The Difference Between Learning and Performing

Friday 22 May 2020

When some people think of learning, what sometimes comes to mind is the image of a teacher standing at the front of the classroom asking questions, with students dutifully raising their hand and answering them. We think of sharpened pencils, worksheets and stacks of textbooks. But, is this really what learning looks like? Is the student who raises their hand to answer a question they already know learning or performing? For learning to take place, should it be the teacher asking the questions or the students?

There is a big difference between learning and performing. Children who can solve problems without any difficulty are demonstrating that they have already established these pathways in the brain and therefore, are ‘performing’. On the other hand, children who find a problem hard, get it wrong and then try again are ‘learning’. They are forming new neural pathways.

The key to learning is not knowing the answer. It is in the search - the struggle and the process of building and modifying our brain’s connections. Learning takes energy. It is challenging and requires questioning, making mistakes and not always having the ‘right answer’. Sometimes more learning can take place when an answer is wrong than when it is right.

How do we promote effective learning at Living Faith?

Our approach to learning at Living Faith considers the learner first in every aspect of learning. Here are a few examples:

  • What we value: we know that learning is about challenge, engagement and curiosity. We foster learning by promoting the value of a growth mindset, where mistakes are valued as learning opportunities and where students see the importance of grappling and asking questions to help themselves improve. We encourage students to recognise that the brain is capable of growth and that we are all on individual learning journeys.
  • The right space: our classrooms are designed to support different learning styles and be flexible and agile to suit the needs of individual students. We have different learning spaces within our classrooms: Caves (for quiet independent work), Waterholes (for collaborative and group work) and Campfires (a space for listening to an expert/ teacher or peer).
  • Teaching individuals: our teachers recognise that each student is on their own learning journey and as such they differentiate lessons to meet the needs of individual students. For example, students each work on individualised reading, writing and speaking and listening goals during Daily 5. They have personal spelling, sight word or reading opportunities which are targeted to meet students’ individual needs.
  • Meaningful challenges and engaging projects: we combine many subjects into one subject called PBL (Project-Based Learning), where students undertake meaningful projects that facilitate higher-order thinking. Projects are designed to be as real-world as possible so that students can make important connections and see the value of what they are learning. We have found that PBL is a vehicle for engagement and curiosity and have seen significant academic success since its implementation.
  • Grapple tasks: in other subject areas, such as Maths, students undertake collaborative grapple tasks before explicit content is taught. This allows students to struggle and challenge themselves to solve problems and facilitates learning by providing students with open-ended challenges that incorporate important soft skills such as communication, creativity and collaboration. We have found that students can make better connections during explicit teaching after completing the grapple task because they can see the purpose of what they are learning and can see how it can be applied.
  • Questioning: questioning and curiosity play an important role in our lessons. In PBL, Christian Studies and Maths, students begin with driving enquiry questions which help to lead students' curiosity into searching, seeking and finding answers. We aim to instill in students the belief that questions can be more valuable than answers.

So what is learning about at Living Faith? Learning is about giving students the opportunity to take risks, make mistakes and keep trying. We encourage our students to see the value in their growth (learning) rather than simply getting the question right (performance). Learning at Living Faith looks like collaboration, questioning, enquiring, re-thinking, trying, mistake making and most importantly, persisting.

- Bianca Ravi, Director of Learning