Final Reflection of My Recent Experience being a Student Again

Chatting with my eleven year old daughter today, she shared an observation that sums up some of the reflective thoughts swimming in my mind.

How can we expect high school students who are required to ask permission to go to the bathroom to suddenly be ready to make decisions that will affect the rest of their lives?

She shared this within a conversation with her grandmother and I talking about the challenges high school students face taking AP courses and preparing for the AP exams, but I find it relates to the main ideas I’ve been studying recently as part of an online master’s class studying Learning Theories and Instructional Design.  This class has provided me with a unique opportunity to be a student again and learn about learning!

Digging into the most widely accepted learning theories has showed me that there is not “one best way” or “one right way” to learn.  Instead we need to use the best research, strategies and understandings at our disposal to structure our learning experiences and constantly strive to learn more about how we learn.  As a high school science teacher poised to reenter the teaching profession after being blessed to be mommy for the last ten years, this class has provided me with an excellent opportunity to turn a reflective eye inward and examine the process of learning.  How I learn, how and why I’ve taught things a certain way in the past, theoretical differences between accepted learning theories and how I can use these new understandings to provide better learning experiences for my students should guide my future teaching choices.

A reoccurring theme within most of the learning theories is the importance of learners to be actively engaged and preferably self-guiding of their learning experiences.  In many ways, the structure of our k-12 education system has been rigidly controlled through local, state and federal government curriculum initiatives that emphasize teacher led learning, high stakes testing and learning expectations that seem to grow each year.  Then as our kids get closer to graduation, we expect them to suddenly be ready to successfully enter the work force, attend a trade school or community college or pursue a degree at a university.  We also expect them to suddenly be ready to grab the reigns of their own learning and successfully guide their own learning choices.  This is the almost polar opposite expectations that my daughters statement highlighted.  As a high school teacher, it’s unrealistic for me to expect my students to be prepared to guide their own learning and own it, if I’m constantly using teaching strategies that are not providing a scaffold to help my students reach that goal and be confident to lead their own learning.

When I look at my own learning and easily recognize that when I engage in authentic learning assignments that offer me some choices to guide my learning I am more likely to actually learn something new, retain the knowledge and be able to recall it.  I’m going to use this as a guide to help me restructure my teaching choices to more effectively help my students grow into self-directed learners.  As a public school teacher, I am somewhat bound by the curriculum and mandated expectations placed on teachers, but with deliberate choice I can attempt to change the things I can control within my instruction choices.

My empathy for how hard it is to be a student has increased.  Life just gets in the way sometimes.  Learning has to be a personal process if it is to be successful.  Toddlers, middle schoolers, high school students and adult learners alike all face challenges when attempting to learn new knowledge.  We all get sick. We all have a bad day. We all get behind and struggle to catch up.  Some days it’s just hard to concentrate and spit out a written assignment quickly or force your mind to stop and focus on the lesson at hand.  Learning is hard, personal work.

Being in the student’s seat again and parenting 3 kids who are students themselves is providing me with a unique perspective that I’m sure can guide my growth into a more effective teacher – I just have to be confident enough to step out of my comfort zone and keep trying!

Initial Class Discussion on Learning Theories

      I’ll be honest that it’s probably been 18 years since my undergraduate Educational Psychology class and the knowledge I can recall from that class is sketchy.  I definitely see the need to acquire a better understanding of how learning takes place and use that knowledge to guide me to the best teaching strategies to give all of my students the best opportunities to learn.  Dr. Jeanne Ormrod pointed out in “An Introduction to Learning” video clip that we need to know “how they think, what’s going on in their heads as they’re studying, as they’re reading, as they’re responding to questions and so on” (Laureate Education, n.d.).  Surprisingly, I actually touched on this topic in my reflection essay for my first Walden class EDUC 6010 that I completed this past weekend.  I was relating that it’s become increasingly apparent to me that our students need to know how to study, how to work with a group, etc…  I was helping my middle son study his spelling words and for some reason I decided to ask him what he thinks he should be doing when I say, “Hey, we need to study our spelling words a little more.”  He stammered around and couldn’t really tell me what he thought that meant.  Right then it was a light bulb moment for him and me, when I explained that meant he should be saying the letters to himself when he’s writing them 3x each or looking for them in a practice word search – the focus is repeating them to ourselves out loud, in our heads, writing it down so that we can know without guessing the right way to spell each word, every time we write it down – not just for spelling tests!  It’s quite apparent to me my daily teaching strategies could be more effective if I took a method driven approach to teaching and I’m hoping this class can provide me with opportunities to reach that goal.

