First Day, First Discussion: How Does Learning Happen?

Teachers often ask us how we create a culture of learning in our classrooms. Watch this video to see how Kevin begins the year with a group of new 2nd and 3rd grade learners. This is the first day of school and the first math class for this group, called Navy Band (our multi-age classes are called "bands" and our bands go by color names, with Navy being the descriptor for this group this year.) Kevin, who leads this band, begins by telling the learners that "At Long-View, we know learning is not magical" but in fact, "learning is something that comes as a result of the things you do, not what I do, but what YOU do." This is just the beginning of many, many lessons - planned and spontaneous - that focus the kids on understanding they must take an active stance towards their learning. Many future discussions, in math and at other times of the day, will focus on growth mindset, the neuroscience of learning, challenge-seeking behaviors, and more.

After this first statement, Kevin then goes on in the video to emphasize that much of our learning will take place through conversations so the next question he puts to the kids is: "How do you know if someone is really involved in a conversation?" Watch the video to see what ideas these young children come up with that are evidence of being very engaged in a conversation.

Additionally, as you view the video, you may also want to consider these thoughts:

• Direct teaching about learning and how learning happens is made the MOST important point of the first day's class. Following this, every day for weeks similar lessons are taught. The lesson isn’t always formal, but discussions about posture, active listening, how to use the whiteboard to track the conversation, the importance of asking questions, and more pepper the academic blocks (ours are typically 2 hours long). We’d estimate that 50% of the instruction time is spent on these topics and delivered through various methods (planned lessons, informal/spontaneous teaching points made throughout the block, feedback given to individuals and groups)with that percentage beginning to lessen as we move into the 5th week of school. You are ALWAYS teaching math AND teaching how to learn math, and this combination is of utmost importance at the start of the year.

• Kevin speaks to the kids in a very particular way; he strives for a serious but kind and no-nonsense tone and doesn't engage in some of the "sing-song-y" and downright silly ways of talking to young learners that are commonplace in some elementary classrooms.

• Kevin also lays the foundation, which he will reiterate many times over the next days, that he may give the kids direct feedback when they are not participating in the conversation and thus not learning. He wants them to know his intention and he wants them to be able to manage critical and explicit feedback, so he says, “What if I say: ‘I don’t have you in the conversation because you aren’t looking in my direction. Do you think I’m saying that to be mean?'"

Creating a culture of learning is difficult, but rewarding work. It isn’t done quickly, or haphazardly. You will have to make it a constant goal. Learning how to learn is the first step to teaching children to grapple with rigorous and rich mathematical ideas.