Must-Reads, Recent + Research-Based

Reflections on My Edutopia Binge (Part 1)

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Anyone else been following Edutopia’s “How Learning Happens” video series? I just tuned in this week and have been binge-watching the series.

I’m hooked.

What’s the deal?

In Edutopia’s own words:

“More than a year in the making, the series explores teaching practices grounded in the science of learning and human development. The videos highlight the importance of a safe, nurturing school environment and positive relationships with peers and adults. Get an inside look at practices that build students’ academic confidence and foundational skills such as problem-solving and self-regulation.”

In my own words:

This series tackles the question of how holistic learning actually happens. Rather than remove all of the variables of a student’s experience (social dynamics, past trauma, and so on), these videos embrace them. They provide tangible strategies on how to leverage social-emotional learning across all subjects, grade levels, and classrooms.

Tell me more!

The series contains 5 major topics, which follow a robust introduction:

  • Cultivating a Belonging Mindset
  • Fostering Positive Relationships
  • Building Academic Confidence
  • Developing Foundational Skills
  • Establishing Positive Conditions for Learning

Within each of these topics is a series of videos that share background information, highlight successful strategies in action from real schools (read: real teachers and students). The videos are quickly digestable, relatively short, and provide small steps that can be taken in individual classrooms.

From the perspective of an educator, the strategies pack a punch. They are simple enough to use in your classroom without the pomp and circumstance required for a overhaul (a la flipping the classroom), yet powerful enough to make a remarkable difference in the classroom.

Talk Moves, a strategy fostering safe participation practice, speaks to this. In theory, small group discussions are a great idea, but unless each student is given the same set of expectations and opportunities, it’s no different than any other squeaky-wheel conundrum (one student does all the talking because they perceive no one else will; everyone else is afraid or indifferent to talk because they perceive the talker to have established the vocal territory in the class as theirs).

Talk Moves is a strategy that puts all students on the same playing field, whether they are gregarious or more reserved in sharing their opinion. It gives students shared vocabulary- and more importantly, shared strategy- on how to engage in dialogue. As educators, we can make the error of assuming all of our students know the rule of dialogue– that participation is the goal and however you insert yourself is the strategy. But, what about the students that come from an entirely different set of cultural norms and thus, conversational rules? Perhaps it’s impolite to offer your opinion before being asked. Perhaps it’s uncomfortable and uncouth to debate at all. Or perhaps a student identifies as an analyst– one who prefers to hear all opinions and facts before they decide.

Not convinced? See for yourself:

In short, this is one strategy that allows students to bring their own experiences, ideas, opinions, and backgrounds into a discussion. It serves as the map to help students dive deeper together, (mostly) eliminates competition and judgement, and creates pathways to community. (Side note: interested? Use the free template in your own classroom!)

What’s the point?

If the whole series was just Talk Moves, it wouldn’t be particularly compelling as a series, and the video series encompass a broad range of strategies and approaches, all primarily rooted in social-emotional learning and it’s unequivocal connection to the science of learning.

Check it:

My main takeaways are:

  • A child’s brain is exceptionally responsive to experiences and relationships
  • Relationships and experiences affect brain development
  • Adversity can lead to uneven development of foundational skills (think self-regulation), which will in turn affect more advanced skills required in contexts of learning; in contrast, belonging and safety can help flourish these skills
  • Intentional skill-building aids in developing both foundational and advanced academic skills, creating whole learners
  • Classrooms with manipulatives, tools, and collaborative tasks build foundational skills and encourage social-emotional learning

The video is introduced by Dr Pamela Cantor, the founder and Senior Science Advisor for Turnaround for Children. In her words:

“The 20th-century education system was never designed with the knowledge of the developing brain. So when we think about the fact that learning is a brain function and we have an education system that didn’t have access to this critical knowledge, the question becomes: Do we have the will to create an education system that’s informed by it?”

Well, that’s a hard-hitter, isn’t it? Cantor is also part of an expert cross-disciplinary team studying the science of learning and development, and has dove deep into the role nurturing plays in educational settings…and how this actually affects the very nature of a child.

Cantor is also the founder of Turnaround for Children, an organization that began following 9/11 attacks “to address the impact of trauma on New York City public school students,” per the website. Indeed, trauma-informed practices are a central tenet in the series.

Trauma-informed teaching strikes me as equal parts essential, relevant, heartbreaking, and uplifting. We see growing acts of abuse, violence, and cruelty around the world, but especially so in the USA with 288 school shootings and no efforts to stop them. It’s true also that trauma, social-emotional learning, and a holistic perspective of a child’s experience inside and outside of school are finally recognized as critical pieces to the learning puzzle and that these types of initiatives are truly tying it all together and creating effective and powerful strategies teachers can use in their classrooms everyday, regardless of the subject or grades they teach.

What’s Next?

I can’t possibly recap the entire science of learning initiative into one post, so a series of my Edutopia Binge is forthcoming.

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  • Have you binged on this series?
  • What strikes you as most relevant in your classroom or setting?
  • What did the series nail, and what did it leave out?

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[Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash]