Module 2: The Study of Learning

             The study of learning has been quite impactful to my teaching because the more that I understand how students learn, the better teacher I can become. In On Excellence In Teaching, Mayer (2008) described the process of learning by stating, “Learning is a change in the learner’s knowledge attributable to the learner’s experience” (p. 96). The science of learning shows how important the connection is to students’ knowledge and their experience. If a student does not experience or apply what he or she is learning, the student will be much less likely to remember the lesson after test day. In order to facilitate this, Mayer (2008) suggests that teachers need to manipulate their students’ environment in a way that will be specifically organized to foster learning (p.98). This was a challenge because the classroom that I teach in is solely designed for one type of desk arrangement because of the placement of the electrical outlets and network cables for the computers. I began to think about what classroom elements I could change, and the student’s ability to make a mess in the first 30 seconds that they walk into class came to mind. Because of this, I decided to give my students a few lessons on how to properly place their backpacks, sports bags, and purses so that it did not create a roadblock. I also spoke to the class about how to be aware of their surroundings and how to position chair in order to not distract their classmates. After a few reminders, there was a clearer path to walk around the desks and students were being more respectful of each other’s space. There was also a change in the classroom’s atmosphere; a sense of stress had been replaced by a wonderful calmness. I was shocked to find that this small change in the student’s physical environment did indeed yield better learning and fewer headaches for me.

             To better understand how students’ surrounding environments can affect their learning, I decided to read The Third Teacher, which had great insights into this field of study. This book has a collection of interesting interviews and case studies that went over what is conducive to learning in the classroom and what is not. One of the sections that especially stood out to me was over the importance of displaying student work. This chapter started by explaining the exact challenge that I face in technology classes if I want to go down this road. Bruce Mau (2010) writes, “One of the challenges of moving so much intelligence onto computers is that you can’t see their work” (p. 65). The chapter went on to explain how students actively engage in learning when they get to visually interact with the information, which also helps to illustrate student progress. This got me thinking about ways that I could display student work in my classrooms, and I decided to try out a project showcase. In my Junior High Technology class, I ended the last assignment by putting all of the student’s work in a slideshow and displayed an art showcase of the students’ graphic design projects. I quickly noticed students taking pride in their work and sitting a little taller. When we started the next graphic design project, I told the students that we would again end with a showcase of their work. This created a noticeable change in students’ effort that they put into the project, and their focus during my instruction. It seemed that since they knew that their work was going to be displayed, the students then had more motivation to create something that they would be proud of. Through this experience, I have learned that it is important to find ways to post my students’ work not only to show their progress but also to encourage them to do their best.

            Not only did I learn about displaying student results, I learned about learning styles in the article “Multiple Intelligences and Learning Styles: Two Complementary Dimensions.” In the article, Stephen Denig (2004) connects the idea of multiple intelligences with the many different learning styles that students thrive in. He encourages teachers to give students the chance to learn through their strengths because that provides the opportunity for learning to occur rather than simply memorization. Denig (2004) writes that, “…learning style advocates counsel teachers to use different instructional resources in a different sequence in accord with how each learns best” (p. 106). Throughout my time at SPU, these thoughts have been on my mind of how to continuously provide opportunities for students to learn in the ways that work best with how they were uniquely created by God to be. As I spend more and more time in the classroom, I have realized that it takes a large amount of time and effort to succeed in implementing these practices. Is it worth it? Yes. I have spent a large amount of time creating written step-by-step instructions and posting them online for students to download at any time. I have devoted class time to open discussion of what I have been teaching for the verbal-linguistic students to sink their teeth into. For the spatial learners, I have had them sketch out their projects before digitally creating them. I have given space for both the interpersonal learners to interact with each other and the intrapersonal learners to reflect on their own. I have in no way arrived at the completion of in-depth incorporation of multiple intelligence and learning styles in my classroom, but I have gotten a good start on it. Through these experiences, I have learned that no matter the messy outcomes of trial and error, my students’ learning has been positively affected. I know this from the students’ growth, quality of work, and interest in the subject as they learn in their many and varied styles.

