Learning occurs occurs
across complex dimensions which are interrelated and interdependent. Learning
theorists have argued that learning and development is not an assembly-line
which can be broken down into discrete steps occurring with machine-time precision,
but an organic process that unfolds along a continuum according to its own
pace and rhythm. The teacher (and student) is actively searching for, and
documenting, positive evidence of student development across five dimensions:
confidence and independence, knowledge and understanding, skills and strategies,
use of prior and emerging experience, and critical reflection. These five
dimensions cannot be "separated out" and treated individually; rather, they
are dynamically interwoven and interdependent.
Individually, you should expect to make progress across five dimensions:
Confidence and independence
Confidence and independence in our own reading, writing, and thinking abilities. We see growth and development when learners' confidence and independence become coordinated with their actual abilities and skills, content knowledge, use of experience, and reflectiveness about their own learning. It is not a simple case of "more (confidence and independence) is better." The overconfident student who has relied on faulty or underdeveloped skills and strategies learns to ask for help when facing an obstacle; the shy student begins to trust her own abilities and begins to work alone at times, or to insist on presenting her own point of view in discussion. In both cases, students develop along the dimension of confidence and independence.
Skills and strategies
Specific skills and strategies involved in composing and communicating effectively, from concept to organization to polishing grammar and correctness, and including technological skills for computer communication. Skills and strategies represent the "know-how" aspect of learning. When we speak of "performance" or "mastery," we generally mean that learners have developed skills and strategies to function successfully in certain situations.
Knowledge and Understanding
Content knowledge refers to the understanding gained about new technologies, rhetoric, research methods, the topics we write about, the methods of organizing and presenting our ideas to others, and so on. Content knowledge is the most familiar dimension, focusing on the "know-what" aspect of learning. What is "persona" in rhetoric? Where can I find reliable information on a particular topic? What is a "home page" on the WorldWide Web? These are typical content questions.
Use of prior and emerging experience
Use of prior and emerging experience involves the ability to draw on our own experience and connect it to our work. A crucial but often unrecognized dimension of learning is the ability to make use of prior experience as well as emerging experience in new situations. It is necessary to observe learners over a period of time while they engage in a variety of activities in order to account for the development of this important capability, which is at the heart of creative thinking and its application. In predetermined learning situations we cannot discover just how a learner's prior experience might be brought to bear to help scaffold new understandings, or how ongoing experience shapes the content knowledge or skills and strategies the learner is developing.
Reflection refers to our developing awareness of our own learning process, as well as more analytical approaches to reading, writing, and communication. When we speak of reflection as a crucial component of learning, we are not using the term in its commonsense meaning of daydreaming or abstract introspection. We are referring to the development of the learner's ability to step back and consider a situation critically and analytically, with growing insight into his or her own learning processes, a kind of metacognition. Learners need to develop this capability in order to use what they are learning in other contexts, to recognize the limitations or obstacles confronting them in a given situation, to take advantage of their prior knowledge and experience, and to strengthen their own performance.
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