Looking back, there are moments which come to mind as major milestones in learning- one as a student and another as a teacher.
I will never forget the joy of getting into a Beijing taxi after living there for 9 months, saying my address, preparing to present the written address when needed, but the driver not asking any questions and taking me straight home! I had finally mastered the correct pronunciation and tone!
I remember a sweeping sense of accomplishment upon “teaching” my first class- a Spanish 2 class in high school while the teacher was on emergency leave. As her assistant, I had been sitting in on the classes and assisting with lesson preparations for a year and a half, so she asked me to lead in her absence. I led the normal routines and worked through some review material, asking and answering questions along the way. From then on, I saw myself as a teacher.
The word ‘learning’ evokes visions of textbooks and papers, but the biggest learning moments were active moments where connections were made to previous learning and were moments that inspired future learning endeavors. Rather than a static event, learning is the active process of gaining knowledge, making connections to existing knowledge, and reflecting on what knowledge is missing and “people must learn to recognize when they understand and when they need more information.” (Donovan, Bransford, & Pellegrino, 2000). Active, inquiry-based teaching methods which draw from an individual’s prior knowledge are essential to building new knowledge. Experiences with new content and an expanding vocabulary to articulate this knowledge are the foundation of learning. Individuals learn by making connections to existing knowledge, trial and error, and correcting any misconceptions. A learner takes these experiences, acknowledging gaps in knowledge, to identify areas for future exploration and to apply these experiences to what could be possible with further learning.
While my Chinese pronunciation and vocabulary initially grew through interactions with my teacher and trial and error, my knowledge has continued to expand using various technological developments. As stated in How People Learn, “Without an adequate level of initial learning, transfer cannot be expected” (Donovan, Bransford, & Pellegrino, 2000). Armed with a foundation in pronunciation and eager to live independently, I began to take more interest in new vocabulary. I would “read” through posts from my Chinese friends, hunting for characters I recognized, guessing at the meaning, before looking at the translation. With time, I was reading more and more and becoming less reliant on tech tools for translation.
Learning also takes time and repeated opportunities to try, fail, and try again. In that first moment as a “teacher” in Spanish class, I was using routines that my teacher had established through her years of practice. Her learning ultimately led to my success in that moment which taught me that education was a viable career choice and led me to declare Education as my major. Along the way, I added pedagogical knowledge and content knowledge (Koehler & Mishra, 2009) to my existing understanding of what it means to be a teacher. Accommodating this new information meant that some lessons succeeded while others failed. Reflecting on the outcome led to trying new things and learning from the result.
No one is exempt from learning. Learning has occurred when knowledge and experience are combined and applied to a new situation. Moving forward, I am learning how to leverage technology as a tool for testing and investigating new ideas. Here at the start of summer, I feel very confident using technology in ways others have modeled for me- word processing, presentations, and basic EdTech skills that I have observed and discovered in the past, just as my Spanish class experience was successful because of the experience gained from others. I am looking forward to moving out of my comfort zone, acknowledging all that I do not know, to proceed through the process of trial and error to ultimately expand my understanding of technology’s place in education. Just as I finally succeeded in the taxi, I know that this learning journey will yield new skills and a sense of accomplishment in the future.
Donovan, S., Bransford, J., & Pellegrino, J. (2000). How people learn: Brain, mind, experience and school. Washington, DC: National Academy Press. Retrieved from http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?isbn=0309070368
Koehler, M.J., & Mishra, P. (2008). Introducing TPCK. In AACTE Committee on Innovation and Technology (Eds.) Handbook of technological pedagogical content knowledge (TPCK) for educators (pp. 3-30) New York: Routledge Taylor & Francis Group. Retrieved from https://www.dropbox.com/s/v5wacslek0x517x/koehler_mishra_08.pdf
Photo is my own.