Posts Tagged ‘
learning styles ’
Children vary in cognitive ability. This is readily apparent in schools. We have long spent time assessing cognitive ability and developing programs to improve learning outcomes for those in general ability ranges (special education and TAG programs being notable). Yet the impact of cognitive differences on learning outcomes is rarely, if ever, taken into account by education reformers. This is troubling because over half of the variance in achievement among students of the same age is attributable to differences in cognitive ability.
Cognitive ability differences translate directly to academic achievement through variation in the ability of students to benefit from instruction. Lower ability students are more prone to misconceptions and are more likely to need more stage setting, more structured (scaffolded) skill development, and more skill practice to achieve mastery. In addition, they may need more examples to consolidate concept learning, more periodic and structured review to strengthen long term memory, more problems of escalating difficulty to reach desired levels of application, and generally need more frequent and precise assessment feedback. Instruction, if it is to be effective, must attend to these issues. But the consequence of these various learning challenges is that the rate of mastery of core concepts and skills is slowed. And without quality instruction, progress can stall altogether.
Higher ability students, on the other hand, generally need less staging—they already have the pre-requisites in hand, master skills and concepts on the first try, commit things to memory readily, and can handle sophisticated application problems without the need for intermediate levels of difficulty. They reach mastery with greater ease, more quickly.
As a consequence of these different orientations to learning, students diverge from each other over time in terms of achievement, even when they are exposed to the best quality instruction. Differences in achievement are inevitable, particularly when the learning resources available to students are roughly the same. And resources available through public education—especially time—are roughly the same for all students.
I have recently completed a research report that discusses the relationship between cognitive ability and achievement from an empirical perspective. I also discuss some of the implications for standards-based school reforms. You can access the report here.
My class of teacher candidates and I are reading Teaching 2030, a book that uses wonderful ideas from practicing teachers to discuss their changing roles. As the title suggests, the authors (Barnett Berry and the TeachersSolutions 2030Team) offer analyses of the present to project a positive future. The book discusses the union movement and its effects on the present roles; learning ecologies and technological changes; differentiated pathways and careers for teachers; and teacherpreneurism and innovation. It is the latter concept – teacherpreneurism – that most intrigues my teacher candidates and me.
First, a definition. Teacherpreneurism is not educational entrepreneurism: recruiting people from outside schools to “fix” what is inside the present schools. Instead, teacherpreneurs are “teacher-leaders of proven accomplishment who have a deep knowledge of how to teach, a clear understanding of what strategies must be in play to make schools successful, and the skills and commitment to spread their expertise to others – all the while keeping at least one foot firmly in the classroom.” (Teaching 2030, p.136) In other words, the goal of these people would be to work from within to make schools better. The premise is that good teachers, especially, but not exclusively, young ones, want to stay within teaching but not within the cradle to retirement of working only in a classroom. Instead of moving to administration, these newly envisioned roles would allow teachers to work with students but also with their colleagues and students beyond their own classroom in a variety of ways – and they would be paid accordingly, both in personal satisfaction and in salary differentiation.
When my students talked about these ideas, they became interested in what happens in schools now and wondered why these sorts of opportunities don’t seem to exist. So I had them watch videos of the CLASS Project, especially the Sherwood District which is trying anew salary schedule to allow teachers to move in that direction. http://educators4reform.org/participating-districts/sherwood-school-district/ I wanted them to see that in Oregon change has begun. (A side note: many were really surprised how the teachers in the CLASS project talked about the lack of supervision and evaluation before implementing these changes. Most of them have a very limited understanding of the profession they are entering, and I often think how their lack reflects society as a whole.)
We here in Eugene are experiencing yet another round of deep cuts, school closures, and furlough days. All of this publicity discourages my class – will there be jobs for them? And that is why I have them read this book so they can envision an alternative kind of schooling. While Rahm Emmanuel’s comment of “a crisis is a terrible thing to waste” came back to bite him, I do agree that this present funding crisis offers us a way to rethink how we teach. Or, more specifically, how children learn. Whether we reexamine our outdated high school Carnegie units and the structures that result or apply technology to allow for individualized instruction in our over-crowded classrooms or some other yet-to-be-thought-of idea, we have the opportunity to create a new future. We Oregonians pride ourselves on innovation in environmental and health issues; why not in education?
Let’s say you have a very smart child, and you live in Portland, Oregon. You want your child to be challenged and encouraged, and given every opportunity to reach his highest potential. What are your options?
First of all, let me say that I realize I’m hardly the one who should be writing this post. I am just a parent, and in many ways I feel like I’m just peering in through the windows of a house, wondering how many bedrooms there really are. But here is what I see, and if there is more out there I hope that someone from PPS will let us all know.