              In On Excellence In Teaching, it was interesting to read about the declining time spent on art and music instruction in school systems. I thoroughly enjoyed Berliner’s (2010) response to this alarming event, as he explained how students need to experience ideas through the perspective of the arts (p. 125).  Without this opportunity, students’ thinking and learning will be restricted rather than expanded. I decided to talk to my art mentor teacher and quickly found that she was very passionate about this issue. She said that art not only allows students to explore their gifts and creativity, but it also teaches students vital communication skills as they learn to express their thoughts through art. Through these conversations she encouraged me to not only teach students how to express art through technology, but also how to use these tools well in communication. The technological revolution seems to have encouraged the current generation to type or text  but not to interact well when face to face with another human being. I think that this is a wonderful opportunity for me to show students how to use these tools to foster rather than stifle their personal growth and the important roles they each will play in society.

              How do I as a teacher lead and instruct my students to attain high-order thinking? This question that Pickering (2010) brought up in On Excellence In Teaching was an eye opening experience. In our program at SPU, there has been a great deal of importance placed on the idea of having high expectations for your students. Yet, Pickering (2010) argues that “…setting high expectations for student’s thinking is not enough” (p. 147). She instead states that alongside high expectations, teachers need to, “Teach the thinking skills we expect” (2010, p. 147). This connects to what Seifert and Sutton (2009) discussed in “Educational Psychology: A Global Text” when they spoke of facilitating complex thinking. Since my classes are technology classes where most of the learning is done through hands-on experiences, I decided to take Seifert and Sutton’s thoughts about creative thinking and apply them in my Junior High Technology classroom. The authors explain that creative thinking presents an opportunity for “…the generation of ideas that are new as well as useful, productive, and appropriate” (Seifert and Sutton, 2009, p. 179). They write that teachers could encourage creative thinking by helping students explore different types of cognitive processing. To put this into practice, I decided to focus the next project in my Junior High Technology class on a platform of divergent thinking. Currently, we are in the middle of a graphic design unit, where the students are learning how to utilize Adobe Photoshop, a digital image manipulation software. In this next project, I instructed the students to explore words or phrases that could be visually divided into separate images (an example of this would be cupcake). I then told the students that they would be creating a visual representation of one of these words in Photoshop. The students were given instructions and a list of criteria to fulfill, and they absolutely took off with the project. The students loved thinking outside of the box and overcoming the challenge of visually representing these words. I was taken aback by how immersed the students were in a computer software program, and I think it was because they got to learn and practice creativity (I have attached the project instructions  and a few examples of my student’s work at the bottom of this Module).

              In the article “Educational Psychology: A Global Text”, I absorbed information that has definitely affected the way that I think about non-verbal cues and the affects of the classroom setting on learning. Seifert and Sutton (2009) discussed the extreme affects of “conditioning” in the classroom, both conscious and unconscious. The authors explained, “…any stimulus that is initially neutral, but that gets associated with an unconditioned stimulus and response, can eventually acquire the ability to elicit the response by itself” (p. 25). I immediately began to sift through any neutral stimuli that I might unconsciously create as a teacher, and then I tried looking through my students’ perspectives to see if they might be conditioned by these patterns. I thought about the example that Seifert and Sutton gave in the reading, which were the effects of a teacher smiling at the students. Even though this is a simple pattern to create, I realized that I have not made an effort to create this condition in my classroom. Since I move from room to room, the first moments that I walk into class is usually filled with me frantically trying to set up my computer, visuals, and notes before class starts. My attention is focused on getting everything started on time rather than on my students. After this realization I decided to try focusing my attention on the students the moment that I walked into the class, this was done through a great effort in multitasking and also sitting comfortably with the fact that role was not always taken at the moment that class started. I realize that this can seem like such a simple change in my growth as a teacher, but as I put this idea of “positive conditioning” to practice, I began to see a relational change in how my students interacted with me. I now see students initiating conversation with me; I see them wanting to share more about who they are, even hopes and dreams. As the text said, whether or not a teacher means to condition their classroom, the classroom atmosphere “…can affect student’s attitudes about school and therefore also their motivation to learn” (Seifert and Sutton, 2009, p. 26).  This may be because I am becoming a more seasoned instructor, but I know that the action of smiling and greeting my students as they walk into my class has made an impact not only on my relationship with my students but also on their motivation to learn in the classroom.

