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 There was also a change in the classroom’s atmosphere; a sense of stress had been replaced by a wonderful calmness.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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6 thoughts on “Module 2: The Study of Learning

  1. Thanks for sharing some of the students examples…they are fabulous! I would imagine talking some of our text readings and applying them to a non-core class to be very interesting. Creativity is definitely key. I too have found that the simplest gestures have made a huge impact on the attitude of the students and classroom.

  2. Joanna,

    I laughed when I read about how reducing the clutter and organizing student backpacks, purses, chairs etc, changed the whole class dynamic. “A sense of stress had been replaced by a wonderful calmness.” 2 weeks ago I would have said you were crazy, but I did something similar with my 6th graders and the difference was stark. Suddenly desks were clear, students engaged in less fiddling, and I felt like there were not longer bulwarks between me and my students.

    I love your focus on divergent thinking, and your section discussing focusing on the the students instead of the logistics. After reading this, I am going to start paying attention to where my initial focus is centered as well.

  3. Your detailed analysis of how you are reaching each type of learner was fascinating. I certainly have not gone to the same efforts in my experience, instead focusing on verbal and auditory learners. Your exploits in changing the class dynamic are heartening. It is good to see successful midyear changers after all of the emphasis put on the first day of school.

  4. Joanna, thanks for sharing your insights on student learning in your classroom. You made such a great point that the more we understand how our students learn, the better we can teach them. I also agree with you that students must experience and apply what they are learning in order to retain the new knowledge received in the classroom. Just like you, I see this with my own students. We just had a Social Studies lesson on early American colonies. I split my class into groups, and each group had to be an expert on their colony. They had to make a billboard about their colony and teach the rest of the class about it. I’ve been implementing a lot of student teaching in my classroom since I realized that my students learned this way the best. And, just like your students, my students always take pride in their work. After the lesson, I promptly display their billboards/posters on our hallway wall where all students can see them. Thanks again for the great insights!

  5. Thank you for a fine reflection on what you learned from the various readings, and examples of implementing the ideas in practice. I like how “The Third Teacher” introduces us to valuable influences that the environment plays in learning. This is a great resource, and I am glad you were able to consider it a bit more. I have been in classrooms with established “place your bags here” routines and other policies for ‘stuff’ to help with learning, as you determined yourself. It would be interesting to learn how all these insights and applications have been impacting student learning in your classroom? Besides anecdotal information, have you noticed any gains in their achievement?

    • I have noticed gains in their achievement in the quality of their work. Since it is difficult to display this progress, I am trying to figure out better ways of showing evidence of their growth for this program…

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