First of all, there is the ACCESS program:
If your child tests in the 99th percentile in verbal or math skills, you can enroll him in the ACCESS program that is housed at Sabin school in Northeast Portland. (If you have an older sibling in the program already, then only the 90th percentile is required for entry.) The program used to run grades 1-8, but this year seems to have been cut back to grades 2-8. And once your child reaches high school, it’s back to business as usual, which means that PPS can’t even guarantee access to AP classes for academically qualified students.
As far as I know, there are no other TAG programs anywhere in Portland Public Schools. Is that not unbelievable?
So, what if your bright little guy (or gal) is a first child, and is only 95th percentile?
The options, as far as I was able to discover for myself, are roughly as follows: (more…)
A lot has been said recently about doing away with the tenure system which is said to unfairly protect sub-par teachers. So what then are the benefits of the tenure system? There must be some reason for its existence. I believe that tenure often protects innovation and the passion for teaching that keeps dedicated teachers in the profession. Lack of tenure can make teachers feel obligated to kowtow to every new “researched-based” idea that is being pushed by a district.
Here’s an example. When I was first hired to teach in the early ‘90s my district asked principals to go around to remove all the phonics based reading instruction material from the classrooms. Phonics was out and whole language was in. I was told by the tenured teachers to give up my materials since I was only a temporary employee and could be easily fired. The tenured teachers were going to hide their materials and teach phonics when no one was looking. Of course, today research tells us that phonics and phonemic awareness are keys to learning to read. Apparently, in the 90’s research told us otherwise.
Quality teachers with experience know what works for their students and want a myriad of materials to get the job done. They also know that trends in teaching come and go. What if tenure was eliminated, forcing teachers to teach in ways that they knew were not appropriate to their students? Of course we can question whether educational research with all its issues with outside variables can ever dictate teaching methods. The main point is that there are lots of ways to get our children to grow intellectually.
Some of the most effective teachers I know have balked at the current trend to follow a reading series with fidelity. (Fidelity means plodding methodically through the reading book so all students in the district are exposed to the same core curriculum.) These teachers favor a more right-brained creative way of teaching, or they teach with holistic units, or possibly with real novels. These teachers all have tenure. (more…)
I was in the middle of my lesson when the literacy coach for my building interrupted me. “Ms. Honnold?” she asked. “I wonder what would happen if you had a student write the steps on the board as you went over them. You know, to give the visual people in your class a way to access what you’re talking about.” As she spoke, the students in my class looked on, clearly unused to someone giving their teacher feedback.
It could have been mortifying. And I’m sure some of you, reading this, are reliving all the horrific teaching moments where someone called you into question in front of your students or undermined your authority in some way. But it wasn’t like that. Instead, it was exactly what I now think of as teacher collaboration at its best: two professionals working together, in the moment, to figure out what is going to serve students best. (more…)
“All children are born artists. The problem is to remain artist as we grow up.” ~Picasso
Ken Robinson agrees, “We don’t grow into creativity; we grow out of it. Kids will take a chance. If they don’t know, they’ll have a go. They’re not frightened of being wrong.” But something happens that shuts down this inherent spark. Robinson claims the classroom is to blame for crushing creativity saying, “We are now running national education where mistakes are the worst things you can make.” Listening to his bold interpretations, I cannot help but nod along with his words. Because yes, a magical quality exists within children—the willingness to try, to step into the unknown, to create from scratch—that allows creativity to thrive, and yet somehow, somewhere, it disappears.
Too many classrooms suck the creative spark out of children—suffocating with standards and structure, judging on numbers and ranking with letters—merely equipping students with the tools necessary to obtain the “correct” answer using minimal time, effort, and resources. While this may be optimal for industry—high accuracy and efficiency—it’s far from preparing students for who they can be: innovative, collaborative, authentic, critical-thinking intellectuals and creators.
But the story doesn’t end here, for the crushing of creativity is not confined to classroom walls. No. It’s contagious and running rampant throughout all levels of education in America. Teachers, administrators, board members, union representatives, educational leaders… we all face that fear of making a mistake, which drives us to choose the shortest, simplest, most familiar, most likely to be “right” route. We do what’s been done before—because it’s safe. (more…)
Last night I returned home after an intense, fun-filled week at Outdoor School. It was a blast! I have about a hundred stories I could go on and on about—campfire skits, lightening storms, mystery meatloaf, catching fish—but there’s one that stands out above the rest, one that I will remember and be sharing for years to come. It is a story that proves ALL kids can and will learn when provided the necessary, high-quality support and ample opportunities for authentic and interactive engagement. It is a story of transformation. A story of possibility.
Meet Christopher: a 6th grade boy, academically disengaged, low confidence, apathetic, defiant, a behavioral disturbance in class, barely getting by with D’s, a difficult home life, and permanently labeled “at-risk”. Chances are, you know a Christopher. And if you’re like me, you’ve expended an enormous amount of energy hoping to tap into his psyche—figure out what stirs his curiosity and ignites his fire—to help him find value in learning so he may benefit from his education. (more…)