     Before I can put these learning theories into my daily teaching practices, I need to examine my beliefs about learning thru self-inquiry.  Mary Jade Haney shared her ideas in Why We Teach Now, in which she explored her own beliefs through a reflective personal journey before she could focus her efforts on reaching her students (Nieto, 2014, p.104).  I need to take a similar reflective journey and explore how I learn.  I feel I’m a visual learner.  I like things neat and organized.  My family knows that if I don’t write details down, chances are I will not remember!  Directions, grocery lists, and dates of upcoming events – I’ve got to write them down. I’m the same way with learning new material – programming the Amazon Fire Stick, trying a new stitch with my sewing machine or studying for the Red Cross CPR test, I need to jot down key steps and details.  I also like things color coded with colored highlighters or colored sticky note tabs, it helps me recall the details.  I also feel that I learn and retain the most knowledge when I’ve taught others about a topic, whether it’s teaching American Red Cross Lifeguard training, teaching the books of the Bible to a Sunday School Class or teaching Chemical Reactions to my high school students – subjects that I have taught are the topics I understand the best and each time I teach them again I understand them even better.  By contrast, my husband doesn’t have an organized bone in his body.  He’s a computer networking software and hardware guy.  He’s learned the complexities of the computer world mostly thru self-discovery.  He has to get into a topic and figure it out for himself.  He will access books, websites, YouTube videos, etc… to help guide him, but he learns best by doing. 

     Truthfully I’m still digging, highlighting, color coding and rereading about the different learning theories and philosophies and attempting to understand their main concepts.  Ertmer and Newby acknowledged that there have been monumental changes affecting the learning processes but “people still learn through stimulus-response associations, and through practice and feedback opportunities as well as the process of collaboration and social negotiations” (Ertmer & Newby, 2013, p.69).  I found this reassuring as I’m processing new ways to think about learning.  Cognitivism is a learning theory emphasizing acquiring and storing information in a relevant and organized manner.  Personally, I think I learn best through cognitive tasks.    Being an active participant in my own learning within an environment that emphasizes my participation is a fundamental part of Cognitivism. Cognitive learning theories also emphasize organizing and structuring new information with your current knowledge to form meaningful connections between new and old knowledge (Ertmer & Newby, 2013, p.53-54).

     I also think my social interactions have greatly influenced my learning.  Vygotsky’s Cultural historical-theory emphasizes the importance of our social environment and that learning is a social and cultural occurrence. I do not think that our ability to learn is solely influenced by our social surroundings, but I do think to be effective teachers we need to understand how our student’s social and cultural beliefs and experiences impact their learning.  Within my own learning experiences, I know that the attitude my parents had toward my learning and the importance they placed upon my education had a profound impact on the way I mentally viewed my ability to learn.  Reading was actively encouraged, modeled and praised.  From my personal experience, I know that because my family expected me to excel at learning that it was easier for me to achieve that goal than if my parents had not believed and emphasized the importance of learning.  Many of our students, enter our classroom with experiences that we fail to adequately address in our teaching.  Some have a supportive, positive social environment, but many come to us with negative environmental baggage – parents without employment and education opportunities, poverty, violence, family and neighbors who didn’t graduate from high school, and more. As I was thinking about Vygotsky’s ideas, another group of individuals came to mind.  Often educators don’t think about the group of kids whose parents place excessive social expectations on their children in the other direction – preK classes at age 3, private schools pushing their students to learn more, faster and at an earlier age, enrollment is multiple music, art, sports and tutoring classes fill any available free time.  The societal pressures that students endure because of our society’s expectations are often unrealistic and hinder actual learning.  As our school accountability programs mandate more rigorous testing and teaching to the tests, we often place pressures on our students that prevent them from reaching for their potential.  I think it’s important that our education system makes a shift toward acknowledging and addressing these cultural attitudes and how they are negatively impacting actual learning.  I fear our current education reforms are producing a generation of learners who have developed test anxiety and stressful learning habits with less actual knowledge retention then previous generations.  Personally I know that my attitude toward learning and my ability to learn has been positively influenced by my own social environment, we should attempt to include more positive occurrences for our students too.

