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EDU 6655 – Human Development and Principles of Learning – Metareflection – Standard 2

on December 15, 2014

Looking back at my previous at the beginning of EDU 6655: Human Development and Principles of Learning and comparing them to my current understandings and the questions that understanding creates illustrated exactly how much I learned during this course. When I began this course, I did have some fairly recent information about how the brain learns due to an action research grant I wrote and participated in four years ago, but I was able to put together so many more pieces and extend my knowledge in multiple areas. Additionally, I was able to apply more of my learning to my classroom and see the results in my students.

At the beginning of this course, we focused on what happens in the mind of the learner as they are learning. Memorization, categorization, connections, and motivation to remain actively learning were all processes that I knew about, but as we moved through the course, there were many other factors I learned about. In reading Brain Rules by John Medina, I learned that our senses are designed to work together, and that in order to learn best, we must have multiple senses or modalities activated. Students must engage multiple senses in order for their brains to process information most effectively. I teach Algebra 1, which is notorious for being a breaking point for many students mathematically. I have seen many students work hard, struggle over and over again, and simply not get it, only to repeat the course the following year – with me as the teacher again – and be incredibly successful. In How People Learn, I learned that our brains develop at different paces, and that learning physically changes the structure and organization of the brain. This helps me understand how those students who are simply a year older with a year’s worth of knowledge and experience are able to understand what was previously not understandable, no matter how much effort was applied. Also in How People Learn, I learned how important current knowledge, culture and experience, and ability to form connections with that knowledge and experiences is for a learner’s success. This was further illustrated by the video Fish Is Fish that we watched and reflected on. In order for my students to learn the information I teach them, I have to consider what prior knowledge, experiences and skills they will need.

Later in the course we wrestled with the question of why there is often a gap between what we as teachers teach, and what students actually learn. As we started this question, my previous understandings were that prior knowledge matters, as does a connection between what is being taught and its place in the subject or real world. Through additional readings in Brain Rules, and How People Learn, I learned that students’ prior fluency, attention, practice, perseverance, motivation have an impact on the learning gap. I participated with a group to look at the areas of attention, memory, and gender differences when considering how the brain works. Our presentation, Chapter on Memory, illustrated several key points related to those topics, and I encourage you to check it out. Another factor that came up during my reading of How People Learn is that students’ own belief in their ability to learn has a major impact on their actual ability to learn. What stood out to me most in this area was the difference between a student who is an entity theorist, and a student who is an incremental theorist. Entity theorists focus on the appearance of learning – or how others see their understanding. These learners focus on looking like they are smart and successful, and consequently avoid challenges that have the possibility to reflect them in a poor light. Incremental theorists believe that the more learning they do, the more intelligence they will have, and will actually seek out challenges to benefit from the struggle to learn (“How People Learn”, 2000, pg 102). As I learned about the difference between these two types of learners, I wonder how we as teachers can help students transfer from entity theorists to incremental theorists and see a value in their own work to learn as success.

As we wrapped up the class with a final presentation that you can see here, I came up with instructional shifts based on the research we did that I believe will make my classroom a better classroom for my learners. The first of those shifts is explicitly teaching my students strategies for remembering the material. We learned that stronger learners have more studying strategies, and I assert that all learners could benefit from a sharing of those strategies. Secondly, I will be working hard to present as many different strategies related to each topic that I can. This will allow my students to have multiple entry points when attempting to solve a problem. Additionally, with the change to the Common Core State Standards, the ability to use multiple methods to solve a problem becomes a necessity. Third, I will continue to work hard to know each and every one of my students, personally and academically. This can be a challenge with 140 students during the day, and a maximum of 54 minutes at a time with each student; however, the benefits to both my instructional planning and my students’ learning are invaluable. One way I am already doing this is with student surveys and unit pre-tests, but I am sure I can find more. The fourth change I am going to make is to teach students, wherever possible, how to ask the questions needed to make sense of new information. So much of Algebra is simply memorized by students without any effort to make sense of why it is. Modeling the strategies for students will give them the tools they need to attempt it themselves. A fifth shift is a focus on discussion. A traditional math classroom is often lacking in student talk, and I have and will continue to change that in my classroom. Our students need to talk to make sense of information, to help categorize new information with current knowledge, and to find misconceptions that exist in their own understandings. Without guiding discussions, many discoveries and connections do not end up being made. The sixth change is very easy to implement, but can make a huge impact; I will be making sure to break up instruction into segments of no longer than ten minutes. Students need time to process information. They need time to restate it to another person. Above all, they need time to stop and stretch for a minute. By teaching in ten minute segments, and giving intentional breaks with ideas or prompts for students to think about or discuss, I will allow their brains a chance to stop and refocus without losing the importance of what I am teaching. A presentation summarizing my learning and the six shifts, along with student evidence of the changes I have already implemented can be viewed here.

Overall, this course has validated many of my previous understandings on how people learn and extended it in multiple areas. My largest take-away from this course is that I still have so much to learn about how my students will learn, and I am inspired to continue to research and experiment to find the ways that work best for me as a teacher and my students as learners. Teaching is an always-changing profession that requires flexibility and willingness to grow, and I welcome the challenge.

Change-Quotes-Image

Retrieved from http://1mphotos.com/change-quotes/

Resources:

Medina, J. (2014). Brain Rules. Seattle, WA: Pear Press.

National Research Council. (2000). How People Learn. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

Robinson, K. (2013, April). How to escape education’s death valley. Retrieved from: http://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_how_to_escape_education_s_death_valley

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