Friday, December 31, 2010

I chose this image because to me the gears show the mind at work. In order for the mind to be a well oiled machine it needs the right lubricant to keep going. If not properly taken care of it will freeze right where it is. If we keep the students interest the gears churn and the machine works. If the students become bored the gears jam and quit working.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Book Reflection

While reading Daniel T. Willingham's "Why Don't Students Like School", I found several concepts in the book that made me "think" about teaching in new ways. When I called Borders to see if they had this book in stock, the person that was helping me started to giggle when I gave her the title of the book. After a good chuckle, she shared with me that both of her parents have been teachers for 25 years and ask this very question constantly.

One concept that caught my attention was when Willingham mentions that he has always been bothered by the advice to "make it relevant to students. He provides two reasons for this. First he discusses the fact that all content may not be relevant to student's lives at the time. He questions whether the Epic of Gilgamesh can be connected to students lives in a way they can understand now. Second, Willingham states that if a teacher cannot convince students some material is relevant to them, then should that material be taught? At times it is really difficult to make relevant connections and when the connections are not sound,then it may appear phony or weak.

While it is important to make connections between what student's are asked to think (learn) about and their lives, I think that constant focus on making these connections may lead to an expectation that "if something doesn't relate to a student's life, then there is no need to pay much attention to it". I have always hoped for my own children and my students when I was in the classroom, that learning would always "feel good" to them. Students should feel a sense of accomplishment and confidence while learning. I believe that one of the most important factors in accomplishing this, is the relationships that teachers build with students. If students feel genuinely cared for and respected by the teacher, then they will gain more confidence and value in their learning process. If the teacher "believes students can learn" then students will see the value in learning. I also think that when teachers show their own enthusiasm for learning,that it is contagious and students will more likely be enthusiastic about learning.

I very much enjoyed reading this book and found myself "thinking" about how we learn in new ways. I found myself looking at and thinking about a few educational ideas I had previously considered pretty sound,in new ways.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Book reflection

I found some of my long-held beliefs challenged when I read Daniel T. Willingham’s book. One concept I found interesting in his book Why Don’t Students Like School is that “Children are more alike than different in terms of how they think and learn.” (p. 147) I have always just accepted the idea that students could be classified as visual, auditory or kinesthetic learners. The author pointed out that research does not support that theory. But he also didn’t dispute that people have a preference for learning using their preferred method of receiving information. I have always considered myself a visual learner but according to the author (and my preference for receiving information), I am a learner with a good visual memory. I can see where looking at how students learn in a different way could change the way I teach.

I was encouraged by the idea that as a teacher, I can best serve my students by focusing on content and providing learning opportunities that utilize a variety of learning styles. I found this to be a comforting solution to something that has always nagged at me. I always felt that I was doing a disservice to my students because there didn’t seem to be enough time in the day to devise lessons that could meet the needs of all my students if some were visual and some were auditory or kinesthetic learners.

“Most of the time students need to remember what things mean, not what they sound like or look like.” (p. 156) As a rule, lessons focus on meaning. I like the idea that now I can focus on content and providing variety and still challenge my students without worrying that I am not doing enough. Of course I will still pay attention to each individual student and their progress, but I believe I can feel more confident that I am providing what the students need.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Book Reflection

Well, I really did enjoy reading this book. It had a lot of insightful ideas and revelations. I found myself both cheering along with the author on some points, and then thinking he was crazy on other points! I guess that's what made it an interesting read.
One of the key concepts for me is from Chapter 8. The main idea of that chapter is that 'intelligence can changed through sustained hard work.' As a classroom teacher, I really like the thought of that. The book makes the point that if teachers focus on the effort of each individual student, and not ability of those students, then we are doing things right (as far as this concept is concerned).
It seems that every year when I am doing parent-teacher conferences, one or two of my parents will ask my opinion on 'paying their children for good grades.' I have always had a problem with that, because of the innate differences between children. Like the author writes in the book...'some students are simply brighter than others', and I've never been comfortable with parents paying a student who gets good grades. The thing I have always said to the parents in this situation is that if they insist on monetary reward for grades, then do it for the 'Effort' grade for each subject. That levels the playing field for all students...they're all able to work hard, if they choose. So, according to this author...I guess I have been doing the right thing all these years!
That aside, I never considered that acknowledging effort of students would have a positive impact on their actual 'intelligence'. I really didn't think there was much an educator could do to raise a student's I.Q. After reading this book (and this chapter, in particular), I definitely have a new outlook on what individual students can strive for, and achieve, in relation to their overall intelligence.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Super Summary (Chapter 8, pp 169 - 188)

"How Can I Help Slow Learners?" by Daniel T. Willingham

"If you win the genetic lottery, you're smart; but if you lose, you're not." True? Maybe it is and maybe it isn't. This quote is one way in which the author draws you into differing views on intelligence. The Western view is you get what you're born with and it doesn't change with time. On the other hand, the Eastern belief is intelligence can be changed based on how hard a person wants to work to learn something. Which view is correct?