     As I’m pondering and finding useful ways to organize these learning theories and ideas I’m being exposed to during this course, I know it’s important to use these ideas to help me provide the best learning experiences for my students.  Our course textbook emphasized the importance of learning and the study of learning to our society as a whole and each individual.  “Learning is also the basis for future progress in society” (Ormrod, Schunk, & Gredler, 2009, p. 1-2).  The benefits of looking inward thru self-inquiry and understanding the ways I learn best will allow me to make better teaching choices for my students, leading to better learning by my students and benefits for our society as a whole.  Designing effective instruction methods requires using the best practices at our disposal.  Shifting the focus from teacher directed learning to the details of how students learn, should be the driving force directing our curriculum design and development. As I develop my skills as an instructional designer, I will be the most effective if I can learn about the ways that people learn and use those theories as a scaffold to direct me to choose the best methods and strategies within my design process.  I think that all of the philosophies and theories I’ve briefly been introduced to so far, all have some ideas that can be useful, the key is identifying the best methods to choose to reach the learning goals we want our students to reach every day. 

 

References

Ertmer, P. A., & Newby, T. J. (2013). Behaviorism, Cognitivism,    Constructivism: Comparing Critical Features from an Instructional Design Perspective, Performance Improvement Quarterly, 26, 43-71.

 

Laureate Education (Producer). (n.d.). An introduction to learning [Video file]. Baltimore, MD: Author.

 

Ormrod, J., Schunk, D., & Gredler, M. (2009). Learning theories and instruction (Laureate custom edition). New York, NY: Pearson.  Chapter 1, “Overview” (pp. 1–16)

 

 Sonia Nieto (Ed), 2014, New York, NY: Why We Teach Now: Creating Spaces that Breathe Hope, Teachers College Press. p.103-111.

 

From a classmate: Your emphasis on self-inquiry and reflection are extremely relevant to what it means to be a good teacher and/or instructional designer. Unfortunately, I’m not sure these are practices that many are familiar with or use regularly.  What’s your experience been?  Do the professionals around you employ self-inquiry and reflection (that you know of, anyway)?

 

