Archive for May, 2011

In Brain Rules, John Medina argues that lessons in school should contain more visuals. Studies have proven that individuals remember visuals and visual aids better than the written or spoken word. Because of how the brain processes images, it is easier for someone to remember information if the information is communicated through visuals. Vision determines or guides the rest of the senses. Why not base instruction on a student’s strongest input? Not only are students more likely to remember information communicated through visuals, but they are also more likely to become engaged in the information if it is connected to an interesting visual. For these reasons, John Medina argues that traditional instructional strategies should do a major overhaul with pictures, movies, and animations.
I’m not sure if I agree with Medina about the central use of visual aids in instruction. Medina’s argument assumes that the same amount and kind of information can be communicated through visual aids and through direct instruction. Direct Instruction allows teachers to give students a bullet point list of information that they need to know, which the student copies down into their notes or journals. With direct instruction, a teacher can cover all of the important points of a subject and give students the information that they need to know for competency in a few minutes. Videos might also provide students with the information required for competency in a subject, but how often are they created for this purpose? Though students might gain more information from a visual aid, are we sure that it’s the information that we want students to understand and retain. A student watching a video about the Sahara will be told in the video the history of the kingdoms around the Sahara (or at least, the interesting histories of the kingdoms around the Sahara) but a student might only be focused on what the people in the video are wearing or what kinds of battles are in the video (reflective of student interest). Students might be more likely to remember information connected to a visual aid, but surely the visual aid detracts from the importance of the information. If students are hearing a lecture about the severity of the second phase of the French Revolution and the teacher shows a painting of the execution of Louis the sixteenth, the students will be more likely to remember the gruesomeness of the painting instead of the historical importance of the Reign of Terror. Visual aids, in this case, detract from the effectiveness of the lesson. In addition, watching television for most Americans is a relaxation activity that requires little attention and focus. Why should we expect that students will have a different attitude toward videos shown in the classroom? There is a visible physical difference between students taking notes during a lecture and students watching a video in class. Students listening to a lecture and taking notes are sitting forward in their chairs and are diligently copying down the text that the teacher has copied on the overhead or the important information that the teacher has just said. Students watching a video are leaning back in their seats with a glazed look in their eyes, casually writing down information when they remember that the teacher has told them that he or she expects fifteen notes at the end of the period. Obviously, the students watching a video are less likely to diligently learn and understand information just from their posture then the students writing down information that the teacher said in preparation for the end of the week test.
Visual aids should not be removed from the classroom. Videos and pictures obviously have their place in communicating understandings that the written or spoken word cannot fully express. However, the heavy reliance on visual aids in the classroom can have detrimental effects to student learning and attention. The current natural tendency in education is to try to make the process of learning information easier for students so that they will be more successful. This tendency, however, has the unexpected result of allowing students to work less to gain understanding. If students are not inspired to work, how will they overcome obstacles to their understanding in the real world? What happens to students whose education relied heavily on visual aids when they enter a business field where they are asked to construct understandings from the written and spoken word? Aren’t we doing students a disservice by not allowing them to develop the ability to derive understanding from their time spent engaging the different aspects of direct instruction?
References
Medina, J. (2008). Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School. Seattle, WA: Pear Press.

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Both John Medina and Meece and Daniels have written about the importance of the family environment to the wellbeing and educational success of the child.  John Medina (2008) writes that students that experience stressful home lives usually find it difficult to perform in school or be connected to the learning environment of the school.  Meece and Daniels (2008) catalog the different developmental stages that are dependent on a healthy family foundation and describe what happens to students who don’t receive the proper nurturing.  These students often withdraw from their education and communicate to teachers and counselors that they have no desire to work in school regardless of the effect it will have on them in the not too distant future.  Both Meece and Daniels (2008) and Preciado (2011) prescribe an environment at school that is welcoming to different cultures and worldviews and is reactive to the needs of students who grow up in families that aren’t supportive of their learning.  One of the best ways to help students and parents see the importance of their education, they argue, is to get parents involved in their education as much as possible through parent teacher conferences, volunteer opportunities, homework help assignments, and community multicultural activities that invite different members of the community into the school so that they feel accepted and an important part of the school community.

