Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum

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Title of course:  Neuroscience and the Classroom: Making Connections

Neuroscience and the Classroom: Making Connections

Introduction: The Art and Science of Teaching

Sections

Section 7:
Making meaning vs. getting answers

Previous: Section 6  |  Next: Section 8

A learner is a learner is a learner. Regardless of whether learners are students in school or teachers engaged in professional development, the essence of learning is building new skills and new conceptual understanding. Learning is a process of internalizing new ideas so that they become personally meaningful (emotionally relevant) and useful. To solve problems, like how to help Sally learn to write an essay, means wrestling with ideas about learning, understanding Sally, and setting a path toward a solution.

Unfortunately, many educators continue to equate learning with "having" answers, as though knowledge is an object like an apple or a pencil, something that can be grasped or stuffed in a box, usually in one of the memory boxes— short-term memory, long-term memory, or working memory. However, accustomed as they are to an educational system built on correct answers, most teachers come to professional development seeking answers. This desire for answers is understandable, even inevitable, given the huge demands on teachers' time. They want a quick fix. "Don't bore me with a lot of theory or abstraction; give me the answers. How do I apply this stuff? What do I do on Monday morning?"

Although a quick fix would be nice, conditions and challenges vary too much from school to school and classroom to classroom and learner to learner. A solution that works in one classroom for one student might simply make matters worse in another classroom for a different student. Meaningful answers to the multitude of specific questions that teachers face tend to rely on the creativity, flexibility, and skills of the person asking the question. As a result, this online course takes a different approach. Rather than pretending we have answers that no one else has, our objective is to help you develop an understanding of new principles—new lenses for examining the teaching and learning problems you face. That way, you can create and test your own solutions. This course is designed to foster a discussion among a community of professionals interested in education.

As a young theater teacher, Sam recalls the panic of Monday morning. What could he do with 18 acting students? Oh, Viola Spolin has the answer. He grabbed her classic book, "Improvisation for the Theater," and led his students through mirror exercises, tug-of-war, and who-started-the-motion. They had a lot of fun, but Sam's laughter barely hid his growing dismay over how little the students were learning, and how meager their development was as actors. He had no clue how to assess the value of these exercises because, beyond some vague notions about spontaneity and reacting in the moment, Sam had not internalized the concepts on which this method of training was built. They were just exercises that occupied the students—diversions that kept order and created an illusion of purposefulness. They were Spolin's (top)

(End of first column online)

Siri Fiske
Siri Fiske
"Teachers have to mix it up and try varied ways of reaching students. If I am only saying something one way, it may make sense to me, but students may not have that same association. If the..."   – Siri Fiske
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Siri Fiske

Siri Fiske

"Teachers have to mix it up and try varied ways of reaching students. If I am only saying something one way, it may make sense to me, but students may not have that same association. If the analogies, metaphors, and connections are pertinent to me because of my experiences in life, then I'm the only one getting it. Start where they are, with the pathways that they already have created in their brains, and add on to that to create new connections for them. Teachers do this already." – Siri Fiske

Siri Fiske is a former middle-school science teacher who is currently an administrator designing the curriculum and programs for a new American high school in S. Korea. Siri is working on a doctorate in education to examine the most effective ways to teach empathy for people from other cultures.

answer, not Sam's.

So, he spent some time thinking more deeply about acting, about the principles embedded in his own education, and about his experiences with different acting teachers and theater directors. Slowly, Sam built an understanding of acting that was meaningful to him, one that felt true. Acting is living in public as though you are in private. Acting is believing. Based on these ideas, Sam built and borrowed new exercises that made sense, that emerged coherently from these principles, and that seemed appropriate for his 18 students. For example, instead of asking his students to play pantomime games that focused their attention outward on an audience, he had them engage in small tasks on stage—like threading a needle and sewing a button on a shirt. That way, they could begin to build a feeling of private concentration even as others watched.

These exercises, in turn, gave students experiences that led them to develop their own understanding of acting and invent their own ways to approach a scene or build a character. Eventually, Sam even found his way back to Spolin, whose approach now seemed, through the lens of the meaning he had constructed, more suitable for advanced rather than for beginner students. Finally, he was able to create his own solutions to the problem of transforming theory into practice, of understanding and inventing what to do on Monday morning.

Dr. Gary Scott
Dr. Gary Scott
"The tactics that are most productive center on a very old notion of project- or problem-based learning. It starts with students' own interests in something that is important in their..."  – Dr. Gary Scott
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Dr. Gary Scott

Dr. Gary Scott

"The tactics that are most productive center on a very old notion of project- or problem-based learning. It starts with students' own interests in something that is important in their everyday lives." – Dr. Gary Scott

Dr. Gary Scott is an assistant professor of clinical education at the University of Southern California and a former high school teacher.


Glossary

short-term memory
A term used to describe the neurocognitive system that retains a finite amount of information for a short period of time.
long-term memory
A term used to describe the neurocognitive system that retains information, most typically described in two forms. Declarative memory includes subdivisions of episodic and semantic memory, referring to specific episodes or facts, respectively. Procedural memory includes knowledge about how to complete tasks or procedures.
working memory
A term used to describe the neurocognitive system that simultaneously stores and manipulates information for a short duration. Multiple models and definitions of working memory are actively being explored in research.

Previous: Section 6  |  Next: Section 8

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