According to the author, the cognitive principal guiding this chapter is "Children do differ in intelligence, but intelligence can be changed through sustained hard work." To understand how to change a child's intelligence, we need to first understand what intelligence is. Building on our understanding of how people think, the author paraphrases a definition created by the American Psychological Association. Daniel Willingham states, "...intelligent people can understand complex ideas and use different forms of reasoning. They can also overcome obstacles by engaging thought, and they learn from their experiences." The author goes on to cite numerous research on how there is a general intelligence which everyone has. Depending on how much general intelligence you have, decides how well you do in school or work.

No one has been able to state exactly what general intelligence is or how it differs from Howard Gardner's thoughts on multiple intelligences. There is research which shows how our thinking is connected, but not really how our thinking actually works. The author also does not consider people with learning disabilities. When he addresses what makes people intelligent, he mentions both nature and nurture as having an impact. Overall the author presents various research and theories on intelligence, but the bottom line comes down to the fact that intelligence CAN be improved. So how do I as a teacher help my students improve?

One factor which stands out in getting children to understand how their effort and ability contributes to their intelligence is praise. The author cites how research shows that when a child is "praised for their ability ("you're smart") were more likely to describe a fixed view of intelligence than those who were praised for their effort ("you worked hard"), who were more likely to describe a malleable view of intelligence." This statement makes sense when you think about how praise needs to be specific. When you priase a child for getting an answer correct by being smart, they will then believe they are stupid if they get an answer wrong; however, when you priase a child for their effort, they know they just need to do better the next time (or they learn to adjust their thinking). I think this explanation is logical. How many times have we heard hard work pays off? I believe children need to understand that when you work towards a goal, you are more satisfied with the outcome. When a child has everything coming easily, they are bound to think there is something wrong when it doesn't. How can I as a teacher make sure I help my students believe they are in control of their future?

The author states that teachers need to realize "slow learners are not dumb. They probably differ little from other students in terms of their potential." Here are six ways to promote effort and intelligence in students:

- Praise effort, not ability
- Tell students that hard work pays off
- Treat failure as a natural part of learning
- Don't take studdy skills for granted
- Catching up is a long-term goal
- Show students you have confidence in them

After reading this chapter I had to go back to the beginning and think about the Western and Eastern views on intelligence. Although intelligence cannot be spcifically defined, I think I will start embracing the Eastern view of a malleable intelligence. I believe all children have potential and when provided the right support and praise, they can definitely improve on their intelligence. I know the tips provided by the author will help me move my students forward in their thinking and in how they view their capability. Which view will you take?

Monday, November 15, 2010

Super Summary, Part 4, p. 86 - 126

Why Students Don’t Like School
by Daniel T. Willingham
Part Four, p. 86 - 126

    Why is it so hard for students to understand abstract ideas?  The author begins this section stating the fact that the mind prefers concrete ideas, and not abstract ones.  In fact, the title of the first chapter of this section just happens to be “Why is it so Hard for Students to Understand Abstract ideas?”
    The author states that we understand new ideas best by relating them to things we already know.  Our mind needs analogies, prior knowledge, and concrete (and familiar) examples to help understand abstract ideas.  The author then states that ‘understanding new ideas is mostly a matter of getting the right old ideas into working memory, and then rearranging them.’  
    The next section deals with the concept that knowledge is shallow, and that rote knowledge means there is no understanding of the material.  The opposite of this is when a student has deep knowledge, and understands not just the parts but the whole.  This is obviously harder to obtain than ‘shallow’ knowledge.  Again, concrete examples that activate prior knowledge will help the students attain more complete understanding of ideas.
    Transfer of knowledge is another challenge for the mind.  The author discusses ‘surface structure’, and ‘deep structure’ of particular problems that students solve.  ‘Surface structure’ deals with how the question is framed, and ‘deep structure’ deals with the steps that are needed to solve it.  If people concentrated more on the ‘deep structure’ of problems, abstractions would be easier to solve.
    Some suggestions that the author makes to help facilitate deep understanding include:

*Provide examples and ask students to compare them.
*Make ‘deep knowledge’ the spoken and unspoken emphasis.
*Make your expectations for deep knowledge realistic.

