As the Expanded Learning Opportunities Coordinator at Central Falls High School in Rhode Island, my goal is to help students design their own learning experiences based on their passions. When I first meet students I interview them to learn more about who they are as a person and as a learner.
Oddly enough when I ask students to describe their learning strengths and challenges, they look at me with blank stares, as though no one before has ever asked them that question. This shocks me because I deeply believe that unless we know ourselves as learners, we can’t learn about the world, nor impact it’s direction.
Luckily, the Q.E.D. Foundation has created The Learner Sketch Tool. This free online tool helps students better understand their learning “profiles,” and advocate for learning that builds upon their strengths and supports their challenges. Educators can review students’ results and develop learning environments that respond to students’ profiles.
In order to be able to encourage students to use The Learner Sketch Tool, I wanted to have first hand experience using it. For my first step I was asked to respond to a series of statements by identifying them as “This is so me,” “Not me,” or I could leave the statement in the middle to indicate a “sometimes” or neutral response.
While the user experience felt simple and game-like, I appreciated how the process is actually quite complex as each learner response assists the tool in identifying the learner’s strengths and weaknesses in regard to:
• Attention – Mental Energy, Production Controls, Processing Controls
• Complex thinking
• Language – Understanding Written Language, Understanding Spoken Language, Expressing ideas through writing, Expressing ideas through speaking
• Memory – Active Working Memory, Long-Term Memory
• Movement Control
• Getting Along with Others
• Spatial Thinking
• Keeping Track of Time/Order
After categorizing all of the descriptors, I then had the opportunity to understand my strengths and weaknesses through written and video content, review strategies for enhancing my learning, create a growth plan, and share my plan.
As an example, I listed the statement “I apply logic and reasoning to most challenges,” in the “Not me” category. In return, the Learner Sketch Tool told me that this means that I may find it challenging to:
• Understand how things work
• Identify exaggerations or misleading statements
• Defend your views with facts and evidence
• Brainstorm possible approaches to something
• Come up with new angles on an issue
• Decide which ideas are best
As an indecisive person who tends to make decisions based on gut feelings, this tool certainly captured my challenges. The tool then provided a series of recommendations based on my area of growth, which included the suggestion, “Take a class in improvisation to practice working with the unexpected.” While I may not go run to sign up for an improvisation class, if I were to share my tool results with a teacher, he could use this suggestion to integrate improvisational techniques into his lesson.
When I identified myself as having a strength with movement control, the tool recommended that I build off my strengths by sitting on an exercise ball while studying or rewarding myself with physical activities (such as going for a run after completing your homework). This is a wonderful reminder that when I need to take a break from computer work taking a walk will be much more rejuvenating than surfing the web.
Applying the Tool
Beyond using The Learner Sketch Tool for my own personal awareness and encouraging my students to do the same, I think this tool can make an a big impact in a variety of education settings.
While the tool is certainly not a replacement for ongoing observation, feedback, and reflection in an educational setting, the Learner Sketch Tool provides a useful jumping off point for students to understand and communicate their own learning profiles and for teachers to start with a baseline understanding of their students’ strengths and challenges.
In fact, it’s a great place to begin a dialogue between students and teachers about learning profiles: we each have one, it changes over time and based on context, and we can strategize to increase our effectiveness.
These days, many administrators and teacher leaders are encouraging teachers to differentiate teaching and learning in their classroom to provide a more personalized and student-centered learning environment. While most teachers would agree about the importance of differentiation it can also feel overwhelming to know where to begin.
One simple way to start is to have your students take the Learner Sketch Tool and take note of any gaps between their results and your instructional practice. You might realize that the majority of the students in your class identify themselves as having a challenge expressing their ideas through speaking but your main teaching strategy is group discussions. Or you might work together with your students to create a graph of all of the students’ responses to a particular question. This may lead to discussion about learning strategies, how famous people have used their challenges in a positive way, how schools may be designed with certain learners in mind, the list goes on!
No matter how you think you will use the tool with in your own life or in your classroom, I encourage you to give a try and get to know yourself as a learner.