This belief in the ability of schools to include everyone in the community may be to idealistic.  In my observations, I’ve talked to several teachers about students who are failing their class and about what efforts they have made to get these students motivated.  There will always be students who will not care about their education regardless of the effort the teacher makes to get them engaged.  The school that I’m observing in is very culturally sensitive and has a multicultural event this week to bring in members of the community.  This cultural sensitivity is also apparent in the attitude and lessons of the teacher whom I’m observing, and she has given several lessons while I’ve been there that have been ethnically diverse and unbiased.  Her educational practices also include many degrees of varied instruction and assessment that allows her students to perform their very best in her class.  And yet, with all of that prompting and support, she still has students in her classes who refuse to actively pursue their education.  What this illuminates for me is the importance of informing students about the centrality of their will in the success of their education.  Students are often given all of the tools they need to be successful in school and will still fail classes.  What is the saying about leading a horse to water?  A great deal of leniency should be given to students who come from rough backgrounds especially when it comes to helping them gain the right perspective about their education and its importance.  This being said, there are many examples of students and of individuals who are successful despite or because of their poor circumstances growing up.  Students in general need to be taught that their work and effort are directly correlated to their future quality of life.  If students aren’t able to develop a healthy work ethic before they leave high school, how will they be successful in college or at a job where there will be no scaffolds to help them be successful?

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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During my observations over this last month, I have really appreciated the attitude and demeanor of the teacher I’m observing and the effect it has on her students.  Specifically in the context of promoting healthy social relations, this teacher conveys to her students an atmosphere of acceptance and respect that allows her students to relax and enjoy learning.  There is a significant difference between the expectations placed on students in her regular classes and the expectations placed on students in honors.  This allows students who are performing at a lower level to take time to understand and comprehend the material they are being asked to learn.  Conversation easily takes place in her classroom between the students and between students and the teacher and when it is time to move on, the teacher casually calls attention back up to the front of the room.  This teacher’s assessments are varied in style and expectation, and her most common assessment involves students composing a short paper or creating a project to show what they know.  Most of her students react positively to this atmosphere and become engaged in the learning community that she has created.  Unfortunately, even with all of these adjustments to her classroom for the sake of the individual and their learning ability, there are still several students who won’t complete assignments for her class.

There will always be students who because of their desire to do nothing take advantage of the system and cut themselves off from the learning community.  These students aren’t motivated by lesser standards or understanding teachers.  They, for whatever reason, have come to the conclusion that the best thing they can do for themselves is to avoid every expectation that is placed on them for the purpose of making their lives easier for themselves.   So what is the correct response for the teacher?  It seems ineffective to lessen standards for the whole class for the sake of these students if lessening standards does little to help them join the community.  There are students who struggle with expectations because of their lack of development for which adjusted standards might be appropriate, but for the purpose of helping that student perform at the level of their peers so that they can be a fully participating member of the community.  Lower expectations only allow the student to never experience expectations that are hard or difficult to their future detriment in life after high school.

The best way to help students develop successful learning relationships in the classroom is to establish an atmosphere of acceptance where conversation is easy and comfortable.  This must come hand in hand with high levels of expectations and standards that ask the student to grow while they are in the classroom.  Lowering expectations will not provide the student with the motivation to work for their education.  This motivation to join the learning community must come from the decisions and mindset of the individual.

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What stood out to me in the readings for this week is the importance of helping students develop independent reading habits.  In the podcast for this week, Jorge Preciado talked about the “Matthew Effect” where students who are naturally inclined to read on their own will naturally develop literacy proficiency, where students who don’t have that tendency will not (Preciado, 2011).   The divide between the ability level of English proficiency of these two types of students only grows with age and maturity.  Similarly, Meece and Daniels (2008) point out the importance of encouraging students to read, both in class and on their own time as a major component to their future success in developing their ability to become a fluent reader and to constructing a meaningful understanding from the text.  There is a strong link between how much students pursue reading on their own and how developed their understanding of the English language is.

In today’s schools, teachers are facing a generation of students that are almost entirely dependent on the media, personal computers, and portable devices for information and understanding.  While the availability of technology is a good thing for student’s education, search engines and Wikipedia allow students to get the information they need in short to the point sentences that rarely require students to delve deeply into their understanding of the English language to derive meaning.  The natural tendency of students who live in the media age is to gravitate towards sources that will illuminate them quickly, with little work being required of them to understand what the source is trying to communicate.  There are fewer and fewer reasons for students to pick up a good book if most popular books are made into movies anyway.  Students who have no drive to study literature will find that their understanding of English is lacking when compared with students who have read and continue to read to improve their fluency.  Students who fail to read also miss out on the experience of reading works that are well crafted and inspiring.  There isn’t an experience that replaces the joy of reading a good book.

It is for these reasons that it is important for teachers to find ways to encourage students to pursue an enjoyment of the written word on their own time.  For most students, this will mean finding subjects that the student finds interesting and impressing on them the importance of good personal reading habits.  With students of all ages, there are concepts and understandings that can’t be covered in the classroom or on videos that can be extremely important to how a student views the world.  This is in addition to all of the reading requirements that the student will have to complete in college and in their chosen career.  The connection between personal reading and individual achievement are clear.  It’s important that teachers encourage students to read as much material as possible.

References:

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

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

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