Learning is Doing With…Not To…

The Conditions for Learning were the result of the work that was done in response to challenges around student engagement and motivation; our data was telling us that student absenteeism was on the rise, assignments were not submitted, and overall, students seemed apathetic towards school.  We asked ourselves what conditions needed to be in place for true learning to actually happen.  We defined learning so that everyone was in the same place (again, I offer the definition from Katz and Dack that embodies “a permanent changing in thinking and behaviour”). We then began to look at all of the conditions we knew were necessary for real learning to take place; the environment as the third teacher, the relationship that exists between learners and the educator, the need to create environments where students were free to take risks (to understand that learning is a process where mistakes are key), the notion that learning is a social activity (so we dug into what genuine collaboration is …vs. cooperation), and the need to ensure that educators are responding to the learning needs of learners by both scaffolding learning and providing a suitable challenge (the Zone of Proximal Development).

The more that I engage with these Conditions for Learning however, the more convinced I am that these learning conditions are completely grounded in the notion that learning isn’t something that is done to the learner, it is done with the learner.

I believe that this statement, “doing with, not doing to” is the essence of our work. As educators, we are beginning to figure the new role out…to let go of the notion of controlling the curriculum and the learning, and to instead, provoke the learning.  This starts with knowing the learners – their interests, their age (this really matters as it directly impacts the approach that we take), and the context in which they live.  These factors all impact the provocations/essential questions that the educator provides to inspire the learning.

The pedagogy that is grounding the work of the Early Years is a perfect example of this type of approach.  We know that for our youngest learners, many of the conditions for learning are naturally in place; these learners take risks all the time, learning from and with each other (perhaps not always in a collaborative and cooperative way however this is where the educator comes in!), and trusting the educators.  Genuine wonder and inquiry is engaged in as a response to their questions; they see learning as exciting, they are intrinsically motivated, and they are eager to attend school.  I have seen classrooms where these 4 and 5 year olds have planned the physical arrangement of the furniture, are able to display their own creations, vacuum and sweep up… thus making the environment their own. Families are seen as partners in learning; they develop this sense of belonging and engagement in “school” during the many months of transition activities leading up to their child formally entering the school, and then they are invited into the classroom regularly to engage in the learning with the children, and to co-construct the record of learning that takes place during the Progress Report cycle.  These families see school as a partner in learning…not something that is being done “to” their child.

When and why do we move from “doing with” to “doing to” in our classrooms?  What impact is this having on the true learning that is happening? on the nature of parental engagement?  Will our Conditions for Learning, if fully implemented, help us to “do with”?

And finally…here’s a leap…but could we inadvertently be creating fixed mindset learners by “doing to”?

Until next week…






6 responses

  1. We have lots to learn from our little people! Our early learning classrooms are laying the ground work for inquiry and modelling what growth mindset can look like for our learners. As long as we are “controlling” the environment we will stifle the notion of growth mindset. We have to be reflective and responsive in our learning environments and really hear what are students are telling us! Are we listening?


  2. Thought provoking post, Nicki! A few things come to mind…
    I think that absolutely the “doing to” approach stifles a growth mindset; when we use this approach, we may see teaching and learning as a tidy task to complete, rather than a messy, open-ended process. As you mention, the “doing to” approach may not take into account the unique experiences of our learners and may not respond to them where they are.
    Coming from a secondary perspecitve, I wonder about how we customize our learning envriornments for our learners…without streaming things too much, how do we make sure our post-secondary bound learners are prepared for a learning environment where education is still much more about “doing to” than “doing with”?


    1. Agreed Jen…it is incredibly important to prepare those post secondary bound learners for that next stage of “learning”. I wonder when we begin preparing for that transition?


  3. A new twist on the old adage “everything I really needed to know I learned in kindergarten” – “the way we should learn is how we learned in kindergarten”


  4. The “doing to” is something I have wondered a great deal about and have tried to figure out why we go to this model. The main thing that I can think is that we are creatures that like to complete tasks and time is of the essence. We are also products of how we learned and often teach how we were once taught. This cycle is hard to break for many. Time is something that we are limited to and quality of learning might be where we try to make up time. Sooo, is the answer to this problem quality planning with a clear understanding of our conditions for learning? i think we are heading in the right direction.


  5. I think the doing to mindset develops as a result of the curriculum and ministry expectations. Teachers are still caught up in covering it all and worry about the consequences of not covering everything. I still it see it as some teachers measuring stick, they are elated to have covered everything and proud to let others know that they have covered everything in math. With the freedom provided in the Early Years document we are seeing more of the doing with mindset and most of these young learners expect that type of learning, especially if they have been Day Care.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

Monday Morning Musings

Living & Learning in a social, mobile world


WilsonTeacher.ca - Mr. Wilson's Teaching Website

Michelle Cyrenne Parrish

Learning & Teaching

Big Ideas in Education

A Blog by Deborah McCallum

Northern Art Teacher

Teaching, Learning, Creating

Stacey Wallwin

Learning, Sharing and a Leap of Faith


Connecting to Learn

Becoming a Connected Learner

To be or not to be ... my journey

Nakina Public School

Igniting a Passion for Learning

Director's Newsletter

Inspiring our students to succeed and make a difference

Connected Principals

Sharing. Learning. Leading.

radical eyes for equity

Confronting "our rigid refusal to look at ourselves" (James Baldwin)

Granted, and...

thoughts on education by Grant Wiggins

Modelling the Conditions for Learning

Putting the Conceptual into Practice

The Daily Post

The Art and Craft of Blogging

The WordPress.com Blog

The latest news on WordPress.com and the WordPress community.

%d bloggers like this: