4 tips to unleash learning for everyone

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unleashlearningA personal trainer (PT) has one goal: to get you healthy.  When you work with a PT, he or she focuses on ensuring you are working out throughout the entire session. For example, a PT knows that for a muscle to be built, YOU must lift the weights during the entire session. It is the firing of the muscle that creates the muscle being built. The muscle does not get built from a PT talking, explaining, or demonstrating.

Your muscle only gets built in the moments YOU are lifting the weights.  And you can’t just lift the weights a few times.

You have to lift the weights over and over again. As the muscle fires, you will get stronger and stronger. This is how it works.

Innovative educators in the fields of education, health, wellness, social inclusion, mental health, and other helping professions (that’s you!) know the same is true for learners. Rather than “deliver” information, these educators know that to unleash learning, they must find ways for their learners to lift the weights.

They know that every time their learners speak, write, explain, discuss, question, teach, read to a partner, summarize, they are lifting the weights. These weight lifting sessions are what create deep, long lasting, transformative learning to take place.

Below I offer four quick tips to supports ways to unleash learning for all:

1.  Set up for success: 

Just as a conductor sets up his or her orchestra to ensure a symphony can happen, innovative educators (that’s you!) set up their learning space to bring out the best in what is possible. Before the session, ensure the tables, chairs, lighting, and entire room, is set up for learning to be unleashed throughout the session.  In addition, rather than letting individuals congregate to the back of the room, consider using a seating chart or plan so that learners are set up for success. It’s hard to unleash learning for all when people are sitting in the back of the room, sitting with their friends, or are sitting at tables that are scattered about the learning space. Setting up for success is a proactive way to ensure success throughout the session!

2.  Work with a partner: 

Before the session, assign everyone a partner to work with. Ideally these partners are sitting next to each other. Throughout the session, strategically build in time for these partners to discuss, explain, summarize, clarify the main ideas, understandings, or questions they have about the session. Partner discussions are a critical weight lifting tool, because when learners speak, question, reflect, and explain, they are more likely to fully remember what the session was about.

3.  Always write first: 

Writing first is a great way to bridge learners into the topic your session is about. Provide a question that connects your students with the topic at hand and allow them a few minutes to write (and then share with their partner their answers). For example, if you are giving a presentation about mental health, provide a few general questions about mental health that connects to the lives of your learners. Writing first is a way to activate prior knowledge, to support learners accessing the topic they will be exploring in your session, and to support everyone lifting the weights.

4.  Always write last: 

Have you read a book and couldn’t describe what it was about? Or maybe you saw a movie, and realised you couldn’t explain what it was about?  Writing last provides learners the time to consider and think through their learning. At the end of the session, ask everyone to write for a few minutes summarizing what the session was about.The writing activity supports folks lifting the weights through the process of reflecting, clarifying, and integrating their learning.

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