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Channel-Talk for The Learning Classroom

From: akhilasesh_tn (akhilasesh_tn@touchtelindia.net)
Date: Wed Oct 01 2003 - 07:12:39 EDT

  • Next message: covs_dhc@ACCESS-K12.org: "[Channel-talklearning] Response to Akhila"

    Hi all, Please scroll down to read my responses to Debbie's mail. She shouldn't be feeling so lonely now!
    Akhila---------------------------------------------------------->
      ----- Original Message -----
      From: Debbie Huberman
      To: channel-talklearning@learner.org
      Sent: Sunday, September 14, 2003 10:12 PM
      Subject: [Channel-talklearning] Hi - I'm new to the group

      Hi Debbie,

      Let me introduce myself. I am Akhila Seshadri,(female- sometimes it's difficult to make out through the name!) an Indian. I live in Chennai: it used be called Madras till recently. I am a teacher in a day school in the city. It is run by the Krishnamurti Foundation India and is one of the six Krishnamurti schools in India. There are two other "K" schools in Brockwood Park, England and Oakgrove School, Ojai, Ojai Valley, California. J. Krishnamurti was a philosopher thinker and thought deeply about the education process. What attracted me to this programme were the echoes of his philosophy in here. In fact, I feel his views on education must be included in the list of education theorists whose views are outlined in the support material.

      Akhila

      My responses are in a different font and colour. My spelling is intensely British! Just scroll down.

      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.

      Krishnamurti has also spoken about a very vital factor that affects learning, may be a result of learning in infancy, why even prenatal learning: He talks of conditioning of the mind and this is even deeper than the patterns the brain and neurons evolve as one grows. Of course, each ones etchings are directly connected with experience and situation. He speaks of the ultimate aim of education, right education, as the transformation of the human being. You seem to work in a library. Why don't you read Krishnamurti on Education (J. Krishnamurti).

      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.

      What you have just said makes perfect sense. I am mildly surprised because it comes from a heavily technology-oriented society. But here, in India, this is slowly becoming a big problem. Most schools rely on the exam and marks and ranks in assessment. There is a heavy emphasis on verbal skills, written work and ponderous vocabulary. My schooling was perhaps far more child-friendly and mild than it is now. Now, it is cut throat competition. I have met parents who are under pressure each time their child is taking an exam. They sit up nights. The focus is on product, performance and not on the real learning. Many urban parents are busy and then the child is sent off to "tuition" These are private tutors who make a packet in the after-school hours, sitting with below potential performers, getting them to do some work and pass the exam. This is glorified baby-sitting. No parent has the time to help the child take charge of his/her learning. There is no real learning, only defeat and coping. Children from fairly well-to-do homes aren't allowed to drop out. Schooling, degree is a matter of prestige, and could get you your choice career.

      In the school where I work, we have resisted: pushing high skill courses like computer literacy/programming to high school. No student is allowed to type out assignments/project reports; and calculators are allowed only in grade11, for math students.

      As for attention deficiency: that is frighteningly on the rise thanks to TV and computer games- though in a society with a deep divide between the haves and havenots, not all have access to comps.- the only recourse is to make them media literate. Every year, each Class teacher (homeroom teacher) attempts to work with the children and educate them about media. No media response is ignored. From Pokeman to WWE to MTV to Cartoon network to Hollywood/Bollywood.. Teachers take up issues around all these and talk to children. The attempt is to not deny them these, but to get them to be aware of their responses to what they are consuming. In grade 8 we have a year long Media Literacy Course designed by one of my colleagues. So nothing is so sacrosanct that it is left untouched. (I know my style is rambling, but there are too many thoughts crowding and I feel like saying them all).

      (Reading) Reaction to Learning: From Speculation to Science

      Debbie- I am responding to what you have written, rather than the sessions/readings.

      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 am thrilled by what you have written. You know, in India till perhaps before the British imposed western education, one learnt only through oral repetition. Of course that has its own drawbacks and one can question the objective and the emphasis as well. But is reading and writing truly natural acts for humans? I like to play around with such questions. But if it is something we subject children to each and everyday, do teachers pay attention to how children sit? Do they slouch across the desk, or bend their backs into a C position when they read/write? Do they rock their chairs or stretch their legs and sit as if they are on a reclining chair? Are they comfortable in their clothes? Do they breathe right and well? Are they blinking their eyes enough? Do people really ask and check for these in the classroom? Two interventions that have worked well have been: 1. My colleague decided to ask his high school class to sit on their desks during a discussion class. One can't slouch, certainly not lean ones elbows on ones thighs and definitely not recline. I think the class sat straighter and as a result breathed well. Another is one do quite frequently. My class sits crosslegged on the floor with low stools as their desks. Every other period, I get them to stretch their long muscles. I do it too and I feel fine doing it with them. It also helps change frequency for a brief while.

      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.

      There are two books which have been our inspiration for a while now: In the Absence of the Sacred and Four Arguements against Television both by Jerry Manders We too have been talking a great deal about consumerism and being entertained passively. If people read these books they would probably throw out their TV sets. Or at least be judicious about them. One important thing that teachers must help children do is to get in touch with what they feel. To help them understand that all feelings are OK. Once, all of us in school attempted to find an equivalent in any Indian language for the word "bored" and the nearest we got to was a phrase- time is not passing. Does that tell one about boredom? It seems to be a post-world war phenomenon. Tribal cultures, traditional scenarios do not seem to have left children to become passive. Instead, they have helped them discover and nurture their creativity. In grade seven, I do book reviews with my children. They read a variety of books from different parts of the world(Not enough Asian though, unfortunately), and come across various styles, situations, characters. I help them understand and identify with these and they write about the books and their responses. Imagination is what begins journeys.

      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?

      You are right about taking care of the teacher. You would have noticed that often I use the pronoun, "WE". That is because at the school where I work, I feel so nurtured and supported. All schools need to create space for dialogue, for dissent and discussion, for being able to hold a view and listen to another without rancour. All schools must re-organise themselves, remove hierarchies from all fields but functional ones. While accountability is necessary and good even, the crucial question should be about the child's wellbeing and not of performance alone. Who is to say if the child learnt because of us or inspite of us?One can't even claim to have "taught" anything, one can only be educator-learners or facilitators of learning or learning leaders. choose your term. The teacher word is already outdated. Standards have their place. According to Blooms' Taxonomy of Learning knowledge and understanding are the first two step in learning(not necessarily in a linear manner) and standard tests make sure of a basic level of knowledge and understanding. What we need is to (a) create tests that begin with knowledge and comprehension level questions and then lead on to application, analysis, synthesis and judgements. So it is open ended and not loaded. And then, (b), separate performance from the person. Often poor performers have negative self-images. That is where the MI classrooms will be most effective.

      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

      I think, beginning from where the learner is, is the crucial facet. Standardisation of tests and assessments do tend to think of children as a mass rather than individuals. We need to guard against this, I think.

      But I do have a question about Ms Mclean's intentions. Was it to teach them content? What was the expected learning outcome? And, is there a way of making the child aware of HOW s/he is learning? That seems a very important set of questions to ask.

      I know I have rambled and I haven't really responded to each and every point you have made. My apologies. But I was thrilled to find a kindred soul across the globe.

      Bye,

      Akhila

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