Learning with an Asset Lens
All too often in education, we focus on the gaps in learning, what’s missing, and what a learner needs to do to be more successful. Instead, we can think of learners through an asset lens. When we view learners as capable, creative, communicative individuals we are more apt to construct opportunities that capture their interest and engage them in learning because we are thinking about what they can do, not what they cannot do. Oh, and did I mention, it is a whole lot more fun for the educators too? To support this approach to learning it is helpful to keep in mind three facets of the learning experience:
- rich and relevant learning opportunities,
- the climate of the learning environment, and
- the communication skills of the members of the learning community.
First, we want to ensure the opportunities to learn are rich and relevant. Establishing a positive caring relationship between educator and student provides an opportunity for the educator to know their learners, their strengths and interests. It is then possible to create relevant and meaningful deep learning opportunities, preferably those that lead to some action on the part of the learner. Each participant should be able to identify, what they are learning, why they are learning it, and how it connects to their life and beyond. They also need to receive constructive feedback and continuously reflect on their progress given the relevant success criteria.
Second, is the climate of the classroom, the physical space, and how members of that community conduct themselves within that space. When educators co-construct the learning environment with their students they are valuing the input of every individual, ensuring each can see themselves reflected in the space so that everyone feels they belong. What does the classroom look like and how does it feel? Does the space lend itself to peer dialogue? Is there flexible seating and access to resources? Are ideas valued, built upon, and respectfully challenged? Knowledge building principles (Scardamalia, 2002) including idea diversity (understanding contrasting ideas), epistemic agency (participants take responsibility for their learning), and democratizing knowledge (every participant is a valued contributor), helps to sustain a climate where positive risk taking in learning is supported and every learner is valued.
When we think, not as individuals always, but as a collective, to solve problems, we build a community who can support and care for one another because we have greater understanding and acceptance of one another.
Finally, when we are provoking deeper thinking, we need to ensure that the learners have the skills to build on and challenge thinking, they must have strong communication skills to be able to benefit from the learning opportunities and the environment that has been created. This takes practice and direct instruction with feedback. Using knowledge-building discourse (Scardamalia, 2002) may be one way to teach participants how to share and respond to the ideas and work of others. The outcome is improved ideas or solutions to challenges. When we think, not as individuals always, but as a collective, to solve problems, we build a community who can support and care for one another because we have greater understanding and acceptance of one another.
Self-determination theory (Ryan & Deci, 2000) identifies basic psychological needs that support well-being that are consistent with elements recommended for moral development (Nucci 2009), and are often found in high performing schools (Doll, 2010). For well-being and an opportunity to flourish every learner needs to feel a sense of belonging, to believe they can be successful and have some autonomy. Educators have tremendous influence over the lived experience of school beginning with the pedagogical practices they employ and the relationships they establish. When learners are viewed as having assets and interests, and we meet their basic psychological needs, we are better equipped to focus the learning opportunities so as to engage all learners, thereby improving outcomes for our students substantially. Mental health and wellbeing, pedagogy, learning for all.
Doll, B. (2010, December). Positive school climate. Principal Leadership, 12–16.
Nucci, L. (2009). Nice is not enough: Facilitating moral development. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education.
Ryan, R., & Deci, E. (2000). Self determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being. American Psychologist 55(1), 68-78.