Making the Educational Pieces Fit

hands-holding-jigsaw-1392628325u9E w words 2What does it take to create a
significant learning environment?

Learning looks different across the globe. The needs and resources of nations dictate the educational environment making it hard to say what’s really working. We know some philosophies and techniques work well in American schools while others are thought to be out-of-date.

Teachers have new roles, and students are producing real, usable ideas and products – but not everywhere. Why the difference? Mindset. It affects how we think, plan, teach and assess ourselves and those we aim to educate. Mindset changes how people learn and the choices they make as a result.

Societal demands on schools have changed in the past 40 years, and the model that once pumped out cookie-cutter graduates has been replaced. Schools that thrive are adopting a holistic approach to learning, where decision-makers look at who learners really are, and what, and how kids learn. With a new vision, schools are even changing what classrooms look like and utilize blended and virtual classes to meet new learning expectations.

blue monster

Educators at all levels of schooling are looking more broadly at the importance of teaching with a higher purpose, raising the bar on achievement to include skills that transcend the curriculum. These skills/goals -called BHAGs by some (Big-Hairy-Audacious-Goals) help educators remember that K-12 education should develop young minds so they might create, and improve upon society.

The educational community is dreaming big for students’ success in and out of the classrooms. Bringing these ideas into manageable lesson plans is tricky, but doable.  

My vision is to establish a learning environment that helps learners choose a growth mindset by overcoming the obstacles they face. I help students recognize the value curiosity brings to learning by reducing the barriers to success that come from their own mindset- whether fixed or growth oriented.

This vision is the foundation of innovative learning environments including my own course, German Blended Learning for the introduction to a foreign language at the middle school level. The significance of this unique learning environment allows a class with this design to exist, and pushes not only what students can learn, but how. 

My philosophy about learning is well developed and backed by cognitivist and constructivist theory and research. Embedded in my belief is a teaching model I created (Environmental Influence Model) for coaching self-directed learners, which supports what I believe, and works well in the courses I’ve designed and led. The basis for my model can be found in another post, Creating a Growth Mindset Plan, which explains my personal mindset legacy, and additional resources for developing a growth mindset at any age. 

However, vision, research, and sound practices aren’t enough to adequately teach in the current K-12 environment. Students and teachers arguably need structure and measurable results. In most schools, lesson plans set the pace and grades continue to be the target for student achievement – in spite of the changing educational landscape.

Fortunately, well-designed courses that make use of backward design in their creation can minimize the emphasis on grades and maximize student learning. Models such as FInk’s 3 Column Table and Understanding by Design used backward design to squeeze large, overarching vision and imposed learning standards into a formula for implementing daily lessons that stay true to the new, significant learning environment.

American education isn’t perfect, but some schools get it right. In short, success in education happens when what we know (through facts and experiences) and what we’ve learned (the difference in understanding between two points) collides with the choices we make. For education to continue to evolve, we have to consider our state of mind before we choose.

Image Source: Google Images, licensed for non-commercial reuse with modifications


Blue Monster Image. Retrieved from Google Images on July 1, 2016.

hands-holding-jigsaw-1392628325u9E. Retrieved from Google Images on July 1, 2016.


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