Archive for April, 2011

Dennis Evans in his book Taking Sides: Clashing Views in Teaching and Educational Practice includes two opposing articles about whether schools should have accommodations for students with special needs.  The article for accommodations, by Maryann Byrnes, outlines the obligation that schools have to provide for the needs of exceptional students under IDEA and other legislation, arguing that individuals should be given every means necessary to perform their very best in school.  Accommodations are similar to allowing individuals to wear glasses on their drive tests.  Why would you withhold a program from exceptional students that will help them succeed in their education?   Accommodations allow exceptional and 504 students to succeed where a lack of accommodations only sets them up for failure.  The article against accommodations, by James Kauffman, Kathleen McGee, and Michelle Brigham, argues that special education programs were introduced into schools with the original intent of allowing students to overcome obstacles so that they could perform normally or at the level of other students their age.  The push toward full inclusion has only resulted in an attitude in special education from students and parents where it is expected that the expectations for exceptional students will be lower than their peers regardless of whether or not they can perform at their level.  Accommodations don’t help students prepare for the expectations in life outside of high school and so do them a disservice.

While I’m not sure that I agree that there should be no or few accommodations for exceptional students, I do think that the authors of the article against accommodations have a point about the necessity of helping exceptional students perform at the level of their peers.  Special Education is a service to individuals who find it difficult to perform at grade level expectations.  The disabilities of exceptional students make it hard for those students to compete with their peers in certain areas, especially when those exceptional students are asked to make a way for themselves after high school.  Exceptional students who are capable of doing work at the level of their peers should be encouraged to continue joining the learning community at that level and with those expectations.  There are many exceptions to this where it is clear that the student needs to have the curriculum changed so that they can be successful in school.  However, shouldn’t the natural tendency of special education programs be to encourage students to perform at the level of their peers?  Are we doing students a disservice if we allow them to work less hard for a sense of achievement if the next step is for them to face the world after high school where the expectations are not bendable to their needs?

References:

Evans, Dennis ed. (2008).  Taking Sides: Clashing Views in Teaching and Educational Practice.  Boston,

MA: McGraw Hill.

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John Medina (2008) writes in Brain Rules in chapters five and six about how memories work and about effective habits and learning techniques that allow individuals to retain important information longer.  His principle arguments are that short-term memory is enhanced when information is complex and intriguing and that long-term memory can be solidified by review at set intervals.  Meece and Daniels (2008) describe in detail the development of memory and retrieval ability in children and suggest effective strategies for helping students develop habits that increase retention and easy retrieval.

The immediate perception of the application in the classroom of these principles is obvious.  The automatic reaction of a prospective teacher upon understanding this information is to assume that these strategies will be in of themselves effective enough to stimulate student learning, comprehension, and retention.  The effectiveness of memorization techniques seems to almost provide an answer for how to get important information into student’s heads.  What this line of reasoning fails to take into account, however, is the ever present roadblock to effective learning: lack of student motivation.  Effective teaching strategies with lessons and curriculum that promote effective memorization and retention will not necessarily cause inspiration and hard work.  Effective memorization techniques, though important, cannot be assumed to be the ultimate answer for effective learning.  Making it easier for a student to retain information doesn’t necessarily mean that the student will see the importance of the information and commit it to memory.  Often classroom routines that make learning easier for students allows them to be lulled into a false sense of security where their lack of effort will be enough to make them successful.  With some exceptions where students are disadvantaged and not able to perform at the level of other students, the majority of individuals in school need to be inspired and challenged by the information that they are being required to learn.  Information needs to be intriguing and perspective shattering.  Students need to be inspired by challenges that they struggle with to work hard during their education for their future wellbeing.  Students’ need a perspective that sees the importance of learning and the ability to adapt to new situations.  Our goal as educators should be to inspire students with an overwhelming desire to understand and to succeed.

Teachers should by all means organize their curriculum to help students succeed through memorization techniques and retrieval strategies.  The presence of these strategies, however, should not take the place of inspiration.  If effective instruction is replaced by instruction that relies too heavily on memorization techniques, teachers will find themselves with classrooms of students who know lots of information but have no drive to connect that information into meaningful contexts or understandings.

References:

Meece, J. L., Daniels, D. H. (2008).  Child and Adolescent Development for Educators (3rd Ed.).

Boston, MA: McGraw Hill.

Medina, J. (2008).  Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and

School. Seattle, WA: Pear Press.

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Character education programs in schools seek to educate students about morality and about proper conduct in today’s society.  Proponents of these programs argue that students need a perspective about what attitudes and actions will make them most successful in society.  Deterrents argue that character programs are ineffective and that morality doesn’t necessarily bring about success and happiness.