References

Brophy, J. (2010). On Excellence In Teaching. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.

Denig, S. (2002). Multiple Intelligences and Learning Styles: Two Complementary                           Dimensions. Teachers College Record,106 (1), p. 96-111.

OWP/P Architects, VS Furniture, and Bruce Mau Design. (2010). The Third Teacher: 79              Ways You Can Use Design to Transform Teaching & Learning. New York, NY:              Abrams.

Seifert, K., & Sutton, R. (2009). Educational Psychology: A Global Text. Zurich,                         Switzerland: Jacobs Foundation.  Retrieved from https://learn.spu.edu/webapp              /portal/frameset.

Project’s Instructions and Student Examples:

A Play On Words Project

Horse Fly:

Couch Potato:

House Fly:

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Parent-Teacher Conferences

The students had this entire week of school off for Thanksgiving break and we had Parent-Teacher conferences. Our school stretches this time over three days. Throughout these days, all of the teachers camp out at tables around the commons area and parents can simply walk up to whoever is open. This is a very important time to honor the families involvement in their children’s learning. It was exciting to show parents the work that the students have been doing in class. I have continuously told my students to take the time to show their classwork at home, but I find that many do not. Parent-Teacher conferences provide an opportunity to bridge that gap and honor family involvement in the learning process.

Parent-Teacher conferences are also an excellent opportunity to get the parents on board with what we are doing in class. I am able to give parents a heads up about any learning challenges that their child might be having or that I could foresee occurring in the future. This is also a good platform to discuss any behavioral issues and see if parents resound with the same situations existing at home. Through open communication with parents I have found that many fall into the following two categories: The parents agree with the truths about their child’s behavior in my classroom or they are in denial and decide that I am incorrect. Most of the parents that I have communicated with fall into the first category, however, I have still experienced the latter. This is usually a sign of unrest in the household or a child’s behavior being dependent upon which authority is in the room. Either way, I think it is still important to softly explain my experiences with their child and hopefully we can work together to encourage the student to reach his or her full potential. After this week of conferences, I have learned that a humble and soft heart is going to open a lot more doors into the students’ lives. That is the heart I want to have in and outside of the classroom.

Always Remember To Be Flexible

As we have progressed deeper into the school year, I have realized that I had to alter my teaching to honor students’ access to content material.  When I came into teaching, I planned on giving my students homework so that they can continue the learning process at home. I soon found a challenge when I realized that would be disregarding my students’ ability to access the materials necessary for the classes that I teach. The reason for this is because I teach technology classes, and technology is expensive. I cannot tell students to finish their Photoshop projects at home because they probably do not have that piece of software. I cannot assume that students will be able to complete activities in Powerpoint for homework, because I cannot assume that every student will have access to the Office Suite. Most of all, I cannot assume that every student has a computer at home, because they don’t. Even though I work in a stereotypically wealthy area, none of these assumptions will honor my student’s access to the content materials necessary to succeed in these classes.

My school provides my classroom with the technology, and so that has decided where my students do their work. I give students adequate class time to complete projects, and use this as an opportunity to work alongside students in their learning. To honor students’ access to content materials, I also had to be more lenient on late work than I was planning on. If students are absent from class, they probably will not be able to complete a project on time because they do not have the necessary materials at home. After realizing this truth, I changed my late policy to be based on individual student situations and their communication with me about their absence. I had to alter my expectations to honor students’ access to content material and better fit their needs, which is a good reminder to always be flexible in education.

