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From: covs_dhc@ACCESS-K12.org
Date: Mon Oct 06 2003 - 15:12:58 EDT

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    Debbie Cogan - responses to Session 3

    Building on What We Know: Cognitive Processing

    Response to Session Overview

    I do not believe that that cognitive processing can be separated from
    emotional processing when trying to understand how people perceive,
    understand and make sense of new information. In education, we still rely
    on the Descartes model of separating the pieces of something in order to
    understand it better. On paper we can all go through the mental exercise
    of discussing cognitive processing as if we were talking about how a
    computer works. The author loves to make analogies about the brain and how
    it is similar to a machine or a computer. Unfortunately this is not true.
    It is impossible to separate out just the cognitive processing abilities of
    children in order to understand their thinking process. Thinking is always
    being influenced by emotions and vice versa.

    I was a participant in a course called The Loving Course for ten years. I
    took this course twice as a student as well as being an assistant many
    other times. As an assistant we provide emotional support to the students
    and help them to learn how to remove barriers to giving and receiving love.
    This is done by first helping them to identify how they are emotionally
    stuck in their present lives and then helping them to see how they are
    simply reliving patterns of behavior that they learned through their early
    life experiences. So if a child was constantly subjected to verbal abuse
    as a child, constantly criticized and put down, then as a teenager they
    still have difficulty taking in criticism even if it is given in a loving
    and constructive manner. This course is based upon the ideas of Alfred
    Adler and Rudolph Dreikers who also wrote a great deal about how children
    learn.

    Once a child has experienced any type of emotional trauma, the mind creates
    a distorted belief about itself. For example, a child who is criticized
    can believe that they never do anything right. Then the brain goes out and
    collects evidence to support this distorted belief. People will then call
    to themselves experiences, people, etc? so they can keep recreating the
    original trauma. The original experience then reoccurs again in a different
    context and so the distorted belief is reinforced. "See, I am stupid" the
    child says to him or herself. This explains why battered women stay in
    abusive relationships and why it can be so hard to overcome the early
    emotional traumas that many children have suffered.

    You cannot separate the emotional component of learning. The brain does
    perceive based upon past experiences but it is not just past cognitive
    experiences. Emotional experiences also cause the mind to see the world in
    different ways. So I would also add that emotional experiences also change
    the physical structure of the brain.

    Studies have also been done that show the difference in the amount of white
    and gray matter in the brain. The white matter represents neurons that
    have been myelinized This means that they have a lipid and protein covering
    which speeds the rate of nerve impulse transmission. Children that come
    from poor, lower socio-economic backgrounds tend to have less white matter
    in their brains. These children also tend to have a lack of mental,
    emotional and physical experiences as compared with middle and upper class
    children. Waldorf education believes that there are windows that are open
    in a child's life. During these time windows, if certain abilities are not
    achieved, then the child will have greater difficulty learning them later
    on. The ages from 0-3 and 3-7 represent two of these windows. Or at least
    a child may never achieve fluency in certain areas even if they are able to
    learn the skills. For example, children who are not encouraged to crawl as
    infants, have difficulty with coordination later on as well as vision
    problems. My brother and daughter both suffered with vision and
    coordination problems.

    I also think that the word "rich environment" as it is applied to learning
    must also be carefully scrutinized. We all tend to assume that we all know
    and agree with what this means. In public education, at the kindergarten
    level, for example, it means having lots of plastic toys and academic
    experiences. In Waldorf education it means having natural materials only,
    wood, stone, glass, along with many daily experiences in nature and no
    academic experiences. The children are immersed in stories, free play, and
    structured activities such as watercolor painting, baking bread and
    cleaning (which they enjoy!). In public education we tend to think that
    computers in a classroom regardless of the grade, means that there is a
    rich learning environment. I take issue with that. In fact, I feel that
    computers introduced too early can actually stunt and interfere with the
    child's ability to develop their imagination. Imagination is an ability
    that we take for granted and do not attend to very much in public school
    but we greatly admire it in experts which we then study to find out how
    their minds work. Experts know how to use their imaginations, because they
    were encouraged to develop them! I find it fascinating that we admire and
    study the very qualities that we resist fostering in public education.

    The author also encourages teachers to find out how children learn best and
    then to teach them according to their individual needs. Instead of this
    piecemeal approach, I advocate teaching to all the abilities equally by
    giving them all equal time. All children should have mental, physical,
    artistic, musical, theatrical experiences with the material they are
    learning. One piece of knowledge can be experienced on all these levels
    and in so doing, build up the capacities of the children in a wholistic
    multi-dimensional fashion. For example, in Waldorf school the children
    learn math and music together in the early grades. So their math and
    musical abilities are both strengthened.

    Yes, I believe that children today have more learning disabilities than
    ever before. Joseph Chilton Pearce has written numerous books about
    children and education (ie. "Crack in the Cosmic Egg"). I have a video of
    him giving a lecture to some Waldorf teachers where he states that he
    believes that this generation of children are 75-80% "uneducatable". He
    feels that this generation has more variables to deal with than any other
    previous one. He lists variables such as poor diet, interference in
    childbirth (overuse of cesarean delivery), lack of breastfeeding, divorce,
    drugs (both prescription and illegal), lack of communication with parents,
    television, video games, computers. He feels that children could as a
    group deal with one or two of these variables simultaneously but that so
    many at once have overwhelmed and damaged the brain development of this
    generation. Nowadays, all teachers must become special education teachers.
    I think this is a sad development. Someday the normal kids will have to be
    labeled as "special" because there will be so few of them.

