Brookfield’s core assumption #3 of skillful teaching in Chapter 2 of his book, The Skillful Teacher, is that “Teachers need a constant awareness of how their students are experiencing their learning and perceiving their teachers’ actions” (Brookfield 2015, p. 22).
Student Learning Awareness
What Brookfield means by an awareness of how students are experiencing their learning is “having some insight into what students are thinking and feeling” (p. 22). He argues that it is crucial to have some awareness of what is going on in the classroom in terms of actual student learning about the subject. Without that awareness the teacher can be blinded to what is really going on, where the understanding is happening or not happening in the classroom. As a result the choices a teacher makes can be erroneous in trying to address the learning gap in the classroom.
The implications of this are that a teacher’s day to day decisions on how to lead the class, what content to introduce, what problems to go over, what exercises to give, etc., must be guided by a very real awareness of how student learning is happening. This ties in with Hattie’s concept of making learning “visible” (Hattie 2012).
Brookfield goes on to note how incredibly tricky it is to get into a student’s mind and really know what’s going on in their heads, so the cardinal rule for getting student learning feedback is to ensure the anonymity of the students’ responses to the questions teachers would ask them about their learning (Brookfield 2015, p. 23). They need to feel safe to express whatever concerns they have, whether positive or negative, about what is going on in the classroom. This holds especially true for “perceiving their teachers’ actions”. Students simply don’t feel safe to openly express any concerns they have in their instructor’s abilities to teach. This can be especially pronounced with students coming from cultures where the teacher as authority figure is highly respected and where it would be taboo to openly criticize anything they do, with possible harsh repercussions.
Winning the trust of your students is hard work but crucial in getting real honest feedback on how learning is happening. When students see that you take their anonymous feedback seriously, there will be a much healthier dynamic of transparency in the classroom. Students are able to reflect and describe how their learning is happening, including what helps and what hinders them from learning, and the instructor is able to bring up these issues with the whole class, especially those issues which impact the majority of the classroom, and provide solutions and teaching improvements moving forward.
Brookfield, S. (2015). The Skillful Teacher: On Technique, Trust, and Responsiveness in the Classroom. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Hattie, J. (2012). Visible learning for teachers: Maximizing impact on learning. Routledge.
Hattie, J. (2013). Visible learning: A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement. Routledge.
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