycle. For Kids Only? http://bit.ly/bYnre6 via @jasonflom

  2. February 12, 2010 at 12:03 am #

    RT @ShellTerrell: RT @prestwickhouse: Learning Cycle. For Kids Only? http://bit.ly/bYnre6 via @jasonflom

  3. February 12, 2010 at 4:33 am #

    RT @ShellTerrell: @prestwickhouse: Learning Cycle. For Kids Only? http://bit.ly/bYnre6 via @jasonflom #fhuedu508 #ll4educ #fhuedu320

  4. February 23, 2010 at 12:02 am #

    Learning Cycle. For Kids Only? http://bit.ly/cl9bSO via @jasonflom #edu

  5. February 23, 2010 at 12:18 am #

    [I doubt it!] RT @balmeras

    Learning Cycle. For Kids Only? http://bit.ly/cl9bSO via @jasonflom #edu

  6. March 9, 2010 at 1:49 am #

    Learning Cycle. For Kids Only? http://tinyurl.com/ylj2kzz #fhuedu508

  7. August 16, 2010 at 6:20 am #

    @keisawilliams Found that graphic! Here it is for your attribution: http://ecologyofeducation.net/wsite/?p=1714

  8. Anonymous
    April 22, 2011 at 5:57 pm #

    Good one Jason. Giving Children the opportunity to explore a topic, and then discussing it, and rectifying any misconceptions is the best way to educate the children! Works so well. Excellent article this. I being a teacher myself fully appreciate these techniques.

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  11. January 30, 2018 at 11:08 am #

    Charles Franklin Kettering, an inventor once said, Whenever you look at a piece of work and you think the fellow was crazy, then you want to pay some attention to that. One of you is likely to be, and you had better find out which one it is. It makes an awful lot of difference.

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