Knowing Ourselves as Learners – Using the Learner Sketch Tool

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.

User Experience

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.Intro page


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.

Construct page

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

Strategies page

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.

Plan page

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.


Year at Mission Hill, Chapter 4 Love and Limits

Working and playing — essential components of learning and keystones for establishing both the love and limits that create a safe space for each student. The question of how to best set appropriate boundaries within a loving context became all the more important because Mission Hill is a full inclusion school, meaning students with exceptionalities are not pulled out and separated from their peers.

This chapter unpacks the false dichotomy between social emotional learning and academic learning, looking instead at how they inform one another.

Year at Mission Hill, Chapter 3 Making It Real

missionhillThis chapter opens with the question, “What makes a mind come alive?”

It is an apropos question that is all to often left out of discussions about education and education reform. At Mission Hill it is central to the development of educational experiences for students. Check out this chapter that explores the idea of creating opportunities for students to create, engage, involve, and explore in meaningful ways.

<!– End of YouTube Embed code pop over here. Generated in 0.0042 seconds –>


Freedom and Choice

In a recent conversation with a friend who immigrated from Nigeria, we were talking about why he had pulled his two sons out of an after school program. “They were being taught freedoms in a way that goes against their family’s beliefs. The meaning of freedom is you obey the law. If you obey the law, you are free. If you don’t, you are not.”

My friend’s statement caught my attention. It wasn’t that I actually disagreed with what he was saying, but rather that I hadn’t thought of freedom in quite those terms before. I wondered about the relationship between our different upbringings and our interpretations of the word “law”. Did he include institutional “rules” under the heading of “law”? I realized, having grown up in New England, I’d come to associate freedom, particularly American freedom, to some degree with Henry David Thoreau’s notion of “civil disobedience” and a responsibility to disagree, albeit respectfully, with rules and even laws that were in violation of my moral beliefs.

Columbia professor Sheena Iyengar explores the complexities of choice, from how the culture we grow up in shapes our perceptions of and reactions to choice to the intricate relationships between choice and freedom, in her newly published book The Art of Choosing sildenafil citrate 100mg. Drawing upon Erich Fromm’s distinction of the two complementary parts of freedom, “freedom from” and “freedom to,” Iyengar asserts “True choice requires that a person have the ability to choose an option and not be prevented from choosing it by any external force, meaning that a system tending too far toward either extreme will limit people’s opportunities.”

Acknowledging the power of “the American Dream” in both shaping the ideals of the United States and serving as “the foundation for everyone’s life story,” Iyengar encourages readers to “acknowledge its power [so] we can also begin to understand why other nations and cultures with other dreams have very different ideas about choice, opportunity, and freedom.” Iyengar calls for moving to “whatever comes after tolerance,” stating “We cannot live solely by our own stories or assume that the stories we live by are the only ones that exist.”

In her TED talk about the danger of a single story, Chimamanda Adichie warns against allowing a single story to define another person, group of people, or country. Recounting how story has shaped her understandings of others as well as their understandings of her, Adichie remarks on “…how impressionable and vulnerable we are in the face of a story, particularly as children.” “Show a people as one thing, only one thing, over and over again, and that’s what they become.” For instance, Adichie’s American college roommate was shocked to hear Adichie’s excellent English, and confused when told that English is the official language of Nigeria.

“It’s impossible to talk about the single story without talking about power,” stresses Adichie. “Power is the ability not just to tell the story of another person, but to make it the definitive story of that person.”

In fact, the implications of the single story perspective can be profound, as has been the case for my Nigerian friend’s sons. Despite coming from a country whose official language is English, their high school placed them in the English Language Learners track of classes. And that, my friend recently learned, means his sons will not graduate from high school college ready. Certainly for these two young men, as for many others, freedom from and freedom to are directly connected.



Written by Lucas Braley

Monday, 18 October 2010 19:08

“I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.” -Mark Twain


Too many times, it seemed, that teachers rolled their eyes. I had noticed that something was off about the student-teacher dynamic in my traditional Junior-Senior High School when a failing student was a chore for the teacher: Not because the teacher had to try and help him do better but because the teacher had to suffer through having this kid in his class. Also, when the limit of a student government’s authority is to organize and fund raise for dances, it cannot be said that the school’s administration is by the students and for the students.

