Knowing Our Learners and Learners Knowing Themselves

Knowing Our Learners…is the key to positive relationships.

Knowing Our Learners…is the key to a strengths-based approach to learning.

Knowing Our Learners…is the key to having learners know themselves, especially their strengths. 

Knowing Our Learners…is key to shifting to a fully Student Centered Learning Environment and Pedagogy…

Having the privilege of listening to Juli Alverado (@coachjuli) on our system professional development day last week reaffirmed the need to truly know our learners.   Without this knowledge, we will struggle to create the type of safe, welcomed and caring environment where students can focus, know themselves as learners,  and deeply learn. Juli describes this as an environment where a student’s brain is prepared to learn; a brain that is regulated is one that has the optimum capacity for learning.  We know that positive relationships are key to the establishment of this environment.  “If there is no relationship, there is no healing, if there is no healing, then no learning can happen.” (Alverado, SGDSB Keynote, 2016).


Knowing our learners and responding to this knowledge is a key part of the shift towards a fully student centered learning environment and pedagogy, however to do this well, students first need to know who they are as learners.  The Creating Pathways to Success (2013) document from the Ministry of Education is a document which fully captures and puts “students at the center of their own learning, viewing them as the architects of their own lives” (Creating Pathways to Success, Ontario Ministry of Education,2013,  pg. 7).  Through this document and the strategies contained within it, “students are encouraged to discover who they are, explore opportunities, pursue their passions, and design personal pathways to success…” (pg.7).capturecareer

“When students are empowered to design and plan their own lives, they are engaged, they achieve, and they find themselves applying their learning in their daily lives. In an environment that encourages such learning, students develop confidence in knowing that their school programs are created with them in mind, that the world beyond school has something to offer them, and that they have something to offer the world.” (Creating Pathways to Success, 2013, pg. 7)


At a meeting hosted by the Ministry of Education for School Effectiveness, Student Success pathways-slideand Special Education leaders a few weeks back, this slide was shown and got me thinking about the impact of having students truly engage in knowing themselves as learners, specifically knowing their strengths, setting goals about their future, learning how to achieve these goals, and thinking about the opportunities that are out there for them.

The notion that this type of learning results in improved engagement, the achievement of goals and the development of independence and resilience was a powerful reflection for me. It resonated with me and is echoed in a book purchased for all of our schools by Mr. Goodman this summer that helps us to understand the importance of and how to teach metacognition (a term that we find in our curriculum documents in Ontario!)- thinking about how we think.

The authors of Teaching Students to Drive their Brains:  Metacognitive Strategies, Activities and Lesson Ideas remind us that, “some of the most vital and versatile skill sets we can teach capturedrive-brainsstudents to develop are the abilities to think about their learning; be aware of factors that affect their intellectual performance; to know how, when, where, and why to use particular cognitive strategies; and to monitor and adjust their performance of learning tasks.” (Wilson and Conyers, Teaching Students to Drive their Brains, pg 1).  This is an important part of our work as educators, teaching students HOW to learn.  The Creating Pathways, as well as the many tasks detailed in Teaching Students to Drive their Brains, provide an excellent starting point to embedding this work into our practices.

At the core of the Creating Pathways document are the following questions driven through an inquiry process which assists students in truly knowing themselves.capturepathways2

(Creating Pathways to Success, Ontario Ministry of Education, 2013, pg 15)

I think about how this type of ongoing inquiry is captured through the student’s individual portfolios, and how this learning can support them in engaging in ongoing reflection and planning for the future. I wonder if this is a key component in the success of student led conferences.  When students develop the skills necessary to engage in self-reflection, they are more likely to transfer this skill to content areas and thus would be able to engage in communication with their families about their strengths and growth.  This process also involves the self-assessment of Learning Skills, and thus helps the students to think about how they learn as well.  The work to Know Our Learners and to Have Learners Know Themselves is what must occur at the beginning of every school year, and is reflected in the Ontario Progress Reports.

The self-awareness and goal setting that results from this type of instruction should be captured in Student Led Conferences that occur in yearly in November. As a parent, when I sit with my child at a Student Led Conference I want to know what she is learning about herself as a learner, what she has grown in as reflected by the goals that she has set with her teacher, and to see some of the student work that demonstrates this growth.  I think that the Student Led Conference should be the culmination and celebration of the growth in learning that the student has achieved; to do this successfully, the student must be able to articulate that growth. We need to teach them how to do this.

What if the following tool (Ministry of Education SEL, SS and SE Session, October 2016) were used by the students as a planning tool prior to student led conferences?  Although the focus of this tool is mathematics, any subject area can be inserted. Imagine the learning that the students would engage in as they reflected about their own growth.capturestudent-led

I think about the questions that comprise the Conceptual Framework (the chart abovcaptureall-about-mee) in this process and how these questions can be scaffolded beginning in the early years classrooms through the All About Me Portfolio that is outlined in the Creating Pathways to Success document, thus resulting in a culture where students are fluent at knowing themselves as learners.


When students learn about themselves as learners, our job of knowing them as learners becomes much easier. When students know themselves as learners, we are truly shifting our emphasis from teaching to learning…and towards an increasingly student centered learning environment and pedagogy, and thus, to the attainment of our SGDSB goals. Knowing our Students and Students Knowing Themselves is a key part of the HOW.  


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