Factors that Contribute to Learning
Simply stated, learning is the act or process of acquiring knowledge and skills. It is both the product of our experiences and the ultimate goal of education. When I think back to my years as a student, I can recall teachers and classes I loved as well as those I loathed. Fortunately, I had more positive experiences in school than negative. As a result, I consider myself a lifelong learner. The opportunities to continue adding to my knowledge-base through graduate coursework, academic workshops, and education conferences strengthen and support my professional growth and development.
Based on my experiences as well as my education and training, I believe several factors contribute to student learning. One significant factor impacting learning is the relationship between teacher and students in the classroom. I have learned that positive relationships and interactions, based on trust and respect between a teacher and her students, greatly influences student learning. Teachers who understand their students and adapt their lessons to recognize the diversity of cultures, backgrounds, and learning styles of students achieve greater success in the classroom.
Likewise, teacher expectations for student learning also influence student learning. One teacher who exemplifies how positive relationships and high expectations influence student learning is Mrs. Linda Mobley. A high school biology teacher, Mrs. Mobley established a classroom climate where students were comfortable accepting challenges and taking risks. Though a mediocre science student, I flourished in her class because of the positive classroom climate and high expectations she demonstrated for me and the students in our class.
Another factor affecting student learning is teacher effectiveness (including knowledge of content, student engagement, discipline and classroom procedures, and assessment). The following scenario provided by Marzano (2001) illustrates the impact an effective teacher has on learning. Picture a student entering a school at the 50th percentile. This student attends a school that is one of the least effective and has a teacher that is classified as one of the least effective. After two years the student has dropped from the 50th percentile to the 3rd percentile. The same student is in a school that is considered one of the least effective, but she is with a teacher classified as one of the most effective. The student now leaves the class at the 63rd percentile – 13 percentile points higher than she entered. This same student is not only in a school classified as one of the most effective, but is with a teacher classified as the most effective. She enters the class at the 50th percentile but leaves at the 96th percentile. Regardless of the research basis, it is clear that effective teachers have a profound influence on student achievement and ineffective teachers do not. In fact, research has found that ineffective teachers can impede student learning. I believe a concerted focus on improving teacher quality will help us minimize the achievement gap and propel students to experience academic success.
Other factors include multiple types of intelligences, learning styles, and motivation. Intelligence is multi-faceted, and learners have multiple ways of analyzing the world. The theory of multiple intelligences was first developed by psychologist Howard Gardner to describe the different kinds of "intelligences" exhibited by human beings. Gardner (1983) suggested that each individual manifests varying levels of different intelligences, including linguistic, mathematical, spatial, bodily kinesthetic, musical, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and naturalist. In addition, learning styles offer various ways in which learners prefer to learn content. It is commonly believed that most people favor some particular method of interacting with, taking in, and processing information, including physical and environmental preferences, cognitive styles, and ways of working.
Moreover, motivation, intrinsic and extrinsic, can also impact student learning. Motivation in education can have several effects on how students learn and their behavior towards subject matter (Ormrod, 2003). It can direct behavior toward particular goals, lead to increased effort and energy, increase initiation of, and persistence in activities, enhance cognitive processing, determine what consequences are reinforcing, and lead to improved performance. However, oftentimes, teachers focus on extrinsic rewards to encourage student learning. This can lead students to focus on the reward rather than the learning activity.
Vital to a school learning community is a set of instructional practices that focus on creating the best learning experience by which all students learn. In A Plea for Strong Practice (2003), Elmore states, “Successful leaders have an explicit theory of what good instructional practice looks like. They model their own learning and theories of learning in their work, work publicly on the improvement of their own practice, and engage others in powerful discourse about good instruction.” Professional practice involves continually looking at what is and what isn’t working and making adjustments to instruction on the basis of analysis and best practice.
For schools to be effective and make a difference in student learning, they must hold teaching and learning at the center of its work. Additionally, realizing teachers have a significant impact on student learning, teachers should strive to ensure that students are at the center of learning and that classroom instruction provides rich and meaningful curriculum for the full range of students in our schools. The most effective teachers never lose sight of the following four elements: whom they teach (students), where they teach (learning environment), what they teach (content), and how they teach (instruction).