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?