How A Systems Thinking Approach Can Impact Student Learning

Unstoppable Learning, written by Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey, suggests that a systems thinking approach is essential to creating and delivering effective instruction.  Teachers work in complex, dynamic systems.  In order to meet the needs of the students in their care, teachers must fluidly and regularly practice the Habits of a Systems Thinker.  “The systems thinking classroom requires educators to consider the elements that impact student learning and design structures to leverage these elements.”

According to Fisher and Frey, systems thinking teachers recognize the preeminence of relationships.  They are skillful communicators who “use language to share knowledge and information with one another and to challenge each other’s thinking.” Recognizing that learners are dynamic, educators must be responsive to the students and their learning needs.  Systems thinking educators create sustainable learning environments that produce life-long learners.

In a recent presentation hosted by the Arizona K12 Center, Doug Fisher underscored the need for an ability to create conditions for learning and accurately assess student learning when he stated, “Telling students what you expect from them is a students’ rights issue.  Report cards change parents’ perception of their children and transcripts affect the choices students have after graduation.”  So how should teachers approach the planning, delivery, personalization, and assessment of learning in order to ensure that their objectives are clear and their assessments are accurate? By using the Habits of a Systems Thinker.

The habits can be used as tools to reflect on decisions made in all phases of the teaching and learning process from lesson design and delivery through assessment and transfer.  They can also be used as a common language to help students and teachers be more metacognitive about their own thinking.   The Habits of a Systems Thinker allow for more reflection, more student conversation and simply put — unstoppable learning.

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