Reading Reflection #7: Standardized Tests, Measures of Central Tendency, Test-Preparation Practices

Ch13 p. 332 # 1: If you had to use only one of the three individual student interpretation schemes treated in the chapter (percentiles, grade-equivalent scores, and scale scores), which one would it be? Why did you make that choice?

I would probably choose to use the percentiles because it does not just look at numbers, but also compares the results to the scores of similar students. I usually do not like when people are put inside boxes, but I think that it would it would be helpful to analyze the reliability of a test that I am giving to my students. Percentiles would help me compare the results of different norm groups, and make sure that I do not have any existing bias within a test.

#2: It is sometimes argued that testing companies and state departments of education adopt scale-score reporting methods simply to make it more difficult for everyday citizens to understand how well students perform. Do you think there’s any truth in that criticism?

I think that there could be truth in this criticism, but I hope that it is false. After reading through the explanation of what scale scores are, I completely understand how easily they can be misinterpreted. On the other hand, I like how they represent levels of difficulty. This type of student interpretation scheme gives educators the chance to track student progress. I think that in education, there is more and more flexibility for individual student growth. The scale scores fit this trend and provide an opportunity to be a powerful assessment tool. All this is to say that yes, there is great opportunity for misuse of scale-score reporting methods. However, there is also great opportunity for testing companies and state departments of education to use scale score testing to better represent student learning.

Ch14 p. 350 # 1: Can you think of guidelines, other than the two described in the chapter, to be used in evaluating a classroom teacher’s test-preparation practices? If so, what are they?

I might add that no test-preparation practice should favor one student over another in assistance. I think that this is automatically a truth that teachers ethically live by, but it is also a good reminder. I could easily see some teachers wanting to help certain students and give them an extra push to get them ready for a test. The reason for this is because so many teachers see the potential in students and so badly want them to reach that potential. Teachers might rationalize their actions of giving extra direction to certain students when they need to instead allow students to accomplish tests on their own.

#2: Can you think of any other sorts of test-preparation guidelines that are meaningfully different from the five described in the chapter? If so, using the chapter’s two evaluative guidelines or any new ones you might prefer, how appropriate are such test-preparation practices?

Since most high school classes involve note taking, I think that a test preparation based off of students’ class notes would be meaningful. This would provide a challenge because it would mean that students have to take correct notes, but I believe that teachers should be giving instruction on how to do so anyway. To help guide students in the right direction, teachers could give the class an outline of the subjects that will be covered in the test. The students could then create a study guide from the notes that they already have, and put into action the knowledge that they have been learning. I think that this would fit well in the evaluative preparation practices because it would be drawing from classroom content that has already been directed towards the curricular aim of the class. As long as the teacher has taught within the guidelines of professional ethics, the students’ notes would be quite appropriate.

Family Involvement

How do I as a teacher honor family involvement in the students’ learning process? I think that this starts first with teacher to parent communication. I have already learned that there are some outspoken parents’ opinions that I will hear no matter what. However, this is not usually the case. Most parents do not know how to initiate communication into their children’s’ world at school beyond asking, “How was school today?” I think that this barrier can be broken by teachers stepping out and involving parents in their classroom whenever possible. This means that teachers would take extra time and effort to send emails to families, updating them on what is going on in class.

Grades and comments for the first quarter were due this week. I took this as an opportunity to email parents and give them a rundown of what has been going on in class. In return, parents felt involved in what was going on in their child’s learning and they were encouraged to do more. Many parents don’t know how to help their child with homework because they don’t know what is actually going on in the classroom. To encourage families to be involved in their children’s’ learning process, my school has asked that all teachers post their daily lesson plans on a teaching tool called RenWeb. This has proved to be quite effective because parents are continuously checking in with what is happening in class, and it enables them to be a part of the learning process when students leave school.

Reading Reflection #6: Test Improvement, Formative Assessment

Ch11 p. 267 #1: Why is it difficult to generate discrimination indices for performance assessments consisting of only one or two fairly elaborate tasks?

