Is there a difference between students and learners? This question has been rattling around in my brain for a while now. I began noticing that many people seemed to use the two words interchangeably as if they meant the same thing…but do they really? In looking through dictionary definitions I failed to find any clarity. Students are defined most frequently as people who learn in school. Most dictionaries do not define learner. Instead they direct you to the word learn and by so doing make the connection that learners are ones who learn. All of the definitions gave me the impression that learners and students were the same thing and that the words could be used interchangeably.
For me this just doesn’t feel right. These definitions seem to fall short of capturing the true essence of what students and learners are. So I’m back to my original question with the realisation that the definition needs to come from me and be rooted in my experiences.
In my mind a student is a person who is learning, typically in a formal environment or institution. Students are placed into grade classrooms, assessed and evaluated and moved on through the system one grade after another. When I think of students I think of books, backpacks, desks, rows, and order. Order in the classroom, order in the school, order in the system that is providing the education. Digging into my past experiences as a student in school I have many happy memories. I was a great student. I knew the “stuff” I was told I needed to know. I knew how to be successful because I could easily figure out what teachers wanted from me. I knew the game of school, what the rules were, how to follow them and could easily jump through all of the hoops. I could memorise facts, poems, information, formulae and then recall them for my teachers when asked to do so. I loved tests and exams because they allowed me to show how smart I was and almost always provided me with a chance to shine.
At the start of teaching I realised that I had a problem…my learning as a student was not always helpful. Knowing “stuff” didn’t matter, knowing “stuff” didn’t help the children in class learn it, knowing “stuff” didn’t help me become a better teacher. What I needed to learn was not the “stuff” but how to use it, adapt it, make it my own and more importantly, make it work for my students. From that day forward I needed to become a learner.
Now as a learner I want feedback not grades. I seek out opportunities for collaboration not competition. I am in control of my learning and pursue not only areas of personal passion but also areas where I need to grow to better support the learners in my classroom. This learning is not always orderly, in fact it is often very messy but it empowers me in ways that my learning as a student never did. As a learner my learning is not confined by a building, a time or a preset curriculum - it was set by me. This learning is relevant, authentic, engaging and extremely satisfying.
My inquiry is not over on this topic but I do believe that there IS a difference between being a learner and being a student. This difference appears to lie largely in who is in control of the learning and in the creation of understanding that transcends any one place and time.
Teaching students about Urdu Language Teaching (ULT) was as interesting as teaching them about English Language Teaching. I had imagined that it would be easier teaching a native language as students already have a foundation in it because it is their mother tongue (usually). Moreover, I felt that it would be much easier teaching adults because they already have a proficiency in the language, but when it came to teaching student Early Years practitioners for two days, there were some strange and funny situations. Many students did not know that genres are asnaaf’e adab and that the new terms according to them such as mersiya, nezm’e moera, qata, rubayi,, munqebet were just the types/names of many poems of Urdu that they had been reading since childhood ? The most interesting experience was teaching Urdu phonics; the word phonics appeared strange to them, complicated yet attractive, that was fearful in the beginning when I told them that they will study phonics with me the next day ? When I did Urdu phonemes with them, using some videos, they were pleased to know that they had been doing these sounds since their childhood, but not with the categorisation and sequence of phonics ? Moreover, the students were observed to be excited and playful like kids in the class when they did Urdu children’s songs - with activities - and they were naughty as well. Urdu riddles and puzzles made them even naughtier. Some also had difficulties in comprehending Urdu literature, some had in lesson planning… both problems seemed to be the same as we have in E.L.T. The best part of the lesson was when the Montessori student teachers were silent while listening to, and watching, the Urdu stories and they all wanted to be the main character of those stories with more creative or funnier ideas ? All students, no matter what their age, do belong to the same age group more or less, especially when they are learning, and here is where the excitement of teaching and learning comes !
During the AIE summer “Kids’ University” we explored the use of microscopes in one of the science sessions. It was one of the best sessions. The sight of the microscopes made them really excited (the felt like real scientists!) and the kids started exploring the use of the microscopes which raised many questions. They asked how a microscope works and what they can see using it.
I showed them how to adjust the microscope. The children prepared onion cell slides for the first time ever. They were surprised to see the layers of hexagonal cells stained blue with methylene blue dye arranged in an orderly manner. Even the nuclei were clearly visible. They learnt to change the magnification powers. They learnt to use course and fine adjustments. They adjusted the mirror to focus the light on the slide.
Later the students prepared slides of samples of moss and fungus. They enjoyed observing different samples under the microscopes. It was a great learning experience for them as well as for me. Even the small kids of Grade-2 learnt to prepare slides and operated the microscopes and recorded their observations on the worksheets.
This reinforced for me the value of using hands-on and minds-on approaches for teaching science to promote students interest in this subject.
In the science week at AIE, we had an opportunity to interact with school science teachers on a number of different workshops. Out of five workshops I enjoyed conducting the workshop entitled ‘Kitchen Chemistry’ the most. The aim of this workshop was to help teachers explore how to use everyday kitchen items to conduct science experiments. During the workshop participants identified major food groups and the additives they contain. They performed simple experiments using kitchen ingredients and identified different physical and chemical changes taking place during in the kitchen.
The topic was introduced by an activity in which I prepared tea and a sandwich in front of the class, discussing how these are made up of number of chemical compounds. Tea is a mixture of caffeine, water, sugar and milk. Bread is made from three main ingredients: water, grains and leavener (also called raising agent). Making bread from yeast is an aerobic reaction. Cooked bread has a spongy texture due to carbon dioxide. We also discussed that there are many food items that contain additives which are mainly artificial in the form of colouring agents, flavouring agents, emulsifiers, stabilizers, preservatives, gelling and glazing agents.
The groups made jelly and sandwiches with mayonnaise and boiled eggs. When eggs are cooked they become firmer. This is because cooking changes the shape of the amino acid chains in the egg. This is called ‘denaturing’. Mayonnaise is an emulsion. It does not separate when it is left to stand. Mayonnaise is made using egg yolk. This contains lecithin, which is a natural emulsifier. Jelly is formed due to pectin which is a carbohydrate found in fruits. When sugar is added, the pectin in fruit precipitates out and forms insoluble fibres. We also discussed different chemical compounds which are responsible for the colours of different vegetables - for instance: orange is ?- and ?-carotene; red is lycopene; purple is anthocyanins; yellow is flavonoids; yellow-green is lutein.
The workshop ended with lots of laughter - the participants learnt and had fun at the same time.