    Is the phrase ‘Drill and Kill’ accurate?  In many educational circles it seems to be considered just that.  However, the author states that ‘it is virtually impossible to become proficient at a mental task without extended practice.’  He gives examples such as practicing soccer skills over and over until they become second-nature, as well as algebra skills being dependent on knowing the basic math facts first.  The important point is that ‘practice enables further learning’.  Knowing which skills need to be practiced over and over, and which ones do not, is the important factor.  
    A person’s working memory capacity determines to a large extent the person’s reasoning ability...and working memory really can not be increased.  We can compensate for our ‘lack’ of working memory, however.  One of the easiest ways to compensate is to make certain skills automatic.  Things that are automatic (like tying our shoes, or driving) take up almost no room in working memory.  They become automatic by repetition, and that frees up more space in our working memory to solve complex problems.  Also, memory is more enduring when practice is spaced out over time (not ‘crammed’ in).
    Practice also makes memory last longer.  Studies have shown that we do forget fairly quickly what we have learned, but we do not forget everything...especially things that have been practiced repeatedly.  Higher-achieving students forget at the same rate as lower-achieving students, and both groups retain some of the memory even after many years.  But both groups do retain some information, even from skills that were not repeatedly practiced.
    The author’s emphasis in this fifth chapter is that repeated practice is necessary for certain skills, and that these skills ultimately help the mind do more with complex tasks.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Super Summary, pages 53-86 (Chapter 3)

The title of this chapter, "Why Do Students Remember Everything That Is On Television, and Forget Everything I Say", was very thought provocative for me. I don't know how many times a day I say to myself, "Why didn't my child remember this?" or "Why can't my co-worker seem to remember how to do something I have shown them 5 times how to do" or even "Why can't I seem to remember ......?" In this chapter, we learn about the role that memory plays in acquiring background knowledge that is necessary for learning.

The author begins the discussion of the importance of memory by talking about what may happen when we don't remember something. He gives the example of asking someone to summarize the last professional development session they attended. If that seems to be a difficult task, then one of several things may have occured. 1) If you don't pay attention to something, then you will not learn it. If you were thinking of other things during the session or lesson, then you won't remember what was being taught during the session or lesson. 2) The process used to draw information from long-term memory failed. 3) The information is no longer in your long-term memory and has been forgotten. 4) Sometimes you do pay attention and material is in your working memory; however, it does not make it to your long-term memory.

For new material to be learned and placed in long-term memory, it must reside in working memory. This means that you need to "pay attention" to the new material for it to end up in your long term memory. Also, how you think about the experience will determine whether it will end up in your long-term memory. Therefore, when teachers design lessons, they need to make sure that students are "thinking about the meaning" of the material being presented.

How can teachers do this? The author identifies two qualities that effective teachers have. Good teachers are able to connect personally with students and they organize learning material in a way that is interesting and easy to understand. These teachers are able to present material in a manner that gets students to pay attention. They also organize the ideas of a lesson in a way that students will learn it and remember it.

What if some material does not have meaning? An example the author provides is when students are at the beginning level of chemistry. Students may be asked to learn symbols for elements on the periodic table - yet they do not have the background knowledge of these elements. Rote memorization will need to be used in this learning experience and there are several mnemonics devices that help people memorize material that does not have meaning.

How can teachers ensure that students "think about meaning"? Willingham provides six suggestions:
1. Try to anticipate what each lesson will actually make students think about.
2. Think carefully about attention grabbers - make sure the "grabber" is directing student to think about the lesson, and not the person or item used to grab their attention.
3. Use Discovery Learning with care - memory is the residue of thought; therefore, students will remember "incorrect" discoveries as well as correct ones.
4. Design assignments so that students will unavoidably think about meaning
5. Use mnemonics when it is necessary to learn something without meaning.
6. Try organizing a lesson plan around the conflict

The end of this chapter was also very thought provoking for me. Willingham states, "I've always been bothered by the advice 'make it relevant to the students' for two reasons. First, it often feels to me that it doesn't apply. Is the Epic of Gilgamesh relevant to students in a way they can understand right now? Is trigonometry? Making these topics relevant to students' lives will be a strain, and students will probably think it is phoney. Second, if I can't convince students that some material is relevant, does that mean I shouldn't teach it?"