Your question is an important one because I think it speaks to part of what’s wrong with our current education system.  In general I think many teachers don’t exercise self-inquiry and reflection enough.  During our learning to be a teacher classes, reflecting on the observations we made, lessons we wrote and actual teaching experiences we had was a constant requirement.  And I think that’s a good thing.  But once we finished earning our certificate and entered the lions den of teaching, I think many of us fail to continue the practice.  I know it’s not something that I do enough of personally.  I’ve developed a pretty good habit of jotting down specific challenges or things I should change about a lab or activity and including that reminder in my unit binders, so next year when I start that unit again and I can remember changes I need to make.  I view this as surface reflection.  Teachers probably do this type of reflection the most.  I think we need to move into a broader reflection of our teaching strategies to truly adapt our teaching to our students needs.  I can honestly say that as I continued into my 3rd and 4th years teaching I began to reflect on my whole teaching attitudes much less. Why? I think I got bogged down by the day to day stresses and requirements of teaching. It’s easy to get distracted by the “gotta cover this material and get these kids ready for state testing” mentality that drives so much of our day to day teaching.  What strikes me as slightly comical but actually really frustrating is the dichotomy of expectations we place on teachers.  On one hand we have school administrators and government curriculum requirements pushing standardized test scores and on the other hand we have student-led learning through inquiry, analysis and application.  How can we possibly take the time to provide our students with a student-led experience if we are constantly rushed to cover an ever increasing list of concepts in time for standardized assessments?  Most high school classes are 55-60 minutes in length.  To get back to your reflection question, I find myself doing alot more self reflection as I prepare to reenter teaching after being blessed to stay home with my children these last few years.  I think my role as a teacher is even more important because I’m viewing my role as an educator through my momma eyes.  I’ve matured as a teacher past just thinking of the content I teach but focusing on the student I’m trying to teach – maybe this is part of why it’s challenging for teachers to embrace instructional design changes.  I find myself able to spend the reflection time and ponder what I really want to achieve in my classroom and what changes I need to make to reach those goals.  I acknowledge this is a unique position that I have because I can build on my first couple years of teaching before I was a parent. I can use the experiences I now have as a mother of 3 children each with unique strengths and weaknesses and put the two together to develop a better teaching experience than I had before.  In the main, my fellow teachers are so distracted by all of the requirements pushed our way and so little time to meet them all that true self reflection is hard for most to achieve.  If we could figure out the best strategies to allow teachers more time to reflect and make changes to their own teaching methods we would probably solve most of our education systems problems!

Click here to choose to read my reflections at the end of my course addressing Learning Theories.

 

 

 

“Ask yourself this question: ‘Will this matter a year from now?’ ” Richard Carlson

“Ask yourself this question: ‘Will this matter a year from now?’ ”  Richard Carlson

 

This is a question that I find ringing through my mind often.  I’m sure part of the reason is that I’m getting older – never ask a lady how old she is!

 

Another influencing factor is the two graduate classes that I’ve taken this year through Walden University.  I’ve had the unique opportunity to take a reflective journey examining my personal teaching philosophy and my personal experiences relating to how I learn, how I teach, and how learning theories play a role in both.  I’m sharing a link to my first discussion below, in case you would like to read my initial musings.

Initial Class Discussion

The first discussion I wrote for my Learning Theories class addressed how I personally learn and how formal learning theories play a role in my daily high school teaching and future instructional design challenges.  Rereading and reflecting on my first discussion has brought to mind several things.  After I’ve spent several months digging deeper into the details of established learning theories, I find my current views of learning still in line with my initial reflections.  If anything, as I’ve spent time reading, comparing, contrasting current learning theories, I’ve reinforced my opinions that learning must be intrinsically driven and social in nature.

This…

“What strikes me as slightly comical but actually really frustrating is the dichotomy of expectations we place on teachers.  On one hand we have school administrators and government curriculum requirements pushing standardized test scores and on the other hand we have student-led learning through inquiry, analysis and application.  How can we possibly take the time to provide our students with a student-led experience if we are constantly rushed to cover an ever increasing list of concepts in time for standardized assessments?” – Exert from my initial discussion and responses.

 