    I feel that public education should spend more time and money to remediate
    learning problems instead of just adapting to them. Why don't schools
    invite optometrists and audiologists and speech pathologists to have
    offices in school buildings? I think it is time for this type of
    partnership.

    I agree that focusing on the child's ability to remember information and to
    recall it is not enough. Adults are always impressed when children can
    recite all the presidents in order. But I don't think this really matters
    to the child except as a means to gain the approval of the adult. I also
    feel that public education needs to infuse learning with much more
    emotional meaning so that the knowledge is more of an immersion experience
    and it then becomes part of the entire child. Why don't we create meaning
    first and then let memory naturally follow meaning. Children will remember
    things that have emotional meaning to their lives. I feel our over concern
    about passing tests and getting high grades makes us focus on form rather
    than the content of real learning.

    I also feel that the issue of creating instruction so that it is culturally
    sensitive is only a problem when the state is in control of education.
    Standardized tests select questions based upon their own ideas of what
    children should know regardless of their cultural background. This is why
    I feel strongly that education should be removed from the hands of the
    state and given back to communities. A local community can better decide
    on what its children need.

    I also feel that the use of diagrams and other types of visual/graphic
    representations for knowledge have become a replacement for real
    experiences. Teachers have to rely on these inadequate tools because
    public schools are not set up to allow for children to have real
    experiences. Instead of creating graphic organizers or categorical lists
    of the attributes of mammals and birds, children should be able to see and
    touch the real animals and then be led in a discussion about their
    differences. In addition, these children could then be instructed to draw
    what they see. Who is to say that making a word list of attributes is a
    better way of learning than giving children a real hands-on experience and
    then asking them to draw what they see. I feel that teachers rely on
    language-based visualizations because we feel insecure as educators.
    Somehow we do not think that children can learn simply by having
    experiences and by being creative.

    I feel that we overuse this reductionist method of extracting meaning by
    organizing it into a word map or other type of visual tool simply because
    we are so test-oriented. Teachers are constantly reducing meaningful
    experiences to a few words on a blackboard. All the emotional content is
    removed. The information has been made antiseptic and it has been aligned
    with upcoming tests. We teach children to learn things in a very narrow
    fashion so they can pass our tests and get specific grades that somehow
    show that we have achieved a certain level of understanding. I do not
    believe that test scores and grades really show a deep understanding of a
    subject.

    I feel that the heavy reliance on written words to depict and represent
    experiences reduces the meaning of these experiences. For example, the
    experience of death is quite different from the word death written on a
    blackboard. Children would learn more about death if they could view a
    dead hamster (such as a class pet) than just seeing the word death in a
    graphic organizer.

    We value the ability of experts to focus and concentrate their mental
    abilities to solve problems, however, this ability is fostered by the
    immersion in experience. Most experts have had years of experiences where
    their minds became trained and disciplined. For example, my boyfriend is a
    virtuostic musician. As a child he played and listened to music constantly
    and he was also a champion chess player. He was always good at math. This
    might have something to do with his love of and experience with chess
    (math) and music (more math). So I see that focus is only developed
    through activities that require mental discipline. Public school rarely
    has time to devote to the arts so I do not see it as the breeding ground
    for experts. Children are typically forced to develop mental discipline
    outside of their regular education. So it is up to the parents. And this
    will only take place if the parents value creativity and activities that
    require mental focus.

    Session Activities

    1. How do you remember what you learn?

    I took a Dale Carnegie course many years ago and I use many of the
    mneumonic devices that I learned throughout high school and college. I
    could plug concepts into a list of mental pictures and I found this to be
    an easy was of remembering factual information. However, when I want to
    remember concepts I prefer to draw pictures and also to write many notes.
    If I am trying to remember dance steps or some other type of physical
    movement I will repeat it many times right after the initial instruction in
    order to fix the movements in my long-term memory. I just completed a
    two-year program of massage therapy. We had to learn thousands of anatomy
    and physiology concepts. This was a real challenge. I used flash cards to
    learn individual muscles, bones and other discrete concepts. I also made
    outlines and wrote out answers to learning guide lists of questions. So I
    use a variety of methods to learn. I seem to learn best when I can
    translate the information into another form -either visual or kinesthetic
    (ie. flash cards).

    Session Video Response

    I liked the way the first grade teacher started her lessons with a
    question. Then she gave them photos of animals to look at in order to
    visually process the differences between the different types of animals.
    She reinforced the lesson with attributes put into categories on the board,
    a trip to the museum, and she also had them draw the animals as well as
    view videos and read books about them. Finally the children created their
    own pop-up books that incorporated the animals in their environments. She
    also had them write about the animals in their journals and give
    explanations to the group about their ideas. I like the multi-level
    approach this teacher takes. She understands the need to present the same
    information in different ways. While I feel that experiencing live animals
    would have been ideal, she did create interest and meaning for the children
    with the varied experiences.

    The high school teacher was good at connecting new information with what
    her students already knew. She presented history in the context of the
    Oregon Trail in order to give them a more emotional connection to that
    historical time. Then she had them create graphs so they could practice
    organizing information I like the way the teacher kept asking questions
    of the students as they were writing their findings on the board. Then she
    had the group help the student at the board and I thought this was a good
    vehicle for creating a sense of teamwork. The students were working
    together to make the one writing the information on the board successful.
    So she used the graph exercise to help extend their concrete knowledge into
    a more abstract area.

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