I think that it is difficult to generate discrimination indices for theses types of performance assessments because of the lack of variety.  If you create a test with only one elaborate task on it, it will inevitability be a poor assessment of a classroom full of students with different backgrounds, gifts, and abilities. A performance assessment that is lacking variety in its type and level of difficulty will not be an accurate look at the class as a whole. Since this would not be a holistic look into an entire class of learners, the discrimination indices for this assessment would subsequently be weighed to one side.

#2: If you found there was a conflict between judgmental and empirical evidence regarding the merits of a particular item, which form of evidence would you be inclined to believe?

This is a difficult question, and I believe that the answer would be different based on the classroom and subject at hand. Since I teach visual art classes through the form of technology, a majority of my assessments would not usually fall well into the category of numbers. This is not to say that I am against “numbers” as the reading suggested. However, I do believe that certain assessments fit better in certain classes. My classes are project based and do not provide many situations where there is an “available wrong or right answer” because of how subjective art can be. With that said, I would be more inclined to believe judgmental evidence because it would display a well-rounded viewpoint of a student’s learning in my class. This type of judgmental procedure would also be on multiple chopping blocks from myself, colleagues, and eventually students so that it can be as effective as possible.

Ch12 p. 303 #2: What strategies do you believe would be most effective in encouraging more teachers to adopt the formative-assessment process in their own classroom?

I believe that if teachers were able to see how well formative assessment is focused on student growth, they would jump at the opportunity for such an activity. “The reading said that formative assessment is “a process, not a test”, which I think would be an important feature to highlight when encouraging teachers to adopt this approach. Teachers already know that a student’s learning is a journey and not just simply a destination. I think that the idea of “learning progression” would be an important aspect to highlight because it shows that formative assessment aligns with the scaffolding plan that hopefully is already set up in the classroom. This learning progression shows teachers how effective it is to have a target curricular aim, to then define the necessary building blocks to reach that target, and then arrange those building blocks in sequential order.

#4: If you had to choose the single most important impediment that prevents more teachers from employing formative assessment, what would this one impediment be? Do you think it is possible to remove this impediment?

I would say that the impediment that prevents teachers from employing formative assessment is the failure for external accountability tests to accurately mirror the improvements that occur in the classrooms where formative assessment is used. I think that most teachers would be excited to use formative assessment in their classrooms because of the overall positive effect that it can have on students’ learning. However, teachers still need to deliver evidence to the state. If teachers see that the external tests do not display the evidence that formative assessment gives, then they will not be motivated to concentrate on formative assessment. I think that teachers would first focus on getting students ready for high stakes tests, and if there is time left over (and there is usually not), a teacher might then try out formative assessment. I hope that it is possible to remove this impediment, but I don’t know how. The last teaching conventions that I attended did focus on formative assessment, and I hope that this could be a trend that motivates the academic community to try something new.

Appropriate Technology In The Classroom

How can I integrate appropriate technology with instruction? This is an easier question for me because I teach technology classes, but I feel that the key word here is “appropriate”. As we go into a new age of growing technology, I see many teachers slap a ton of information onto a PowerPoint slide and then say that they have met their quota for instructional technology usage. With that said, I don’t believe that technology in the classroom should be something to simply check off your list. The use of technology in teaching should be answering the question, “Does this improve my students learning?”

I believe that technology can be a major asset to learning, especially with this next generation basically growing up with an iPhone in their cradle. Since these students are constantly being bombarded with new pieces of technology, I have been shocked to find that many students know specifics but not general truths about technology. For instance, students know how to download an app to their phone, but they do not know that the computer monitor is actually connected to their computer. In the first week of school, I had to teach my students how to correctly export a flash drive. After this realization of what students have skipped over in their learning of technology, I realized that they needed to know the universal truths that can be found throughout the technological world. Teachers shouldn’t just be finding ways to cram technology into the classroom, but should instead find where it is appropriate and then teach students how to correctly utilize it both in school and throughout society.