Dennis Evans in his book Taking Sides includes an essay for the effectiveness of character education programs and an essay arguing against it.   Tom Lickona, Eric Schaps, and Catherine Lewis as the proponents for character education programs argue that there are values or virtues held by society that are pivotally important to the creation of good citizens.  Character education programs lay the groundwork for responsible individuals, caring communities, and moral leadership in the community.  Students should be required to learn about society’s values and expectations so that they can be successful and virtuous individuals in society.  The ultimate aim of teaching individuals morality is to inspire self-motivation to virtue so that tomorrow’s society will be filled with responsible, moral, and virtuous citizens to the betterment of the community.

Kevin Cornwall as the deterrent to character education programs argues against the effectiveness of moral conditioning.  Morality building programs, he argues, are based on the idea that if you drill morality and your perspective of proper conduct into students’ minds for the duration of their education, then they will whole-heartedly embrace morality and civic concepts of virtue.  The inherent flaw in this line of reasoning can be seen in the fact that most students don’t know why good behavior benefits them.  They are told by parents and teachers how to act but aren’t allowed to reason out what effect their actions will have on their wellbeing.  In addition, Cornwall argues that moral conduct does not necessarily bring about the best outcome for the individual.  Students are liable with character education programs to get out of school only to abandon any perception they had of morality once they realize they can be successful by other means.  A more effective attempt to instill successful conduct in students would be a program where students are allowed to define their own sense of morality by weighing the advantages and disadvantages of each choice, attitude, or action.

At the center of this argument lies a disagreement over ideology.  Those in favor of character building program believe that morality and good citizenship have been handed down over the centuries by the theologians and philosophers who have gone before us.  Their perspective of virtue and the state of humanity, they reason, is essential to effective, caring, benevolent societies made up of motivated moral individuals.  Those who fight against character building programs come from the perspective that believes that the majority perspective of society up until now has been mostly flawed, with a  foundation of conservative ideology that comes from a religious perspective.  At the center of this issue is a battle waging over the remnants of Christianity that still remain in society.  Christians in the public school system from the beginning have argued that biblical principles should be included in curriculum because of their undeniable truth and applicability to the world.  The effectiveness of morality and moral conduct in society is now being questioned by liberals who seek to redefine perceptions of right and wrong.  This issue is an example of the larger conflict between conservatives and liberals taking place in today’s society and in America’s schools.  Conservatives are desperately trying to hold onto values and virtues praised and taught by previous generations while liberals are desperately trying to throw off the shackles of yesterday’s conservative religious ideology.

References:

Evans, Dennis ed. (2008).  Taking Sides: Clashing Views in Teaching and Educational Practice.  Boston,

MA: McGraw Hill.

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John Medina writes in his book Brain Rules (2008) in chapters three and four about the importance of understanding that each brain is wired differently and that attention is essential to comprehension and learning.  Every individual has their own way of processing information depending on how their brain has developed since infancy.  This, Medina argues, is important for teachers to realize because adapting instruction to meet the processing needs of different individuals is essential to effective instruction.  In addition, it is essential for teachers to realize the importance of capturing and keeping student attention, because of the effect it has on student learning and the processing of information taught in class.  Medina argues that teachers have about ten minutes before they lose their students’ attention and so must adapt their instruction with hooks and changes of topic every ten minutes.

Curriculum and lesson adaptation for the differences in individuals often neglects the need to challenge students with different ways of thinking.  Most students who have reached high school have entered the Formal Operational Level of understanding as defined by Piaget (Meece and Daniels, 2008).  They are now capable of adapting their thinking from defining aspects of the real to hypothesizing factors in the possible.  They have multiple forms of logic and are beginning to think about their world in more scientific terms.  At the next stage of their education, they will be asked to listen to three hour lectures from professors who don’t care about the individual needs of students and their ability to process and understand the contents of their lecture.  College has proven to be the factor that defines an individual’s social economic status when it comes to what jobs are available to that individual.  It is important that every student in high school is encouraged to pursue an education at a college or university.  If education is adapted at every level to meet the needs and desires of students (whose attention span has been diminished by the media age) with curriculum that doesn’t challenge students to pay attention in class longer than ten minutes, how will students adapt to the requirements of real-life situations where Individuals in charge are less motivated to adapt their expectations to the needs of their employees?  With certain exceptions of students who need help to be successful in the modern world, isn’t it the responsibility of schools to prepare students for what will be expected of them after high school?  If the expectation isn’t on students to do what’s necessary to succeed in classes where instruction isn’t necessarily adapted to meet their line of thinking, when will they learn to adapt to new situations in the real world?  Often it is learning to comprehend the thinking and reasoning of others that forces us to adapt to survive in challenging situations.  Reflecting back on my own experience, it was in the classes of the teachers who weren’t wired like me that I learned the most information, because of the extra time that I spent on the material trying to comprehend the reasoning and expectations of my teacher.  If there are no hurdles for students to get over in their education, will students be prepared to overcome obstacles and barriers to happiness in the real world?

