Learning Styles

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Stepping Forward, Stepping Back: The dance of change

Posted by on 11 Jul 2013 | Tagged as: Gardens and Life, hope, house building, housefire, Learning Styles, musings, teaching, Uncategorized

In the wake of the fire, Tom and I are still working on finding equilibrium. The size of the apartment, the distance from my gardens, the lack of comfortable space and privacy, the noises of the city — and our neighbors — all conspire against the comfortable routines and patterns we used to have. He continues to focus on his work though without the long drive or the need to get up early to help Grant go to zero hour he has a lot more time on his hands. I focus on trying to make sense of the house plans and what we need to look at and learn about the systems and design decisions, and wish I had teaching to help me focus my energies on things other than our situation. We no longer need to think about or worry much about what Grant is up to — he will be a senior in high school and a college freshman this coming year, so he makes most of his own scheduling and activity decisions. We no longer have much to do in the yard, the garden; I have no real space to “do art”… and with our free time we aren’t yet settled in to expectations. And there are moments of extreme activity around house decisions, cleaning up items we salvaged and maintaining the apartment, followed by times when we are adrift.

It seems that some (most?) days we are caught up in a tango — step this way slowly, that way quickly, spin, reverse, proceed. Not necessarily in that order. We are stumbling along, trying to match our moves to the wild and varied rhythms of the band. It’s a metaphor that rings true, particularly since I never mastered the tango, and as far as I know Tom hasn’t ever learned the basic steps. Our lives right now are pretty clumsy. Our communication is rudimentary, and so we lack coordination of effort and focus. When dancing, once the basic pattern is mastered, there are logical sequences of steps and moves that follow; all in time to the music. In life, it is rarely that smooth; right now it is as disjointed as dancing the tango to a jitterbug tune.

One of the ideas that was prevalent in the teaching program was that learning is hard work. That what you thought you knew is challenged with each new fact, process or idea. The “newness” of the learning not only makes the current tasks difficult, it muddles the previously mastered tasks and renders any fluency, any panache, impossible. The learner stumbles, and sometimes fails outright.

Although I was once an admin assistant (and a pretty good one), all my training went by the wayside as an onslaught of emotions, immediate needs and demands from many quarters descended. Paperwork was misplaced or outright lost. Deadlines were missed. Opportunities overlooked. The many people we were supposed to talk to and work with, the coordination of who to talk to (and when) and who else needs the same information… It was too much, too fast, too overwhelming.

Stumbling. It all gets sorted out eventually, I suppose, but we are definitely not there yet.

Today, a moment of rest between sets. The band is silent, at least for the time being. The furniture is in the apartment and set up. Once the recycling truck takes the bins away, I can move some of the packing materials out of the office. I will put the cardboard in my van and take it to the house today, store it in the carport and use it in a little bit to make barriers around plants and along paths. I will have coffee with mother, lunch with a friend, a visit with another friend…

Tom will go to work, come home in the evening. We will have supper, watch some television. He will play some video games or work on his computer, and I will play my online game and interrupt him periodically with comments or thoughts that pop into my head.

In the background, we will be thinking about the next steps. Do we push for the contractor to move ahead, call the bank about the appraiser’s decision, work on making lists of items that we need to start looking for on sale so we can be ready with everything once the house is done?

What is happening with the music? Was that one beat, or two? Which direction should we move to keep from crashing into other dancers on the floor? Oops, sorry, that was your foot, wasn’t it?

A really good teaching moment…

Posted by on 01 Feb 2012 | Tagged as: Learning Styles, reading, teaching, Uncategorized

I was in a friend’s elementary classroom for a couple days, and was able to create a couple lessons (one social studies based, the other language arts) in advance. They were engaging and most students were very successful. I will probably repeat those lessons in other classes since they worked so well. Perhaps because I had spent time thinking about the capabilities of students at that age, or this particular class, I was already “tuned in” to possibilities when an opportunity for in-the-moment lesson creation occurred.

