What Does Learning Mean?
Recently, I have sat through a few meetings of educators where the topic involved "the learning gap" caused by the pandemic. I put "learning gap" in quotations because I am not sure what is meant by the term, and I am equally suspicious that there even is a learning gap. Let me explain.
Any "gap" insinuates there is an agreed-upon end result of learning, a destination for learning. Let's unpack that statement.
"Learning gap" seems to indicate that schools are operating on an agreed-upon definition of learning and that we are all following that definition. After all, how can we have a gap if we don't know the definition of learning? So...
What is your school's definition of learning?
Have you structured learning experiences to reflect the definition?
How do students learn?
Next, the entire field of curriculum is nebulous on a good day. I assume that a learning gap arises when a learner falls behind where they should be in the curriculum. So...
What is the agreed-upon end result of learning in any curriculum area?
Who decided that?
How do you know that learners are experiencing a gap?
Do teachers tell you? If they do, are they talking about "covering the curriculum" or learning?
If teachers sense kids are behind, can they get them "caught up?"
You see what I am sensing is that there are people who want to create a narrative of crisis in public education. One way they can propagate the narrative of crisis is by convincing people that there is this massive learning gap. This allows vendors, politicians, and other third-party actors to claim they have the solution (or just blame educators) for something that I am not convinced is such a huge problem. (BTW, I have talked to a lot of principals about the learning gap, most say it is very small, if it exists at all. Just an FYI)
I drew this chart to reflect what I was thinking after leaving a meeting on Friday.
I think that we confuse "curriculum as taught" with "curriculum as learned." Actually, I don't think we spend enough time in the "curriculum as learned" sphere. We confuse teaching the curriculum with learning the curriculum. Thus under "teaching" we have standards, testing, etc. that makes curriculum writers feel as if their planned curriculum has maximum exposure to the learners. Notice I did not say "maximum learning of the curriculum."
Learner-centered leaders focus on learning. The first two spheres are adult-oriented. I am basing this observation on the actions I see in the people that engage in this work. You can talk about being learner-centered, but the actions speak otherwise.
You all know by now that Hannah Arendt is a theorist that helps me make sense of the world. I love one of her quotes at the end of her book, Eichmann in Jerusalem, "In politics, obedience is support." It becomes complicated for educators as we are required (in many instances) to follow the rules and laws of the State. However, it is our obligation to separate urban legends on what we must do according to law and what we actually have to do. If obedience is support, let's at least know what we have to be obediant about!
Just some things to think about...