“Meaning, like beauty, lies both within and outside us. The same experience might be more meaningful for some students than others because of differences in their interests, personal experiences, readiness, and existing relationship with the teacher and with what is being taught. That said, as learners, we all derive greater meaning from experiences that are engaging, relevant, and authentic.”

“Meaningfulness relates to but is not the same as relevance. It concerns the extent to which students perceive the lesson/unit as significant, even if the material learned or the skills acquired are not immediately relevant. Significant learning experiences promote depth of knowledge and skills related to a theme, problem, or issue; they require students to use what they learn to form opinions, solve problems, make decisions, or create real products or performances. The most meaningful learning experiences are authentic, requiring that students engage with real-life problems and issues for real purposes and an audience that can benefit from their work. Following are some examples of meaningful and engaging learning experiences.”

Changing the Way You Teach, Improving the Way Students Learn, Giselle Martin-Kniep and Joanne Picone-Zocchia

Is it possible for any of our teaching to have meaning if learners do not perceive it to be significant?

And if meaning is influenced by interest, readiness, personal experiences, history, and relationships, how is it possible to set purposeful learning outcomes for learners without including them in that process?

Does it really make sense to impose our interests, personal experiences, and history on learners of any age or in any position?

Is it about moving people where WE want them to go, or is it about creating cultures that nurture learning?

What’s the difference?

I’m wondering how I can better align my actions with my answers to those questions.



  1. Kristin Smith Reply

    “Is it about moving people where WE want them to go, or is it about creating cultures that nurture learning?”

    If we have created a culture together, then don’t we share similar interests that naturally create curiosities that lead to learning taking place?

    Somewhere along the line I have learned more from Studio and my kids than they could ever have learned from me …. the greatest lesson I have taken from my experiences thus far is that building a sense of community within a teaching and learning environment naturally promotes respect, trust and caring among community members.

    By very definition, a community is a place where all members feel welcome and see in each other a piece of themselves. That said, as a facilitator, I am part of the community, therefore, my interests are part of a direction to move in.

    If education is to move in the direction of “learning communities”, then we, as a community of learners, need to be willing to take risks, open our curiosities to what we may find out in the “real world” and develop in our children an openness to all ideas that eventually might lead to world peace.

    Just a slight ambition.

  2. You raise a number of really interesting points, Kris! I’m hanging on to this one, because I don’t think I’ve discussed it much with others….

    “As a facilitator, I am a part of the community, therefore, my interests are part of the direction we move in….”

    This is interesting to me because when I read about the way PROFESSIONAL learning communities unfold in some settings, the titled leaders/facilitators set the agenda and drive the work and place themselves at the helm of the ship. They define vision and expend a lot of energy reinforcing it for those who join the community. It isn’t shared. I struggle with this approach, and yet, I can understand why this happens. If the leader is the only one who shares certain insight, is committed to a certain kind of improvement, and is invested in achieving certain goals, they would feel compelled to invite others to join in that work and follow along. This doesn’t often go well, though. Teachers struggle to align to the vision, they don’t commit to it or invest their time or energy or resources in it, and goals aren’t realized. It wasn’t THEIRS to begin with.

    Asking facilitators to lead quietly or assume a less directive role can be threatening though. What if others want to run off in some other direction? What if the work that is done isn’t meaningful?

    What it seems you are suggesting, and what I believe, is that when leaders are a part of the community, they can assure this happens because their vision is a part of the work. When evidence is used to guide decision-making rather than agendas and goals that are established by “the leader”, everyone owns the vision and everyone sets the goals…and they remain meaningful.

    Last week at Communities for Learning, I listened to so many stories that demonstrated this theory in action.

    Classrooms can accomplish the same, I agree with you. It requires us to rethink how we position ourselves, how we facilitate learning…how we create the kind of conditions you speak to. I’m looking forward to seeing all of you in a couple of weeks. Lots of ideas to share and conversations to have relevant to our future at Studio : )

  3. Kristin Smith Reply

    “Asking facilitators to lead quietly or assume a less directive role can be threatening though.”

    Yes, threatening, but a good facilitator worth his or her salt who understands the responsibility of the role is to provide direction and feedback to the group …. the group becomes a community when the individuals who are part of it invest themselves deeply in the future and direction of the whole group.

    We have seen people come and go from our own communities – perhaps the fit was not right, and, with any luck, they have managed to land ina place that does fit them …. celebrating the different things we bring to the table should not be threatening ….

    “What if others want to run off in some other direction? What if the work that is done isn’t meaningful?”

    But, if people run off in other directions and it is meaningful to them, then there is purpose. Can you derive meaning from the investigations of others?

    Keep thinking, and, as Tom says, “stay hydrated!”

    • Hmmm….I’ve actually been a part of work where members of a team have no interest or investment in doing work that aligns to needs that have been identified from evidence. I know that many administrators struggle with this as well. It’s not that their direction isn’t meaningful….it just may not be aligned to what students need…..sometimes, it’s only aligned to their interests or areas of expertise or comfort. An example might be a teacher who is really passionate about writer’s workshop and who spends all year inspiring kids to produce huge quantities of writing they care about without ensuring quality. I also think of of leaders who are so passionate about “using data” that they do so in really invasive ways that disengage kids. True communities aren’t simply groups of people who get together to learn from one another. There are intentional frameworks, purposes, protocols, and processes that are used to ensure that good work is being done for the right reasons. So, while I agree that everyone owns a piece of the vision, I also think that evidence must be used to define student needs and best practices must be used to pursue interventions and solutions. And to be clear–I’m thinking about learning communities in general….not just Studio.

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