“At what point do you feel like you have ‘learned’ this concept?” This question that triggers a student’s metacognition can be a hard one to answer. As we reflect on the question, we may not be able to answer it easily ourselves. Have we learned something, like a fact, if we can recall it? Is learning the same as remembering? Have we learned something when we can use the information in a specific way—is learning the same as applying? Or does it have to be an even deeper level? Have we truly learned something when we can explain it to other people? Is learning the same as teaching?
These aren’t easy questions to answer. The degree to which we want students to learn a concept is often called “mastery.” But I think we would find a wide variance between teachers if we asked, “What does mastery mean?”
Learning vs. Motor Memory
This is what I refer to as the “point” of learning. There is a moment when we have learned a concept. Once learned, it can typically always be retained in our memory with a little effort of recall.
Riding a bike is a great example of learning and motor memory. There is a point in the process of learning to ride a bike when we have the concept mastered. This doesn’t mean we can’t improve on the skill, learning new tricks and techniques. But once we can do it, we have passed the point of learning, and will always be able to recall the knowledge of how to do it.
Another example is math facts. As younger students, we had to learn these concepts and practice them. Over time, these skills became automatic and well past the point of learning. As adults, we don’t have to “think” much when it comes to 8x3—we are past the point of learning.
Why Does Any of This Matter?
The lead up to the point of learning may be the most important time in the process—this is where students may struggle to persevere and want to give up if frustrated. Think back to the bicycle example. For many kids, it’s hard to get to the point of learning. It requires dedication, maybe some pain in falling, and definitely some determination. As parents/teachers during this process, encouragement is critical. We must cheer for them as they make progress toward success. We must also offer a hand on the back of the bike if they need it at first, training wheels, or elbow guards—in education, we call this scaffolding. We add supports in the learning to help them get to the point where they “own” the material themselves.
Notice here, in this example at least, what the parent/teacher is not doing. They are not giving a presentation on how to ride a bike, not lecturing, and probably not even modeling much, if at all. It may be a little “I do” at the start, but the majority of the instruction is a “we do” model of supporting the student as they learn. As teachers, we can learn a lot from this.
Getting to the “Aha!” Moment
Students should be thinking about the point when they know they “have it.” When they get it, they really get it. Many teachers would tell you that this is the best part of their job—the “Aha!” moment when kids really figure it all out. They might say it just “clicks” for the student. This is the point of learning; this is the time when the student gains confidence because he or she feels the success on their own. They now “own” the skill and can ride the bike or read the book independently.
We should celebrate this moment with our kids. Since the struggle can be really hard for some students, we must help them relish in the feeling of accomplished learning. This creates the energy to persevere the next time.
Continuing the Learning
Students should move on to the next skill in the progression once they have learned the initial skill. If it only takes five minutes to learn to ride the bike, we don’t need to require 55 more minutes of help and instruction. We can let them practice and move on to the next skill.
This is why it is so critical for the student to know when they have hit the point of learning. They should be able to articulate this to the teacher, who hopefully has the next activity, challenge, or opportunity ready for the student.
Want more tools to gauge comprehension and learning? Check out some of Boxlight’s assessment tools, which help with check-ins as well as both formative and summative assessment.