This class has reinforced this dichotomy of expectations we place on teachers.  Repeatedly, across the learning theory spectrum, Constructivism, Connectivism, Social Learning Theory and Adult Learning Theories each identify the need for the learner to take an active role in guiding their learning and using their social interactions and experiences to structure their learning experiences.  That’s 4 of the 6 most widely accepted current learning theories.  Across the board, it’s pretty widely accepted that none of the 6 learning theories does a perfect job of explaining all human learning, instead life takes a mix of utilizing different learning perspectives depending on the knowledge needed.  Behaviorism and Cognitivism, 2 of the 6 most widely accepted learning theories, account for the majority of teaching experiences we offer to most k-12 students.  The majority of our federal and state mandated standardized testing experiences actually access learning from a largely Behavioristic perspective – with understanding and remembering through observable, repeatable actions.  There’s a fair amount of Cognitivism emphasized throughout k-12 teaching and assessments – an emphasis on the learning process that utilizes problem solving skills and creation and evaluation of knowledge.  Behaviorism and Cognitivism result in primarily teacher driven learning experiences.  My simple understanding of the basics behind these learning theories, stresses to me that if 2/3 of learning theorists identify the need to address prior knowledge and a learners previous learning experiences together with social interactions, either face to face or via technology interfaces, coupled with a student driven learning opportunity, then why do we continue to prepare our teachers through teacher prepatory programs and professional development classes that send an opposing message?  Our state and federal curriculum mandates, standards and assessments typically support a teacher led and teacher directed learning experience.  Why?  I’m going to suggest because Behaviorism and Cognitivism is easier to confirm and create multiple choice tests to check.  It is mighty difficult to create differentiated, student chosen assessments that can be fairly and objectively graded consistently in a timely manner and without an opinioned teacher bias on a state and nationwide level.

 

What’s the take away message?  What can I really do about it within my own teaching experiences?

 

Realistically, I know I’m one teacher fish in a big wide ocean of bigger, louder, wealthier ocean.  But, don’t let that statement fool you.  I may only be capable of creating a tiny, barely detectable ripple, but through the collective ripples of many, major change can be accomplished.  So again, realistically what can I do?  Keep talking about it.  I can keep reading and keep learning.  I can challenging the learning opportunities I structure for my students by stepping out of my comfort zone of “how we’ve always taught material” and try new things.  Offering choices when I can, within the parameters I’m allowed by local, state and federal education legislation.  Be vocal about placing realistic expectations on our kids, on parents, on teachers, on our students’ peers and on society.  In the past, I’ve shied away from voicing my opinions with my children’s teachers and my own fellow teachers and administrators, I can easily see myself politely, but firming agreeing to disagree and sharing my perspective.  I’ve successfully used this tactic with my kid’s teachers this year, sometimes it’s okay to say – “wait, I disagree and here’s why.”  (Insert side note. I am NOT talking about discipline issues where the parent insists the student is not responsible for their actions and the teacher is at fault in some way. I’m talking about curriculum, standardized assessments, actual learning and teaching.)  Do you know how much time students are spending on standardized test preparation and standardized testing?  I’ll share my 5th grade is currently in her THIRD week of Tuesday thru Thursday computerized testing sessions.  That’s 9 days were the schedules are off of the normal routines, testing anxiety is high and it’s difficult to maintain the kids focus on the mighty important test(s) and modified regular instructional time too. In addition to too many hours to count of practice tests, testing strategies drilled and an online practice testing platform that has required over 80 plus hours of practice time.  I’m not suggesting throwing out all standardized testing, there’s a useful place for it. I think we need to dial back the overemphasis on test scores and grades as an indicator of student learning and teacher teaching.

 

So, I end by sharing I’m still a firm believer in the power of public education – I think it’s key to ensuring America remains a growing, successful democracy with a long future.  I’m challenging myself and anyone reading my ramblings, to get informed (from trustworthy, reputable sources).  Learn more about HOW humans learn, stay engaged in what your government is mandating within our education system and support our teachers.  Teaching is a challenging, stressful, rewarding, disheartening, never boring profession. If you disagree, find a school near you and volunteer or substitute for a couple weeks – then get back to me, let’s see if you’ve gained a different perspective.

 

Make Connections

I like brainstorming with a pencil and paper.  Digital tools are great, but I think I will always like the feel of a sharp pencil and clean sheet of paper when I’m quickly jotting down ideas.  This week I was tasked with creating a mind map to represent my
personal learning network.  As my brainstorming progressed and my scribbled arrows on my paper increased, I was surprised to acknowledge that I have a pretty large network of resources I can tap into to support my personal and professional learning goals.

