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'Making Learning Whole,' a Review

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Years of classroom teaching experience informs an educator about different methods and beliefs about learning and instructional practices that work.

Some folks need research data before they start to explore the possibilities and others explore the possibilities before they start, learning from the trial and error approach, only to come across research later that supports what they have learned on their own.

My experience is the latter. Although I'm a reader, immersing myself in research studies and other complicated, seemingly nonpractical information never really appealed to me. Instead, I enjoy reading firsthand accounts, learning a strategy, using it, and tweaking it based on the particular needs of my students.

Some years ago, I started moving in a very progressive direction. Changed everything I did in the classroom, partially informed by books I've read, blogs I've followed, and people on Twitter who shared their experiences. From there, I found a method that worked for my kids and for me that emphasized learning and a deeper metacognitive awareness of the why and how that came with it.

Recently, I've had the pleasure of reading a text that validated many things that I have experienced in the classroom with actual research. David Perkins' Making Learning Whole: How Seven Principles of Teaching Can Transform Education was full of ideas and research that demonstrated why project-based learning or other embedded learning experiences produce more impactful and lasting learning.

Through the lens of baseball and/or other games, Perkins helps readers understand the necessity of making learning a whole experience rather than just skill-based experiences that drill on particulars all of the time. As educators, we need to understand that deep learning that can be applied in different ways requires context and connection. Too often, we assume students will be able to transfer what has been taught and then are frustrated when they can't. But many of us don't do a good job of helping them make connections; there must be more transparency.

The Seven Principles explained in the book are:

  1. Play the whole game
  2. Make the game worth playing
  3. Work on the hard parts
  4. Play out of town
  5. Uncover the hidden game
  6. Learn from the team ... and the other teams
  7. Learn the game of learning

Each principle addresses an aspect of education that can help students become better learners and help teachers assist them on that journey. We all want our students to be successful and we want to be the kind of teachers kids remember. Perkins explains succinctly how we can do that for students of all ages and also highlights some common pitfalls that most educators succumb to.

There were a few sections that resonated with me about problem-based learning and reasons why assessment for learning needs to happen in many ways. He advocates on-going assessments rather than one and done experiences and explains the reasoning behind giving multiple opportunities for growth in any setting. 

Another unique idea that I found compelling was about "problem finding" instead of problem-solving. He used an example about how he was an excellent problem solver, but having those skills didn't equip him for being a problem finder. "Problem finding is a somewhat different matter. Problem finding concerns figuring out what the problems are in the first place. It also involves coming to good formulations of problems, formulations that make them approachable. Often it is also redefining a problem halfway through trying to solve it, out of the suspicion that one may not be working on quite the right problem" (26).

Too often in school, we are giving students problems to solve but aren't giving them enough time to find problems that resonate with them that are worth solving. Much of the text speaks to autonomy and choice to build on these ideas. 

Something else I enjoyed about the text is that it wasn't written from only the lens of math, which is his subject area; examples from all content areas and disciplines are represented so that no junior game goes unplayed.

If you need convincing as to why project-based learning is the way to go, I strongly recommend Making Learning Whole. It's a quick but meaningful read that is accessible.

What was the last thing you read that really felt validating to what you know and taught you something new also? Please share.

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