Posts tagged ‘theory’

September 29, 2011

Considerations on Memory vs. Internet

by stryson

Like all good nerds of my generation, I understand the many benefits to having the internet at least partially function as a gargantuan collective external memory. It’s an invaluable resource for reference, especially when one finds oneself in a room full of inquisitive fourth graders who innocently expect their teacher to be a  bottomless well of information in all subjects. It has also become essential in my life as a reference tool for pesky questions that I would not have the concrete reference materials for answering, such as measurement conversions, spice substitutions in cooking, or ways to get rid of ants, among many others. (Thank you, internet, for making me a functional householder.)

These situations all involve information that is not pertinent to my life every single day; they are generally exceptions to the rule. Finding the answers you need in a timely manner requires a certain amount of knowledge of process, and I try to impress upon my students the importance of knowing how to find the information you need, as opposed to memorizing every fact under the sun.

This is all well and good… but.

There’s a limit to the practicality of the internet. Finding trustworthy and accurate sources can be challenging, and even when they’re abundant or the question is simple, there is a certain amount of time involved to look up any answers at all. Certainly, for everyday needs, we still need to memorize a certain set of data. Allow me to offer a parallel. The child counting out all of his addition problems on his fingers will, indeed, finish his homework the same as the next child, but it may take him  three times as long.

Outside of time concerns, there’s a consideration to be made for the interest level that background knowledge provides in our lives.  Our wealth of known information directly influences more than just our reading comprehension (though it does play a huge part in that, don’t get me wrong) or our ability to spontaneously problem solve. It lends content to our everyday conversations with other people. What has historically been referred to as “common knowledge” is growing  increasingly uncommon, and our interactions suffer for it.

So what sparked my ruminations on internalizing facts versus using the internet essentially as your memory? This blog post, which I found incredibly interesting. I also now want to seek out that book and read it for myself.

September 13, 2011

SpongeBob Rebuttal

by stryson

I was amused to find a rebuttal to my SpongeBob post in my email this morning.

Bart writes:

Oh, btw, saw your blog entry on Spongebob… I agree, the study could have been more well researched, but for the right age group, it could be appropriate. Spongebob even saved two lives!

I’ll concede a point to SpongeBob, but I’ll also give a nod to the specification that the target age group is important – perhaps another flaw in the study, and/or the viewing audience in practice. (The kids in the study I quoted were of preschool age.) In any case, I stand by the fact that if the concept is to be raised at all, it should be examined more thoroughly and methodically than it was.

September 12, 2011

Sloppy Studies: SpongeBob and Executive Function

by stryson

It often pains me when I find a study whose results I feel are actually accurate, but their method is sloppy and therefore discrediting. A prime example is this article in the New York Times today.  I think there’s definitely something to the content of the media children take in, and the logic that a fast-paced, not-entirely-linear program might damage attention seems very sound to me. However, it almost seems like the researchers are their own worst enemy; their sample sizes and choices were hideous, and the differing methods of assessment before and after the study just pain me. Could someone please take this concept and run with it, but do it correctly this time? Thanks.

March 27, 2011

Process, process, process.

by stryson

We’re in the midst of parent-teacher conferences, and one conference that I had on Friday really got me thinking.  For this child, the theme of the conference definitely kept coming back to “process, process process…. routine, routine, routine.”  This child totally needs support to approach assignments deliberately and walk through the process of completing them, and he needs a lot of repetition of this so that he can learn to do so on his own, eventually.  I got to thinking about how many of us, even if we don’t have major organizational and attention difficulties, can relate to this.

Have you ever walked purposefully into a room, only to stop in your tracks, because you cannot remember why you’re there?  How about that feeling when you’re certain you’ve forgotten to do something, but you just cannot put your finger on what it is?  We’ve probably all experienced moments where we’re not paying 100% attention to someone speaking, only to find suddenly that they’ve got an expectation of you – a reply, following through on instructions, etc., and you have no idea what it is.

Every assignment and every set of directions can be like that for this kid. It’s not a memory thing; it’s definitely a matter of being deliberate, paying attention, and  methodically addressing pieces of directions. He’s working without the internal sorting system and scheduler that we take for granted most of the time.

Most of the time. There are some days I could definitely use, to quote phrases I find myself using often in PLEPs, “directions repeated and rephrased,” and “slow, sequential, chunked directions.”

March 23, 2011

Turning Regret into Inspiration

by stryson

It’s natural to look back and feel some measure of regret for certain instances in one’s life. At least, if it isn’t natural, it’s certainly common. We often learn difficult lessons in ways that are uncomfortable in hindsight, and we cringe and long to tell our former selves how to handle the situation better, how to get more out of our lives. I don’t know if these hindsight visions are particularly tailored for other people, but I find myself, as an educator, focusing more on school-related regrets.

My original degree was not in education; I came to find my profession of choice after graduating and experiencing the “real world,” which was, of course, vastly different than high school or college me had supposed.  Don’t be misled; I don’t regret my choice in college or degree in the slightest. I learned a staggering amount in college, both in life lessons and in book lessons. My college of choice, a tiny liberal arts college, was  the perfect environment for all of the self-discoveries I managed during those four years. I had safety nets and an effective support system. Still, I cringe at how ineffectively I spent huge swaths of time at school. I had poor planning skills and often finished papers and projects at the last minute, rushing through them and compromising their quality. I often took the maximum number of absences a class would allow, and I totally manipulated extensions where they were available. I had so many opportunities to delve deeply into my subject matter, yet I often skimmed the surface, content with just what was enough. Why?

