If we, teachers, want students to demonstrate the skills they have acquired in our subjects; if we want to find out which they are developing; if we need to figure out which they are mastering; and if we want them to exemplify the extent to which they can employ competencies developed in other subjects, it is clear that we need to generate the environment where these experiences can happen. We are all Approaches to Learning (ATL) teachers, and it is important that when learning involvements are presented, students are informed of the strategies they will experience, of the skills that will be required and the goal that is to be attained.
Explicitly addressing ATL will help us develop a learning/teaching environment in which we welcome a variety of approaches to learning; in which, by default and by design, we are required to choose from our skill / strengths repertoire and design the best way to fulfill a task. Painters know which brush allows them to produce a certain kind of stroke and effect; mechanics know the use of each tool; and those of use who utilize Apps to support our work are fully aware of the right App for the right task. Thus, making sure students know they are being provided with tools for future use, and creating opportunities for them to use them should be a natural practice in our praxis.
What would happen if we asked students to identify significant ATL that they have mastered and to mention in which subject(s) they have had the opportunity to meaningfully put them into practice? Would there be an inclination towards specific subject or would there be a balance among all subject groups? Would students know what they are to find? Would they know what each ATL skill look like? Clearly, if students have been involved and informed about the situations in which critical thinking, creative thinking and design thinking have been required, explored and experienced, they will remember. If students have been given standards on what is considered effective oral and written communication in each subject, they will know what is needed to make that happen. If they have been a part of self-management practices that allows them to build their way towards self-regulation, they will have evidence to assess their own performance and experience.
This year we decided to run a series of ATL workshops for students, in which we would refer to an ATL website that was generated for students to know what each ATL category meant, implied, and why it was relevant for their learning. Having this tool available for students would allow them to stay informed and to have the opportunity to look at how their own learning is being shaped thanks to the diverse approaches to learning that they were exposed to. On the other hand, as teachers would know about the sensitization process students underwent, they could approach ATL exploration in their subject groups in a more natural way for they would focus on actual properly contextualized engagements, and allow for the learning ground to get ready for harvesting.
The goal of this process was to add a new nuance to our Student-Led Conferences (SLC), whose focus would be on the skills students were acquiring, developing and consolidating in every subject group. Students were asked to identify salient skills, the task/learning scenario where they felt they mastered them, as well as other contexts in which they have been able to utilize such tool/skill. Not only did we want students to claim ownership of the skills that they have personalized and internalized, but also to become aware of the array of tools they possessed and, after observing how they described their learning experience it was clear that this first step had been a good one.
Below is the tool that students were given to identify salient ATL.
We became aware of how important it is to state the targets and standards that are to fulfill in each learning experience, for this how students activate their ‘tool choosing devise’ and can strategize on their learning. It was observed that if teachers continued presenting learning scenarios without helping students see the components of its architecture, students were not fully able to look at it as an opportunity to choose the right skill to fulfill the task, and they only regarded it as ‘another task’.
Clearly, this is the target for us to fulfill in our next attempt.