These were some of the reasons I had for leaving my old school and applying to the public school of choice, Monadnock Community Connections. Unfortunately, I cannot claim to have been drawn in by the numerous admirable qualities of the program. At this point in my education, I was rather more concerned with escaping the jagged jaws of academic apathy than finding the ideal education for me. Sometimes the best things in life show themselves to us when we least expect them.

I don’t know what kind of person I would be today if I hadn’t made the choice to come to this school. I certainly wouldn’t have become a published reporter. I probably wouldn’t even be working on my novel. Though important, these aren’t the qualities that I am most proud of developing through Monadnock Community Connections. There was something that I got out of my personalized education that extends above and beyond what anyone expected from me: Hope.

Finding happiness in education is an idea as ancient as the Greeks, but very few people really like to talk about faith in public education. Whether it is the separation of Church and State or the lack of empiricism, it is a touchy subject that either gets uncomfortably pushed out of sight, or if not, the subject of heated debate. Either way, a curriculum established by a public school administration cannot hold religious bias. Only a curriculum crafted by the student would work, but who’s ever heard of such a thing?

When I came to MC2 (Monadnock Community Connections), I was a miserable teen fresh from his first year in High School. I had given up on hope and despaired of the fate of mankind. All I could see was the avariciousness and the loathing that I perceived everywhere. I had no interest in the beauty of discovery, nor did I have any aspirations or sense of purpose.

I believe that life is a story. Mine, like many before me, is one that begins with a fall from Grace. Telling that part of my story is unnecessary for the story I am going to tell you, but it is by no means unimportant. This story is one that begins at the climax and concludes far before the back cover closes. This story is the one about how I found hope, how I learned to love and how I found my love of learning.


Written by Lucas Braley

Tuesday, 26 October 2010 18:47

“In the Beginning there was nothing.” –Genesis 1:1


The Wilderness Orientation Trek (or WOT) is a mandatory prerequisite for those accepted to MC2. It begins with a few days of hiking with 60 pound bags for a total of 19 miles in 3½ days. After that, the group canoes down the Connecticut River for 72 miles in another 3½ days. Then the students wrap it up with a full day’s community service at a local farm and then finish with a one-mile sprint into their parent’s arms at the end of the journey.

Underneath this superficial description of the 8 day journey is a much deeper psychological element that complicates matters: You are going on this journey with 3-6 complete strangers under the expectation that you are supposed to get to know them during the course of this journey.

My WOT was with two guys, Justin and Taren; and two girls, Raven and Lil. My first impressions were: Justin and Taren are rednecks, Raven is a typical insecure teenage girl and Lil is nice. You know the phrase “Never judge a book by its cover?” Well, as it turns out, you shouldn’t judge it by the blurb on the inside either. Apparently the only way to read a book is from page one.

That’s the whole point of the WOT. It forces each of the kids to start on page one with each other. Spending this strenuous week in the woods together isolated from the outside world forced each of us to learn one another’s stories.

The first section of the trip was challenging for some more than others. For me, it was a great physical challenge, but the only emotion I was feeling was anger that I had ever decided to come on this trip. At the end of the hiking portion of the WOT, I was weary and wanted nothing more than to go home, shower and rest.

When we got to canoeing, tensions were high and the newly established friendships were shallow and fragile. The hiking was just difficult enough to give the false impression that the hardest part of the WOT was over. Though it sounded like a spring breeze when compared to hiking, canoeing was actually much harder. Sitting in the same position all day with no back support can be excruciating long before you reach your destination, and other challenges (such as blisters and extreme fatigue) were inevitable. Pain was an immovable obstacle to overcome.

In the middle of the trip, we stopped at a garden called <a href="http://64pathlif.simplweb viagra 100mg” target=”_blank”>The Path of Life. The garden was a pathway that symbolized the beauty of life and presented it in life’s stages. It was such a beautiful experience that the hour we all spent in that wonderful place was completely silent. For the first time in that week of sweat and blood, we found peace.

While at the garden, something miraculous happened. The Path of Life affected my soul with an awareness that I had hitherto been oblivious of. The mind that had created this masterpiece had been inspired, and I stood in awe of the product of His masterpiece. God had spoken to me for the first time that night, and though I did not recognize His voice, I loved it all the same. I think it was this experience that opened my mind to the possibility that I might not understand the way the universe works. This would be a crucial revelation for my studies at Monadnock Community Connections School.