SWIFT Talk BlogRe-imagining education.

SWIFT Talk Blog

Creating Expert Learners in Every Classroom

What do you consider to be an educator’s ultimate goal? Is it to fill their students with the knowledge that they need to be successful? To provide their students with the habits of mind that they need to be confident learners? Or perhaps a blending of the two? 

From a UDL perspective, the goal to develop expert learners is a driving force throughout a successful learning process.  UDL defines expert learners as learners who are resourceful and knowledgeable, strategic and goal-directed, and purposeful and motivated.   Simply and powerfully put, David Rose explains that UDL is all about guiding each student to be the absolute best learner that he can be. 

Consider this scenario:

At the end of science class, Mr. Therian returns the science test back to his students.  Students wait for their name to be called, grab their graded test, and race out of the room to get to their next class.  John grabs his test, and stuffs it in his notebook without even looking at it. When he gets to his locker, he quickly glances over his shoulder to make sure no one is there and then he takes a deep breath as he slowly opens his notebook to peek at the grade at the top of his test.  His stomach drops as he sees the grade of 67/D.  How could that be? I went to get extra help, and I reread my notes so many times! How am I going to tell my mom I got a D? In the hallway to the right of John’s locker, he sees his buddy Kevin high-fiving his friends as they celebrate his grade of 93/A. John overhears Kevin saying, "I didn’t even study! I never study—and it’s a good thing I’m good at science because I don’t even think I would know how to study!"  Kevin tosses his science test in the bottom of his locker and rushes off to his next class.  John decides to go to Mr. Therian to ask a few questions about his performance on the test.  John learns what he could have done to improve his grade.  Mr. Therian shares another study strategy to add to John’s strategy of rereading class notes. John leaves Mr. Therian’s room feeling inspired with another option for studying for future tests.  He is also relieved that Mr. Therian is allowing students to retake the test if they submit test corrections by the next day.  John is motivated to continue his hard work—he refuses to let any grade define who he is as a learner.  

So who would you consider to be the expert learner—John or Kevin? 

Becoming an expert learner is all about the process

The UDL Guidelines provide educators with key strategies for guiding expert learners.  Here are some additional strategies that work:

Encouraging Students to be Resourceful and Knowledgeable
* Incorporate Reciprocal Teaching where students predict, question, clarify, and summarize. They gain knowledge while becoming immersed in the learning process.
* Include an Anticipation Guide to activate background knowledge and identify text-based evidence to deepen initial understandings. 

Guide Students to be Strategic and Goal Directed
* Frame the learning environment by communicating the standards and learning process.  You can post the standards, agenda for the day, and any anchor charts that present strategies to guide the learning process. 
* Apply graphic organizers to guide students’ abilities to organize their strategic thinking and broaden their knowledge base.

Inspire Purposeful and Motivated Learners
* Make time for journaling and encourage students to reflect on their learning experiences, while setting goals for future learning.
* Focus on effort and personal growth to inspire long-lasting learning habits of mind.  Weave in growth mindset philosophy throughout each day!

Teachers who develop expert learners help students value their own thinking.  Strategic instructional plans for the learning process are clearly and flexibly in place to guide students to organize their thinking.   These enriching learning environments create expert learners who understand learning as a process—not as a product.  

I am interested in learning from others.  What is happening in your classroom? Can you share your strategies and routines that support your students becoming expert learners?  What is one new strategy you would like to try?

- Elizabeth Stein

Elizabeth Stein is a teaching veteran, with more than 20 years experience spanning grades K-8, specializing in universal design for learning and special education. She’s currently a special education/UDL instructional coach and new-teacher mentor in Long Island NY’s Smithtown Central School District. Elizabeth is National Board Certified in Literacy and a contributor to Education Week and other publications. Her first book Comprehension Lessons for RTI (Grades 3-5), is published by Scholastic (June 2013). She blogs at Two Teachers in the Room for MiddleWeb, LLC. Follow her on Twitter @elizabethlstein