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Channel-Talk for The Learning Classroom

From: Debbie Huberman (debh@mindspring.com)
Date: Sun Sep 14 2003 - 12:42:55 EDT

  • Next message: Debbie Huberman: "[Channel-talklearning] Responses to Session 2"

    Hi there:

    I just wanted to introduce myself to the discussion list for the Learning Classroom course.

    My name is Debbie Cogan and I am a Library Media Specialist at a vocational high school in a rural part of Northeast Ohio.

    Are there any other school librarians taking this course?

    I have just finished reading the materials for the first session and I also viewed the first video online so below I have included my reflections and reactions to these items.

     (Reading) Reaction to Session Overview II
     I feel that today we need a more holistic theory to help understand how children learn. This theory should incorporate all the previous theories that have been proposed up to this time. I do not believe that theories are mutually exclusive. For example, I feel that behaviorism can co-exist with cognitive science. There are times when children do respond in an automatic manner based on a particular stimulus. At the same time children also use their brains to create new knowledge. I also see that both the Greek and Roman perspectives make sense as part of a whole. The search for meaning is just as important as being practical. I also agree with Piaget that children go through stages and I agree with Vygotsky when he stated that children are strongly affected by their culture and social environment. So I see a great deal of overlap between all these theories.

     I feel the biggest challenge for today's teachers is to be able to motivate students in a meaningful way in a climate where there is a great deal of academic pressure and high expectations. The pace of learning has accelerated and so there is more pressure now to achieve and compete than there was ten or twenty years ago. There is so much testing and so much reliance on technology. I am not sure that this is always the best thing for students. For example, students who have always used calculators have never learned how to calculate numbers in their head so now they are dependent upon a piece of technology to do for them what they used to do on their own. Students who have always typed their papers on a computer have never learned how to write well with pencil and paper. Many students also do not read much anymore. I also feel that the widespread use of television, computers, and video games makes it harder for teachers to hold students' attention spans. Sometimes I feel that education had more meaning when there was less technology and things moved at a slower pace and there was less testing. At times I feel that the meaning of what is being taught gets lost in the chaos of trying to teach amidst numerous distracting forces.

     (Reading) Reaction to Learning: From Speculation to Science

     I feel that in our rush to give children high literacy skills we often neglect the basics of reading, writing, and calculating. I agree that their used to be too strong of an emphasis on remembering and repeating information without necessarily being able to find it and use it, however, now I am concerned that too much time is spent on the finding of information and not enough time is spent on developing strong basic skills. For example, I work in a high school where the average reading level is grade 6.9. Many of our students avoid reading and writing as much as possible. And all students use calculators.

     I also help with proficiency testing during the year by reading the test to the students who struggle with reading. 20% of our students have IEPs. Nationally the number of students who have learning disabilities is growing. Many of these students have vision problems. We have a piece of software that we use to test reading and vision. I often see students squinting when they are trying to read. I ask them if their eyes hurt when they read or if their eyes jump around the page. Many students have vision problems. My daughter and my brother both had visual perception problems. They needed eye exercises to strengthen their eye muscles. Others need glasses.

     I think this one of the biggest Pandora's box of problems that has never been opened in education. And until educators are willing to examine just how large a role vision problems play in all the other current difficulties teachers encounter, then I think education will keep spinning its wheels and avoiding one of the key issues that needs to be addressed. The vision of children in the past 20 years has been assaulted by television, video games and computers and coupled with a lack of outdoor recreation and overeating. These electronic devices actually cause the lens of the eye to become inflexible from lack of having to focus near and far. Years ago kids played outdoors more and their eyes had to focus far and near. Now most children restrict themselves to near-point vision. This causes the lens of the eye to atrophy.