I was in need of an activity to fill a gap between when one set of kids finished a math activity and the others were still working on it, with half an hour or so left to go in the class.

From experience, I know that kids at almost every age need to work on how to “do” story problems in terms of interpreting from the words to the concepts they need to engage. I also knew this class was working on multiplication: basic facts as well as how to interpret real-life situations that use multiplication.

I know that when kids can work together that it supports many learning types and issues, and that the process of thinking about a good story problem and writing it down engages many areas of the brain. What I think I would do next time is add in the idea of drawing a picture to illustrate the story problem…

Other experience, as well as research I have done, tells me that “content area literacy” (the current buzzword) is something that all teachers should be thinking about. In other words, even in a math class, there are things to read, write, talk about, present…

So I decided to use several things:

  • group work (mostly self-selected groups)
  • student-generated story problems
  • student presentation and explanation
  • individual thinking work
  • whole-class discussion

Most of the groups had about 15 minutes to generate two or three problems (which meant that they also engaged in self-monitoring for time, complexity of task and “keeping it real”). A few kids were not able to participate because they took the entire time to work on the previous activity. One or two students managed to individually write story problems!

We had about twenty minutes to share, and got through all (or most of) the groups, choosing their best story problem.

Listening to them, reading over some of the work a few turned in (I hadn’t asked them to turn in their work, I will next time), I discovered things about what they do and don’t understand (formative assessment). What I didn’t expect to get from the experience was the robust understanding of how the kids are connecting different parts of mathematics and literacies. Or not — the insights into why they might be struggling in specific areas were good for me to get.

The kids were:

  • engaged
  • productive
  • cooperative
  • respectful
  • learning!

And when it was time to go to lunch… they actually wanted to stay a little longer!

Yep. A really good teaching moment.

Teaching, Learning, and Growing

Posted by on 05 Jul 2011 | Tagged as: 4MAT, education, Learning Styles, teaching, Uncategorized

Now that I am officially a teacher, it was time for me to something about the professional development plan I wrote at the end of the Master’s program.

The first component of my plan is intended to help me get a better handle on both differentiating instruction for special needs as well as on developing a teaching style that would meet the needs of (most) children seamlessly. My mother and other teachers had recommended 4MAT training as something that had been useful to them in their careers. So I found out that they offer online courses (useful, since the commute time is often prohibitive for me), and that two were offered this summer – a 6-session course and a 4-session course. I opted for the longer one (of course) since I think that more information can generally only be good.

I am so very glad I decided to do this! I am refining my understanding of and, in great measure, learning solidly for the first time, the way that the brain works during the entire learning cycle from experience through personal ownership of the information. Unfortunately, the Master’s program I was in did not give me the support I needed to make significant progress in understanding how to move from the theory of the learning cycle to the implementation in multi-modal or whole-brained instruction. The 4MAT course is doing this, and making a huge difference in how I think about my own instructional planning and presentation.

A real bonus is that this particular course is being taught by Dr. Bernice McCarthy herself, linking this course directly to some of the great educators of the 20th century. Her descriptions of her process as she developed the 4MAT system and the conversations with and support she had from people like Kolb and Eisner along the way help me make sense of things. Her excitement over the intersection of neurophysiology and education theory makes the discussions interesting as well as current.

This week, the homework is to begin to use the 4MAT cycle to plan a lesson. First hurdle: finding a lesson I want to teach! I am choosing grammar, specifically punctuation, since it’s something that so many students struggle with in middle school, and was also a sticking point for the students in the 5th grade. I am going with use of commas as a first point for instruction because those are the most common punctuation marks that are mis-used by middle school.

The framework for lesson planning is different from the “reverse engineering” idea promulgated by Wiggins and McTighe in their book . I am not sure yet which one will feel more comfortable to me, but the 4MAT seems to more completely consider the entire learning cycle.

Yes, I had intended to avoid study this summer, but this was an opportunity I felt I had to take! Next year, perhaps, I will go back and review and refine mathematics concepts so I am better able to substitute in math classes!