I am presently working in several schools where we are engaging teachers in peer classroom observations with a focus on student learning production behaviors. One of the schools asked me to provide a “compelling why” that they could share with the staff in advance of my visit. I sent this:
“The key to student learning of deep academic content as well as critical life success skills is found in in what students do and experience. Teachers can be the designers, encouragers, and coaches of experiences that empower student learners. Studying student learner production behaviors and student work and performances drives continuous teacher learning. School leaders should build strategies and capacities for the on-going study of learning through observation and peer coaching.”
This statement represents my backwards planning process that begins with highlighting the desired student learning outcomes that are being sought and then planning backwards to student production behaviors, teacher actions, staff relationships and leadership behaviors. I searched for a long time to identify the label “student learning production behaviors”. I knew that student behaviors produced learning but when I asked teachers about critical student behaviors, I tended to get management behaviors (not talking or texting, doing the task assigned, taking notes). It wasn’t that those weren’t important, but I wanted to explore what students did that caused learning, which is much more than “appropriate classroom behavior.”
The performing arts instructors and sport coaches were helpful because production behaviors are clear to them. I can’t teach you to play an instrument. I can teach you how to learn. If the student doesn’t do the work, the learning will not happen. I can’t teach you how to play lacrosse, but I can teach you how to learn. The student must do the work, the learning production behaviors, that will lead to the learning of the skills. I believe that this is an important understanding that we need to build for students, teachers, and parents. This video clip on YouTube, “Stash by Phish — Learn How To Practice And Play – Part 1” is a great example. Just watch a few minutes as the instructor explains that he is not teaching you how to play the song. He is showing you how he learns to play a song as an example of how you could learn. Modeling how to learn is an important element of teaching.
I think that as teachers change the question from “How will I teach this?” to “How can students best learn this?” the approach to instruction takes a deeper and more differentiated approach. If some students aren’t learning with the current tasks I’ve generated, how else might they learn? If students are at different entry points regarding previous learning and experiences, how do I select the most appropriate learning production behaviors for various students? A teacher might provide a writing prompt and send a few students off to begin writing. She could then, with the rest of the class, generate some questions about the topic that would spark ideas for responding to the prompt and now send more students off to write independently. With the remaining students the teacher could brainstorm a list of vocabulary that were pertinent to the topic and have all but one student start writing. With that last student, the teacher may work one- on- one to get an opening sentence on paper. This teacher is designing to have students practicing the most important learning production behaviors for them.
As schools focus on students developing a broad set of life skills, soft-skills, critical attitudes and aptitudes, the understanding and identification of learning production behaviors is increasingly critical in designing learning opportunities. Many teacher decisions are influenced by the question, “What do I want my students to do and experience?”
An elementary school implements a family-style cafeteria instead of institutional lines and trays. Students set tables and dish out the meal and pour their own water. What skills can be learned through these experiences? Adults in the cafeteria need to decide when to let spills happen and when to step in and pour water to speed the lunch time process? How does each choice change student learning production behaviors and impact the outcome? What gets learned?
A school district is focused on an outcome of students being reflective learners. They decide it is important for students to develop an understanding of the difference between a fixed and growth mindset. Here are some student production behaviors we explored to build toward that understanding:
- Students search and listen to podcasts and videos about growth mindset
- Collaborative groups form definitions of growth and fixed mindsets
- Students search for articles challenging educators focusing on growth mindset
- Students interview adults about times that their mindsets have been growth or fixed
What if students were then asked to identify the teacher’s and the school’s approaches and policies that encourage a growth mind set and those that discourage one? Controversy may emerge. How might that controversy support or detract from important student engagement in key learning production behaviors? In what ways might the teacher and staff engage in important learning production behaviors for themselves?