References:

Meece, J. L., Daniels, D. H. (2008).  Child and Adolescent Development for Educators (3rd Ed.).  Boston, MA: McGraw Hill.

Medina, J. (2008).  Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School. Seattle, WA: Pear Press.

Preciado, J. (2011).  EDU 6132: Students as Learners.  Online Course: Seattle Pacific University MAT Program, Seattle.

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In Teaching to Change the World, Jeannie Oakes and Martin Lipton praise the rise of the multicultural perspective during the 1970s that questioned the dominant beliefs and educational theories of the day.  They devote several pages to describing the virtues of an educational system that challenges the majority perspective in the name of social justice and works to include everyone in educational practice that helps students construct knowledge from a firm foundation of social critique and meaningful context.  They also criticize the conservative movement over the past few decades to pursue standards of excellence.  This recent movement to increase the ability of students and to raise expectations, they argue, has divided students into higher and lower performing students and has fallen short of the broader goal of having a challenging curriculum for all students.  Multiculturalism and the pursuit of social justice has also been abandoned in the pursuit of a more challenging academic curriculum.

The problem with the Multicultural perspective is that it seeks to undo social constructs and belief systems in the pursuit of new standards and beliefs that meet the goals of the concepts of social justice.  Social Justice is defined by adherents to Multiculturalism, who use the broader banner to work towards their own perspective of morality and social values.  Any other belief system that forced itself upon the curriculum of America’s schools would be seen as attack to principles of Liberty and would been seen as taking away the right of students to make their own decisions about society and justice.  Doesn’t a curriculum that seeks to improve the performance of individuals make more sense as the perspective of a public service institution?  Shouldn’t the ability of individuals to be a constructive part of tomorrow’s society as working individuals be the focus of education?  Why is it that one perspective about how the world should change be accepted as the national or state standard for education?  Again, any other perspective trying to force their beliefs on America’s students would be seen as an attack on the principles of American freedom.  A more productive school curriculum is focused on providing students with the tools necessary to be successful in their future fields and in tomorrow’s society.

References:

Oakes, J., Lipton, M. (2007).  Teaching to Change the World.  Boston, MA: McGraw Hill.

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In order for teachers to be successful in their educational practices and methods, they must first have an understanding of their students’ development and condition.  They must base their teaching methods and educational theories on their understanding of how students develop socially and cognitively and should select their methods to best enhance student development.  A strong understanding of brain development and student condition creates a firm foundation for enhanced learning in the classroom.

Of the student development theories discussed the first chapter of Child and Adolescent Development for Educators by Judith Meece and Denise Daniels, I tend to lean toward the Ecological Contextual Theories proposed by Urie Bronfenbrenner.  I like it because it seems to embrace multiple factors affecting the development of an individual within their biological and cultural context, but it still allows for developments to be largely the choice of the individual.  Maturity and understanding comes from interaction with their environment where development at one level affects the type and character of the development at the next.  This particular theory seems to grasp the complexity that is the growth and development of specific individuals.  Other theories of development make the process of development and reasons for development too simple.

I struggle with the explanations that John Medina gives in his book Brain Rules for the development in individuals of specific brain tendencies.  The tendencies that Medina has discovered through analysis of how individuals operate he relates back to the development of human beings from lesser species.  Medina argues that the process of our evolution is the reason for why the human brain is more successful pursuing specific activities or organizing environments to meet cognitive needs.  This reasoning is hard to accept from the perspective of one who doesn’t believe in macro-evolution.  With my background in Christianity, Creationism, and micro-evolution, I find his arguments for why the brain is the way it is difficult to accept.  I find that I don’t disagree with his arguments about how the brain works and about what changes are most helpful for better cognition and brain work.  However, I find that I have to discover my own reasons for why the brain is the way it is by analyzing my own beliefs about how the world and individuals were created.

References:

Meece, J. L., Daniels, D. H. (2008).  Child and Adolescent Development for Educators (3rd Ed.).

Boston, MA: McGraw Hill.

Medina, J. (2008).  Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and

School. Seattle, WA: Pear Press.

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