     I also feel that life has been made so convenient with so much instant gratification that this causes children to become lazy and it also creates a lack of meaning. In order for something to have meaning, there must be effort. When things come too easily, from little or no effort, it does not mean very much. We have instant entertainment, fast-food, instant information, disposable clothing and other types of material objects. Obviously there is a quality difference between a meal that you cook for yourself and a fast-food meal that you pick up on your way to work. When kids are bored, they do not have to read a book or invent a game or play music or do art, they can turn on the television or the computer and become a passive recipient of entertainment. Television, computer games and video games require no effort of the watcher. You do not have to create any mental images as you do when you read. When someone creates art or plays music, different parts of the brain are connected, the brain is stimulated and the person feels a deep sense of meaning. The same thing happens with reading. The brain creates mental images and uses its imagination. I worry about the lack of imagination in students today. I often help students with their writing skills in preparation for proficiency tests. There was a writing prompt in one of the workbooks that asked the student to write a short senario based upon the descriptions of a scene and a few characters. This one student could not do it. I asked him to just imagine a story and he said he did not know how to imagine anything. He did not even know what anyone would want to make up a story. I felt so sad for this teenager who had never been read to or encouraged to use his imagination. So I feel that when things come too easily, other abilities are lost or never developed and there is a tragic loss of meaning.

     I also feel that science often tries too hard to dissect things that are better left alone in its effort to find meaning and understanding. Some things cannot be understood but they can be powerfully felt. For example when a teacher loves his or her students, this energy permeates the environment and the students are encouraged to learn. Similarly when a teacher is depressed or angry, this energy contaminates the environment and makes it harder for students to learn. But how much time does education devote to seeing whether their teachers are emotionally happy people? Happiness cannot be measured but it is probably the most important element that a teacher can bring to a class. Most schools are primarily concerned with how many students pass standardized tests and with attendance statistics. When teachers are burdened with higher and higher expectations and more pressure to do more things in the same amount of time it creates stress. Teachers are also being scrutinized more and more and held accountable more and more for their students learning. Something has to give. More stress does not produce more happiness or success or meaning. So are we really concerned with meaning in education or are we more concerned with production and achievement?

     I feel that it would be better for all children if we stop the standardized testing and instead have teachers focus on creating more sensitivity to students. At the same time we should test all children for all types of vision tests and throw out the old Snellen eye charts which have been used for over 50 years and only test children's vision at 20 feet (people do not read books that are 20 feet away). Then we should integrate more and more of the arts into every subject because I feel strongly that the arts bring meaning into every area of life. Science has so much beauty in it. Let children draw nature so they can fall in love with it. Math has so much music in it. It has been shown that children who study music from an early age do better in math. We admire people who are highly mentally creative yet we fail to understand that most of these people are also good at some other creative art. The arts help the brain to develop discipline, focus and flexibility.

     I agree that knowledge must be constructed from existing knowledge but I feel that public education does not do a very good job of laying a strong foundation for higher level thinking and creativity later on.

      Video - Session I

     Understanding the Learner (Fe MacLean)

     I felt that Ms. MacLean's teaching methods were excellent because she had a wide vision of the various ways that the topic could be learned and she gave her students activities that were appealing to them on a creative level. First she appealed to their emotions by showing them the drawings of sled riding and asking them to talk about their sled riding experiences. Then she challenged them to think about who would arrive first at the bottom of the hill. So in this way she peaked their interest about the question. I really liked the way she allowed the students to use a variety of means to express what they learned about the lesson. Some students used drawing and others acted it out. This allowed them to use a variety of senses and means of self-expression. The focus was on being active and creative and to have fun. It was a great lesson.

     I learn best through multiple pathways. I like to listen to information but then I also want to be able to talk, read, and draw. I suppose I learn best when I write things down and also draw pictures of them because I am highly visual and I need to be able to visually represent ideas as much as possible. Listening without the ability to write things down or draw them is harder for me. I have also taken self-improvement courses that used a lot of role-playing to re-enact early life situations in order to process difficult emotions. I find this is also an effective tool for learning emotional/social skills.

     I apologize for the lengthy message. If this is too much information I will be happy to become more concise.

    Debbie

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