What is the Measure of Success in Learning?

Lately I have been distracted in my thinking after reading a thought provoking post by Maddison Cooper called ‘How Do I know That My Inquiry Has Been Successful?‘ After initially reading the article I spent a considerable amount of thinking about this very question. What does a successful inquiry look like?

Like Maddison I was inclined to think about the stance taken within the pages of ‘Making the PYP Happen’ in which it states ‘successful inquiry will lead to responsible action’ (Making the PYP Happen 2009). It seemed an open and shut case but the question of success has continued to bother me. In my understanding, true inquiry should be an ongoing process with no definitive beginning or end. True inquiry should be a continuous cycle of learning, process, evaluation and reflection. What if a child took no immediate action as a result of learning?

If the process of inquiry is ongoing then how can Action, regardless of its merit, be the cursor for a successful conclusion? Student Action may also be immediate or it may only become evident weeks, days or even years after we have concluded our learning within the classroom. I have been more inclined to believe that immediate student-action, done within the timeframe of learning, is a reaction to the learning rather than a product of it. And so my quest for understanding continues.

If I am to be believed that immediate student-action is a reaction rather than product then the only true measure of success of an inquiry can surely be sustainable action? Again, sustainable action may not become evident to the educator some time after the student leaves the classroom and so from an educators perspective we would be unable to measure the immediate success of an inquiry on action alone?

I have again started to think about the merit of action and it it cannot fully evaluate the success of inquiry then maybe we have to evaluate the learning process itself? Do we evaluate the success of learning based on the learner coming to a universally accepted correct answer or do we place value on the process of learning itself? Do we have to be mindful that the action may happen within the learner as part of the learning process?

I will try to use examples of a world famous learners and inquirers to try to make my point. Charles Darwin, Galileo and Edison spent their whole lives asking questions, observing, evaluating and ultimately driven by learning. All three are fine examples of the learners and inquirers yet had throughout their careers been questioned about their success and failure. What if their conclusions or findings had been fundamentally wrong? Would we judge their success as learners on the conclusion of their work, right or wrong, or would their success be evaluated on their desire to learn, their perseverance, their lifelong learning journeys? I am sure that, regardless of the right or wrong answers, there would be no educator that would consider any of these learners as unsuccessful.

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My thinking has now come back to considering action again. Very often we consider student-action to be something that can be seen or something that has been done. What if the action comes from within the learner itself? A change in mindset? a change in behaviour? Creating a joy for learning, a desire to ask questions, demonstrating curiosity and wonder, to seek answers, to actively participate in the learning process without fear of being wrong but looking for an answer that makes sense to them. Is this not the real measure of success in learning?

Screen Shot 2018-09-10 at 9.57.24 AMIn conclusion, the success of our teaching should be based on our ability to inspire our students to become lifelong learners, curious and empathetic about the world, seekers of knowledge, communicators and collaborators, fearless about being wrong or making mistakes.

Success of learning should be evaluated on the students ability to take ownership, desiring change and understanding. The change may come in the form of something big or something small. It may change the world or we may help a friend. When I think of success in these terms I think about my Early Years class and how successful each and every one of them are each and everyday. We are all born scientists and explorers without the preconception that we might be considered wrong or fail. We are all happy and enthusiastic to be part of the learning process rather than driven by the product of learning. In my opinion this is the real measure of success and it is our duty as educators to continue to support and develop this natural curiosity for learning without restrictions throughout their journey.

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