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 There was also a change in the classroom’s atmosphere; a sense of stress had been replaced by a wonderful calmness.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:

Module 1: Becoming A Better Teacher

            How can I become a better teacher? This question, although simple, is one of the most important inquiries made by a teacher, especially a new teacher. In order to answer this question, I sought to learn, practice, and reflect on the wisdom and experience of others.  By adopting the idea of “teaching for appreciation” from Brophy (2010) in “On Excellence Of Teaching, I was able to apply this idea in my own classroom (p. 313).  I saw a void in my instruction and realized that my students not only need to understand ideas but they also need to see purpose. This is a simple idea for a new teacher to grasp, but it is also easily overlooked. In the beginning, my classes would fly by, and I was not making an effort to connect what we were doing in class with my students’ lives.  I wrongly assumed that my students would make those connections between what we learn and what they do. After implementing the idea of teaching for appreciation, I have seen a change in my student’s effort that they are putting into class projects. For instance, in my Technology Information Literacy class, students went above and beyond the expectations for the last project after I showed them that there were very good reasons for learning it. Once I connected the dots to how the assignment actually applied to their lives, the students then turned around and put their heart into completing the project.

            As an incoming teacher, I knew that teachers play an important role not only in a student’s learning, but also in his or her personal growth as a person. However, knowing this was different than when I actually experienced it. Since I hope to lead students to grow into men and women of character, morals, and values, I see an important connection between these desires and Kohlberg’s (2009) moral stages explained in “Educational Psychology: A Global Text”. It was interesting to read how a person’s perception of values could change based on what stage of life they were currently in and how the definition of “good” can vary in so many different ways. Through this realization, I have found that I cannot rush my students through these stages or force them to make the decisions that I think are good. However, I can model what a moral person looks like and encourage students to rise to their potential.

            During these stages of development, it is important for teachers to be looking for different learning styles in their students as students develop learning skills. I had previously heard about learning styles, but I was excited to learn more and apply the ideas in my classroom. At first, these ideas had me anxiously wondering, “How can I meet every learning style every class period?” In Educational Psychology: A Global Text”, Seifert and Sutton’s (2009) response to this conundrum is to remember that even though teachers need to support all learning styles when possible, is not necessary for every situation (p. 65). To go deeper into these ideas, I consulted Shannon’s (2008) article “Using Metacognitive Strategies and Learning Styles to Create Self-Directed Learners.” Shannon used the seven perceptual learning styles that the Institute for Learning Styles Research had catagorized: Print (written words), aural (listening), interactive (verbalization), visual (depictions), haptic (touch), kinesthetic (body movement), and olfactory (smell and taste) (p. 20).  I applied this research to my classroom by using as many learning styles as possible in each lesson. Rather than simply verbally giving the students instructions, I also had the words written on the board alongside a visual example when applicable. What did I find from these efforts? The students that tended to get distracted easily were following directions! This was a breath of fresh air because my students are better understanding information and engaging with the subject rather than disengaging from the classroom.

            In my research of learning styles, I also looked to see how Silver, Strong and Perini (2010) interpreted the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator to explain the sources of student motivation in the classroom (p. 325-326). After learning about the four natural human drives, I began to apply this knowledge to my classes to see if the outcome would give me a different view than my understanding of the seven perceptual learning styles previously discussed.  I soon saw that a large amount of my junior high students fell into the “mastery style” category and learned best through step-by-step practical instructions. On the other hand, my high school classes leaned closer to the “understanding style” because they liked working with comprehending larger ideas that they could apply in their learning. I see the self-expressive style in a few specific students as they take projects to a whole new level in their artistic creativity. These results interest me because I would naturally assume that a group of highly-social junior high and high school students would primarily tend towards the interpersonal style.

            This new awareness of the four natural human drives in my classroom soon bore fruit. In the high school class, I introduced each unit with a larger overarching theme for them to grasp, and in return, my students showed a faster rate of comprehending the information.  I also started implementing a few of the “Eight C’s” and soon found that it takes a large amount of effort and planning to include all eight in the technology classes that I teach (Silver, Strong, and Perini 2010, pg 326-329). However, this challenge does not mean that I should not try; it simply means that I need to deliberately motivate my students to engage in class. Both approaches to differentiated learning that I experimented with are similar but have allowed me to see different angles of this subject. I not only have tangible practices to use in class, but I also have a new awareness of student learning that has become second nature in how I communicate with my students.

            After reading through Seifert and Sutton’s (2009) chapter on  “Students with special educational needs”, I looked at my classroom and immediately saw behaviorism issues and metacognition failures (p. 91). With this newfound information, I decided to collaborate with the special education teachers at my school in order to establish a better learning environment in my class. My school has dedicated much effort to creating a stable system for students with 504 plans or IEP’s. In this system, we have these students interlaced throughout our classes, while they have specialists that they work with alongside our classes. After my first meeting with the SAS department at my school, I soon realized that the success of these specific students would not only be an outcome of my effort in the classroom but also the relationship that I had with the special education teachers. In this newfound collaboration, the teachers believed that the first order of action should be for me to see through my student’s point of view. These teachers had me observe their one-on-one learning sessions with my students to better understand the challenges that these students face. The situations that shocked me the most were the students who could not understand social interaction and could not attach meaning to communication. As I was able to see from my student’s perspectives, I soon realized where some of my blind spots were. To fill in the gap, I have started an open communication line with the SAS instructors of my students. I am constantly updating them on what is going on in class, so that they can then work one-on-one with the students to ensure understanding. These instructors are in return giving me feedback of what is working, what is not and what should be reevaluated in my classroom.

            For students to learn, they must find some source of motivation. This was a challenge in my high school Technology Information Literacy class because the class was solely dedicated to teaching the Microsoft Office suite, which students had already labeled as boring. In this case, I have had difficulty getting students engaged with the subject matter. When we got to the Publisher Unit, I decided at try Seifert and Sutton’s (2009) “motives as interest” approach with both situational interests and personal interests (p. 113). In this approach, I created a project called the Apprentice: Parts I, II, and III that would grab student’s interest and feed into our other units. In Part I, students must create a personal business and design their brand identity in Publisher. In Part II, students will “pitch” their business to me, “Donald Trump”, through a dynamic Powerpoint presentation. Donald Trump will then agree to fund their business and the project will end in Part III where students will create an Excel spreadsheet of their needed expenses to get their business off the ground. Through this project, I have allowed room for students to engage with the Office Suite through their personal interests, and it is clearly evident in their newfound excitement for the subject matter.  Concurrently, I also plan on creating situational interest in the classroom through use of video examples, visuals, and even props to explain how these computer programs can be effectively used.

                        How do I focus on keeping my students engaged in the classroom, motivated to learn and interested in the subject? To answer that question, Silver and Perini (2010) gave me a powerful statement that has stuck with me, “…if we do not design lessons and units that will strengthen student’s commitment to learn, then we cannot expect them to take an active or in-depth approach to learning” (p.324).  Therefore, it is my responsibility as a teacher to design my classroom and instruction around my students’ needs, interests and personal growth. This information will continue to help me see a new perspective on students, focus my attention on honoring student diversity and development, and hopefully become a better teacher year by year.

References

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

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

Shannon, S. V. (2008). Using Metacognitive Strategies and Learning Styles to Create.                  Institute For Learning Styles Journal, 1. Retrieved from http://www.learningstyles                .org