Practical Theory - The Origin
The Scholars in CyberEnglish
ToDaY's MeNu - Ted

Monday, June 27, 2011

Summer Reading - Chapter Three

Eric Jensen's Teaching with the Brain in Mind Chapter Three "Rules We Learn By" begins the conversation about "Nature vs Nurture." Homework is the Circle, Bubble, and Tree Maps.

The "Nurture" argument justifies the teacher's existence beyond simple babysitting. Now Jensen defines learning and establishes his seven points that influence learning. Learning is both explicit and implicit. Explicit learning comes from what we read, write, and speak about that comes from outside sources like textbooks, videos, and lectures that revolve around task prediction and are assessed by tests. Implicit learning happens from within that are developed by habits, activities, things that we "do." When we learn, we develop "memory." On a more complex level of learning, we employ more strategies and tools. Jensen has espoused seven critical factors in the learning process that concentrate on the brain and less on the environment. These factors are
  • Engagement (goal oriented attention and action)
  • Repetition (priming, reviewing, and revising)
  • Input quantity (capacity, flow, chunk size)
  • Coherence (models, relevance, prior knowledge)
  • Timing (time of day, interval learning)
  • Error correction (mistakes, feedback, support)
  • Emotional states (safety, state of dependency)

Engagement is simply paying attention. Students are distracted by many environmental stimuli in the classroom and paying attention requires some discipline and skill. On one level teachers can provide choice and a good environment which considers lighting, furniture, temperature, and safety. Students can provide good sleep, avoid drugs or alcohol, and are aware of their needs. As for attending to the brain paying attention to our glucose level is important. Another important factor is safety. Not just physical safety, but also safe in making mistakes and not being embarrassed.

Repetition will never not be important in learning. In order for repetition to be useful, engaging, and useful instead of boring variety is the spice. Consider using pre-exposure, covertly, well before the action. Use previewing, overtly, before the event. Priming is the DoNow that stimulates the brain and prepares it for learning. Reviewing is the takeaway from the event. Finally revision is is the overt action as it pertains to the event.

Input Quantity deals with the notion that more is not necessarily better. Teachers are always at odds with the distinction between quality and quantity. What is needed is in-depth learning that may seem slow in the beginning, but in time students will do more because they have developed the skills to do more and to remember things. This is a good argument for annualization of our classes instead of the constant changing of students every semester or less. Just as we get to know them and have a good rhythm going we change students. In too many cases there just isn't enough time in the semester system of schools. In addition, our class length and frequency of changing from discipline to discipline puts undo strain on memory and learning skills. Moving from English, to math, to science, to history in four hours or less is not environmentally sound in the learning process. Just because that is how it has been doesn't mean it works, and please don't recall when you were in school. We know from research that our short term memory, frontal lobe, has the capacity of taking in three to seven new chunks of information before it overloads. As for synaptic learning we need anywhere from one to six hours to process that which we have learned, which explains the delay in time for our students to respond. As our brain functions in learning, it must recycle the used proteins so that further learning can happen. Learning sessions should be done in short spurts with activity time to digest the information before moving on. One step at a time, quality and assisting long term memory skills before introducing the next. And after the second, be sure to review the first before heading to the third. In fact we know that much happens in our learning when we sleep, which explains why when we wake the next morning we have a fresh idea on a taks we struggled with yesterday. Our hippocampus is most responsible for this occurrence. Limiting outside influences and pausing will influence learning in a positive way.
Coherence is how we connect what we are learning with how we learn. For example, global versus sequential, emotional versus bland, abstract versus concrete, reflective versus active, and novel versus familiar. Two concepts that encourage coherence are activating prior knowledge and using examples. In short it is all about the metaphors. We use the familiar to understand the unfamiliar.

Timing is about the rhythms of the body and the brain. I've used biorhythm software to determine my ups and downs on any given day or to predict my state of mind, body, and soul on a given day in the future. Very useful. This is based on the ultradian rhythms of the brain. Many physical and chemical things happen to the learner throughout the day because of the ultradian rhythms which play a key role in learning. For example researchers discovered that in one study the verbal cycle lasted 80 minutes while the spatial task lasted 96 minutes. As these cycles function throughout the day, learning is going to be different for each student at any given time of the day. So giving a final exam on a given day at a given time may not be the best for all students, only for those students on on that day and at that time. Another factor not to be ignored are the hormones. Some things we can do is to be tolerant and understanding. Provide a variety of activities in the class to accommodate both hemispheres of the brain. Moving around rather than staying in a sedentary position is helpful for amine acids. Scheduling is a serious matter and block scheduling provides adjustments to account for the ultradian rhythms. Modify methods of assessment so they aren't just a test.
Error correction should be done in a timely manner and within limits. We learn from our mistakes. Pavlov should come to mind or understanding what hot is when we touch a hot stove. To help the brain learn from its mistakes can be achieved with specific, concrete examples and hands on tasks. Also if the new task is somehow related to a familiar task then the new task will be incorporated well. The old adage of " tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, then tell them what you told them" will always work. Trial and error is also useful in learning from our mistakes. By trying out multiple methods to do something provides us with better understanding about the task from multiple perspectives. This is an example of nature. Nurture comes in consistent activities, opportunities to do, and feedback. When I provide feedback to my scholars, I'm sure not to overwhelm them and to concentrate on certain skills at a time.

Emotion state of mind of the student will determine success or not. Our emotional state is one of the most important regulators of learning and memory. Stress is one cause of a negative emotional state. Allowing or providing time and ways for the student to alleviate that stress through counseling or taking some time is useful before instruction begins. If the student is worried about or preoccupied with something else, instruction isn't going to happen. Let the student attend to the stress in a timely manner. Much of what will hinder learning will be chemical and will be fixed when the stress issue is resolved in some way. Positive emotional states are dependent on dopamine. Suggestions would be to take risks, provide excitement, demand some urgency, and always provide some pleasure in the tasks. Many years ago I read about a college professor who guaranteed all of his students would get an A in the class. The result was that all the students far exceeded their expectations and took risks, knowing mistakes would not penalize their grade. I tried this one semester in three ninth grade classes and found it very successful except for one student. the other 99 did far better then expected, took risks, experimented and discovered things that they would not have learned.

For my homework with the Circle, Bubble, and Tree Maps I will use the I am poetry, Habits of Mind, Awakening Genius, metaphors, and autobiographical work. Creating web pages is the ongoing activity for these maps.

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