In my intial discussion post, I stated that I think it is important now more than ever to make learning relevant to student lives. Do I just say that because students are constantly asking, "What does this have to do with me?" or "Where will I ever use this?" Willingham goes on to state, "... I think there is value, interest, and beauty in learning about things that don't have much to do with me. I'm not saying it never makes sense to talk about things students are interested in. What I'm suggesting is that students interests should not be the main drivng force for lesson planning. Rather, they might be used as intial points of contact to help students understand the main ideas you want them to consider, rather than as the reason or motivation for them to consider these ideas."

What do you think?

Monday, November 8, 2010

Super Summary part 2

Beth Green will be getting caught up as soon as she can. Her child was ill and in the hospital. Thanks for your patience. If anyone would like to trade weeks with her, please let me know.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Super Summary pages 1-25

Willingham, Daniel T. (2009). Why Don’t Students Like School? : A Cognitive Scientist Answers Questions About How the Mind Works and What it Means for the Classroom. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass


The author suggests that people do not enjoy thinking unless they feel they can solve the problem presented. If they feel the problem is too hard for them to solve, they become bored and will not work on it. Consequently students stop listening to teachers and disengage when they don’t understand the concept the teacher is encouraging them to think about. So a teacher’s job is to make thinking enjoyable.

According to Willingham (2009),“People are naturally curious, but we are not naturally good thinkers; unless the cognitive conditions are right, we will avoid thinking.” (p. 3). Willingham asserts that by combining adequate knowledge of a subject with a student’s innate curiosity, that student will find solving a problem in class to be an enjoyable experience and achieve the success necessary to engage in the learning process. As teachers, we need to make sure our students have the background information necessary to make problem solving enjoyable.

The author suggests that teachers engage the students’ interest in a subject by asking a question at the start of a lesson. If the students have adequate knowledge of a subject they will want to think about the question and try to answer it. This essential question should be something the students have an interest in since thinking is rearranging information already present in long-term memory and combining it with information from the environment in such a way that a problem can be solved.

This presents some challenges in the classroom. A problem cannot be too hard or too easy; it has to be just right. As teachers try new lesson plans they must keep a journal and note what works and what doesn’t to challenge students and achieve optimum engagement in learning. Since not all students are in the same place lessons must be tailored to each student’s ability. In order for a student to critically analyze information they need to have the facts necessary to accomplish the task.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

To me this image represents students being engaged in learning. Too often students are asked to watch and listen in school. I think learning occurs when students are active participants in solving problems. When students can "show and tell" they demonstrate an understanding of the subject.

Please Stand By

I chose this image to show what some students experience in school. They don't enjoy school because they do not feel engaged. They are waiting on the sidelines for an opportunity to become actively involved in learning.


I read the first few pages of the book the evening that I got it in the mail. The statement that first caught my attention was, "Contrary to popular belief, the brain is not designed for thinking." I thought that this was an interesting concept since one of our main missions in education is to teach students "to think". I decided to read this book because I have two children in my house who tell me that they do not like school. (Difficult for a "teacher-mom" to hear sometimes!) I am "thinking" that learning how people "think" will help me understand why my children and so many others say that they do not like school.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Book Cover

I chose this image because it looked pretty drab and uninviting.  I got to thinking that this might be how some of our students view school in this day and age.  They can go home and be wowed every night at their computers, and then they have to get up in the morning and go into an environment that might look like this.

Accomodating All Learners

I chose this image, since part of the book will address how to adjust my teaching to accomodate different types of learners. I know that all children learn differently and am really looking forward to finding ways to spcifically engage my advanced students who are bored and/or the student who can't focus due to behavior, attention, and/or their academic limitations.

Welcome to Literature Circle Fourteen!

Your Super Summarizer schedule is as follows:

Section One--Due October 28, Patricia Fisher
Section Two--Due November 4, Beth Green
Section Three--Due November 11, Tami Dewes
Section Four--Due November 18, Tracy Cook
Section Five--Due December 2, Roxanne Krebs
Section Six--Due December 9, Colleen Lecy