Monday, November 8, 2010

Advocating for Extending Learning Time

Jeff Cobb from Mission to Learn, defines learning in this way: “Learning is the lifelong process of transforming information and experience into knowledge, skills, behaviors, and attitudes.” He goes on to say that learning does not require a degree or certificate to prove that it is valuable and it doesn’t always need to occur in a classroom. He does believe that learning requires hands-on experiences that can be shared with others as well as deepened through personal reflection.
Personally, I agree with him. Every day, every experience we have contributes to the knowledge, skills, behaviors, and attitudes that we have. I believe that many of the experiences we have, especially as we get older, act as confirmation for learning that we have had in the past. It affirms your point of view and gives you the confidence to move forward, knowing that at least some of your understanding of the world remains intact (especially important in the age of what seems like constant change). Sometimes an experience requires that we adjust our current thinking, either by adding a new increment of meaning and understanding, or helping us to see another application for that learning that previously escaped us. Finally, there is the kind of experience that opens up our minds in a totally unexpected way, it provides that “AHA!” moment in which you are both amazed and left wondering why you didn’t know it earlier. This process of “Confirm, Tweak or Adjust, and AHA!”, provides a forum to reflect on key learning and is often used in after-school programs to transform activities into intentional learning opportunities.
If you believe that learning requires information and experiences, then doesn’t it just make sense to intentionally extend learning time each day? Out-of-school time provides young people with an opportunity to extend the time of formal learning by several hours each day. After-school provides a forum for formal learning in an informal setting, with instructors who are from the neighborhood whenever possible. This extended time provides opportunities to learn through different learning modalities (visual, auditory, kinesthetic, digital) or better yet, all of these modalities while maintaining the 3 R’s of after-school, relationships, relevance, and rigor. Additionally, after-school can employ less traditional methods and teach reading through song lyrics, drama, and/or science to name a few. Promoting the development of multiple intelligences and building on youth interests can only serve to engage the learner more completely.
Extending learning time and opportunities into the after-school arena is challenging for educators who believe that only a credentialed teacher can teach. It is important that we get past this notion. While I would absolutely agree that there are specific areas that you need trained professionals to address, I also believe that supporting the good work done by teachers during the school day can and should be supported by well-trained, energetic, and enthusiastic after-school staff.

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