Cohen’s World of Education (Part 4) — How To Improve Learning

Cohen's World of Education (Part 4) -- How To Improve Learning

Parents, schools and the community are critical factors in assisting young people to learn by creating a proper environment for learning. The community includes organizations such as the scouts, groups that offer after-school programs, community leaders, non-profit organizations,  religious groups and the business community, including future employers.

Among the factors involved in learning are the following: 

  • Learning has to have personal meaning. People learn when they want to learn, so educators must link what is being taught to specific experiences students have had. Students attach new learning to previous learning. In Indonesia I helped our consultant team to assist the Ministry of Education to develop a workbook specifically designed for children living in fishing communities. The math problems were related to some aspect of community activities, especially related to all aspects of fishing, from catching to selling.
  • Learners learn differently and one size does not fit all. Some learn quickly while others need more time to reflect and digest the information. Our children may not learn the same way we do. This can be frustrating to the parent. When checking homework a parent might want the child to spend more time at one sitting to complete assignments while the child needs to work in short but intensive spurts. Teachers need to recognize these differences and organize classrooms around he concept of "differentiated learning." Learners need more individualized attention which takes into consideration each student's dominant learning style.
  • A positive emotional climate must be maintained. We have all heard of the "flight or fight" reaction when threatened. When we are threatened the intellectual part of brain shuts down and focuses on protecting the body. A little anxiety and fear of failure can be a useful tool in motivating learners. But when anxiety and fear exceed a certain level the emotional part of the brain takes over and learners cannot learn. Parents and teachers who use fear, intimidation threats and insults to motivate are actually decreasing the learner's ability to learn. Parents and teachers must strive to achieve mutual respect with learners, and that includes providing feedback in a respectful and positive manner.
  • Time-on-task must be at a maximum. This term means the actual time spent by a learner in learning. There are many disruptions that reduce the amount of time spent on task, including classroom disruptions; shorter school days and school years; long summer breaks, and other factors that reduce the time spent by students on learning tasks. One of my Chinese students at Kobe University said schooling in China includes six-day weeks; eight-hour school days; lots of homework, and no summer breaks. I consider this extreme and not suitable for elementary and even secondary levels here in the USA. Changes need to be made to increase time-on-task. The school year in Indonesia lasted 200 days rather than the 180 days required by law in most states, which still reflect an agrarian society where children were needed to help their parents on the farm.
  • People need feedback to learn. How can we correct our mistakes if someone doesn't tell us what we did wrong, how to do it right, and then gives us more opportunities to show that we have learned the correct way? Teachers use tests and other assessments, then give a grade with a few comments without providing the learner an opportunity to make corrections and resubmit. "Teach and move on" is often the way classrooms are managed because the school wants learners to do well on state tests that wll reflect positively or negatively on their school. Employers provide an excellent example of proper feedback  because employees completing a task incorrectly reduces profitability.​

Among the conditions that help create an environment for quality learning are adequate learning materials; setting high standards for learner performance; planned outcomes that support quality learning; good communications among schools, parents and community organizations, and improved learning through social interaction. These are key to increasing the quality of learning. 

I welcome your feedback and observations.

Joseph Cohen