The first, and most obvious, reason was a lack of maturity. Of course, I would’ve argued against that assertion tooth and nail at the time – I swore I was more mature than most of my peers. In some ways, I had more worldly experience than some of my cohorts, but maturity in the sense of  being ready to buckle down and tackle academia? Not particularly. I spent hours upon hours in the library, and I was terribly proud of that. However, I could’ve cut those hours in half had I not spent so much time on coffee breaks, checking my email, and chatting on AIM. I hesitate to label this my big downfall, though; I grew a lot in an emotional sense during that period, and much of the socialization that went on either in the coffee shop or out on the library stoop was a huge contributor to that growth.

The second underlying cause of my slackerdom during college was an excessive amount of emotional tumult in my life, stemming from several sources. I’m not talking about romantic entanglements budding and imploding, which they did with some regularity, because that’s a factor in most college students’ lives.  I had an unfortunate mixture of sometimes debilitating panic attacks (I was diagnosed with anxiety disorder at ten years old) and strife from the home front. My parents later divorced, but much of the discord that led to the divorce was at a rolling boil during this period in my life. I’ve always swung drastically between defending my younger self in regard to this situation (“No one could handle that sort of stress!”) and chastising myself for not handling it better (“You were 120 miles away from that, you should have been able to ignore it and focus on your work.”). In truth, the “right” answer is somewhere between the two, if there is an answer at all for the situation.

Lastly, and least correctable, as far as I can tell, among my missteps on my educational path is a personality quirk of mine. This “quirk,” (I specifically hesitate to call it a flaw) was rampant among my cohorts; it’s a large part of the personality type attracted to my alma mater. I consistently, almost systematically, bite off way more than I can chew. I enter every situation with disproportionately high hopes. I took near the credit maximum every semester of college and participated in countless organizations. To top it off, I worked throughout college. During one semester of my senior year, I specifically remember my Tuesday schedules being 22 hours long. I always want to do everything. I juggle things deftly for a period of time, but inevitably, I’ll slip in one area, and everything starts to unravel. I continue to do this, to an extent, even though I should know better. I cling to phrases like “well rounded” and “multi-talented” and  run them to their extremes.

All that said, meditations on one’s missteps have their place, but what positive can I pull out of shamefacedly looking back at the past?  I may not be able to change my former self, but I can try to apply those insights to the students I try to reach in the current moment. My own mistakes can help me recognize patterns and warning signs in my own students.  At least, that is what I aspire to do with these lessons.  On the whole, I think I succeed, primarily in Underlying Cause Two, the massive anxiety.  In the population I teach, anxieties run rampant, and I try to add a measure of patience specifically for that consideration. In a broader sense, I think the biggest lesson that educators can take from individual struggles is that of having compassion for their charges.  There are many teachers out there who are already doing this; I can think of many in my own history.  If their praises are not unsung, they’re at least sadly under-sung.  Without caring teachers and professors whom I could trust, my list of regrets could have been much, much longer.

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March 10, 2011

The case for kinesthetic learning

by stryson

As a special education teacher, I feel like I’m constantly thinking about different modalities of learning. There are several major learning styles among most people – visual, auditory, and kinesthetic. Most learners have a particular strength in one of these areas and find the other two to be more difficult. Some, like myself, may be equally divided between two of them. For the record, I’m equally divided between visual and kinesthetic learning for my strengths.

I am not the exception.

If the statistics quoted to me by the professor in my Orton-Gillingham class are correct, only about 20% of us learn optimally by auditory means. That means that only 2 out of every 10 will get the best results from being in a lecture situation. The other 80% learn better visually, by movement and touch (kinesthetic), or both.

Anyone else notice a giant problem here? Think back to your days in school. Unless you were in a particularly progressive school situation (or if you happened to have a particularly good teacher), you probably learned primarily through lectures during class time.  Even accounting for the snarkiness and malaise of teenage nature, did you feel like portions of class passed you by? I know I did. It never dawned on me at the time that it might be a matter of my processing and learning style, but working with language-challenged kids has made me question these moments that I accepted as normal at the time.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying that we can’t present anything through lecture mode.  Sometimes, material simply is best put forth in the form of a presentation.  Sometimes class sizes are prohibitively large to allow students a more hands-on, interactive approach to learning.  Some lectures and presentations can be entirely compelling and effective.  The point, however, that I am making is that relying on these lecture techniques as our primary method of teaching children is inefficient at best and detrimental at worst.

Take, for example, a young man that I tutor. This child is in second grade. He is a robust, energetic young man – not necessarily ADD, but definitely filled with exuberance.  He struggles a bit with reading, and he does have a tutor in the Wilson Reading program, and I tutor him in math. He attends a small, private school in town, with a class size of about fifteen, if I remember correctly. That, in itself, is already an advantage for this young man – certainly a better situation than he’d get in public school.  However, he’s hit a wall this year, and it’s taken a huge toll on him. Even though he is an exceptionally clever child, he sulks around announcing that he is “dumb.” He struggles to keep up with his schoolwork and feels that his classmates are all working beyond his level. In second grade, they are already beginning to funnel the students into a top-down format in class; the teacher presents and then the kids are responsible for going to stations to recreate what she has presented. This doesn’t work for the young man I tutor, and I’m sure there are other kids not being optimally served by this model.

The boy in question learns best by a kinesthetic route. We play many math games, and I try to keep him moving as much as possible. I’m actually looking forward to the nice weather coming, so we can move our tutoring sessions outside and really let loose with the movement. Some people just need that trigger to get the information to stick in their brains.

Perhaps we cannot do a drastic amount of movement inside a regular classroom, but I think this challenge supports a shift toward hands-on, project-based learning. Anything that gets kids directly involved in their educational experience is a step in the right direction.