Before I could create my masterpiece, I had to answer “What’s a learning network?”  Connectivism is a theory of learning that emphasizes learning as a process through which we find connections between our many personal learning sources – especially technologically supported resources.  “Personal knowledge is comprised of a network, which feeds into organizations and institutions, which in turn feed back into the network and then continue to provide learning to the individual ( Elearnspace, n.d.).  As we tap into the networks at our disposal and share our information with others, we are “cross-pollinating” the learning environments around us (Davis, Edmunds & Kelly-Bateman, 2008).

When I examine my interconnecting web of bubbles and arrows linking the various resources at my fingertips, I first recognize that I am very fortunate to have such a wide array of learning possibilities.  Also I’m pleased to note, it’s clear that within my own personal network there are several obvious relationships that share information back and forth supporting the “cross-pollination” of learning.  For example, one of my personal connections is my Church and one of my internet connections is the use of Pinterest.  I regularly search the pins I place onto my Pinterest Sunday School and VBS boards to help me find activities that I can use at Church.  I often share links I find with others at my church.  The flow of information is dynamic as it flows to me as I’m learning and out as I share my new knowledge.

Creating my learning network mind map reinforced the importance of using the resources and connections available to us.  These connections support our lifelong learning goals.  Our responsibility to ourselves as well as our many connections is to support our collective intelligence as a society.  When I’m in need of new knowledge, these are the first places I’m going to go to seek out my answers.  Many of the bubbles on my mind map are filled with connections using the many technology tools at our fingertips – Pinterest, Blogs, Google docs, Facebook groups and messages, email, texts and more.  The Internet is now more easily accessed than ever as Wi-Fi and mobile devices allow us to stay connected virtually 24 hours a day.  As I think of how my learning network has grown through the years, I recognize as I’ve added more internet resources and connections, I’ve increased my ability to maximize my learning and my ability to easily share my new knowledge.  Learning has never been easier and our potential is limitless.

            So, what’s the take away lesson? 

connections

make connections

You want success?  Boldly maximize your current learning connections and actively seek to add new ones.  Take your knowledge to the next level by deliberately sharing your experiences and watch the interconnections between your learning connections intersect and guide you to a limitless future.

 

 

Resources

Davis, C., Edmunds, E., & Kelly-Bateman, V. (2008). Connectivism. In M. Orey (Ed.), Emerging perspectives on learning, teaching, and technology. Retrieved from http://epltt.coe.uga.edu/index.php?title=Connectivism

Elearnspace, learning, networks, knowledge, technology, community. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.elearnspace.org/blog/

Galileo – You cannot teach a person anything…

Galileo

 

Fellow teachers, we often lose sight of our own limitations.  As the old saying goes, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink… The same is true for our students.  Young or old. Learned or unlearned.  We can offer multiple opportunities and strategies but the ultimate act of embracing new knowledge and taking ownership as of their learning is a personal endeavor – that each of our students must choose to make.

Before we throw up our hands in defeat, let’s pause for a moment and see the opportunity before us.  As teachers we can find success if we slightly shift our focus and remember to guide our students to acknowledge “how to learn” and “how to study.”  If true learning requires our students to embrace it on a personal level, then we must guide them and show them how!

Recently I was helping my middle son prepare for an upcoming spelling test. I had a eureka moment.  I asked him to tell me what it means to study.  How does he do it?  He stammered around and couldn’t really explain what that meant.  Lightbulb flashing to me.  How can I expect him to learn his spelling words if he really doesn’t understand what that means?  So, we spent a few minutes talking and sharing why we study and how we can study.  Now he has a clearer idea of what the big goal is!  We want to practice each of our spelling words enough for the correct spelling to be cemented in our mind and we can accurately spell it correctly anytime we need to use the word – for our spelling test but also anytime in our daily lives.

This suggested to me that perhaps I should engage my own students in acknowledging and assessing what they think studying involves.  A step further leads me to see a need to guide my students in my classroom to identify how to be an active learner and how to work together as a learning team completing group work.

So, what does the word “study” mean to you?

Cult of Pedagogy digs deeper into “how” we can guide our students to learn within themselves.