Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Reflection on the Tattooed Man by Herbert Kohl

I've written something about the Tattooed Man by Herbert Kohl. The chapter is well-written, and certainly brings back memories of childhood and the love I had for writing during journal time, as well as experiencing professional live performances as eye-opening.

I have to view the world with some sense of hope. My philosophy is that it's better by far to create than destroy. Ironically, when I write, I tend to write fiction or fantasy.

The paragraph that I can most closely identify with is the one that begins on page 58 and ends on page 59.

"Live music, and especially that particular concert, was beautiful beyond all expectation." (Kohl, page 58) This sentence alone brings back memories of elementary school, and going to Ashland, Oregon to view Shakespeare at the theatre, or a concert at the Peter Britt Festival. Or, as I was fortunate in this regard, watching my parents and grandmother play the piano at the concert hall in Yreka, and turning the pages in the sheet music for my father.

The upper grades, six through eight I believe, went to one Shakespeare play per year. The teacher would prepare us for it by having us spend a week or two, or maybe it was more because it sure seemed like forever, reading from the book (it was The Taming of the Shrew one year). The work in class was extremely tough and highbrow. I barely understood any of what was going on in the play. And when we finally went to the play, it was still way beyond me. I believe I may have even fallen asleep during the play, since the English accents were done in an authentic manner and almost impossible to decode.

Does this mean that the event was a failure for the students? I don't think so. "I might even call that experience life-transforming, in that music, all kinds of music I never knew of as a child, has become an abiding joy in my life. It is hard for many people to realize that what is ordinary for them, a matter of common experience, can be a revelation to other people." (p.58) Between the Britt Festival and Shakespeare, I believed that all of my peers had had the fortune to experience live performances.

For me, this experience, and a variety of music presented by my dad, and at our surprisingly multicultural talent shows, as well as by my 3rd through 5th grade teacher who played guitar and sang with us, all led me to experience the variety in the world around me. "Throughout my teaching life my first encounter with live Mozart has been a metaphor for the joy of discovering that the world is larger and more beautiful than you imagined it. It has allowed me to explore new subjects and themes over the years, to move from a Bronx-centric stance in the world to one that is open to experiencing the range and variety of human creations that make life complex and so confoundingly challenging." (p.58) It was a breadth of education and open-mindedness applied to everything that I was under the impression was given to all students.

Only as I grew older did I realize that what I'd perceived as a shared experience was far from being that. It's something of a shame that not everyone can experience a quality live performance at a young age. It would be better yet if they could experience many. I'm talking about a carefully choreographed performance by professionals in their respective fields.

This brings me to the single most important statement in this paragraph, in my opinion. "It has also allowed me to understand that not knowing something is no crime if one never had an opportunity to know it." (p.58) Why is this so overwhelmingly important? I have encountered people who tend to put down children when they don't know something. These people tend to operate on the principle that if you don't know something that they think that they know, you must be stupid. Perhaps the reality is that these people are acting out aggressively in response to defensive feelings they had as children, when they didn't know anything and were embarrassed in front of a classroom.

I can't conceive of how they could possibly think that someone else is stupid for not knowing something. If you don't know something, it doesn't mean you're lacking intelligence. It just means you're lacking knowledge. Knowledge can be gained a lot more quickly than intelligence. I particularly take issue with people who try to assassinate the character of others by insulting their intelligence. "I refuse to judge students on the basis of what they can't do or don't know." (p.58)

"Rather, one of my roles as a teacher is to insinuate complexity into the lives of my students, to present them with new experiences and ideas whether they be contemporary or ancient, local or global." (p.58) As a teacher, I would endeavor to pursue these same goals. And, by following the path that I am following, I will have a wealth of experience and cultures to draw from.

Perhaps a better perspective to take on this chapter would be that it is about how Kohl became a 'hopemonger' in spite of adversity, as opposed to being a chapter about the virtues of being a 'hopemonger.'

"I Won't Learn From You" And Other Thoughts on Creative Maladjustment, Herbert Kohl, The New Press, 1994

Modalities in Education

I am not very familiar with the Multiple Intelligences, but I have encountered them in various ways over the years. The main way was through tests designed to indicate a career path. These kind of tests are great for indicating jobs that you might like.

Willingham has truly opened my eyes in a number of regards. The biggest eye-opener for me, which makes perfect sense, is that there is no evidence that applying modalities when teaching individuals based on their professed preference has any benefits.

I think the most important problem with modality approaches is the assumption that modality can be applied successfully based on the individual without regard to what is being taught. Teaching someone with a visual preference using a visual modality will not bear more fruit than the usual teaching techniques. Another problem is that modality approaches assume that children learn best in only one way, and that we have to specialize instruction for each individual student. Willingham's research has debunked this myth, perhaps.

Instead, the modalities are most usefully applied in the classroom as supplemental materials. They are more useful for livening up the class than for teaching specific individuals. With regard to workload, this should make teachers happy. It means that rather than spending inordinate amounts of time per student, they can create their lesson plan for the entire class, with a minimal focus on specific students 'learning styles.' In other words, only the students who truly need special circumstances will require that preparation.

What we've learned from Willingham is that modality can be used in the classroom to liven up the material in general. Certain subjects will lend themselves to certain modalities more readily than others. For example, music appreciation is primarily taught by listening, although basic music theory can be illustrated on the board as well. However, since "Children are more alike than different in terms of how they think and learn," it isn't necessary for modality thinking to dominate the classroom. (Willingham, page 113)

Other subjects can be taught in a variety of modalities which can make the subject matter more interesting and applicable for the students. Altogether, it is perhaps best to use modalities in a holistic manner. They should be integrated with the standard curriculum as supplemental materials in order to maximize their usefulness. I think that it isn't necessary to use modalities in instruction, but I also think that the students would be appreciative of their inclusion, even if kept to a minor role in the classroom.

Why Don't Students Like School?, Willingham, Daniel T., Jossey-Bass, 2009

Monday, September 28, 2009

Reflection on the value of MI in Learning

I have always been convinced that there is a learning style for each of the senses. One can learn by touch, smell, taste, sound, and vision. If we want to take the 5 basic senses and expand them to include the additional senses that have been added by research over the years, this statement still holds.

Academically, people learn primarily by sound and vision. The typical elementary school system is set up so that the bulk of learning is done by seeing, hearing, and doing. In high school, we lose a lot of the doing, and teaching leans more heavily on seeing and hearing. In trade schools, the emphasis is on doing. In culinary schools I think all five senses are used.

Some people learn better using a particular sense than others. Some people learn better from auditory lessons, some learn better by visual demonstration, and some learn better by other senses.

I think this way because in helping others to learn and in my own learning, I've had to apply the use of the senses, and find that certain senses help to learn certain things more quickly. Do you learn that something is hot by looking at it? While there is often a visual indicator, the very first time you picked up something hot, you learned that it was hot by the sense of touch. (I'm including hot/cold, pain, and pressure in my definition of touch.)

I think that what Willingham is discussing in the first chapter is the relevance of a problem to a student. If conditions are right, the subject is relevant and the student can learn. If conditions are wrong, the subject becomes irrelevant to the student. A student might like candy bars, but if given a problem about candy that the student can't solve, the fact that they are working with candy becomes irrelevant.

Conversely, if a subject is made relevant by being appropriate to the student's level of development with regard to the course, the student can excel and is interested in doing so.

So, it seems that what Willingham is really saying is that any student can learn under the right conditions. This means that no teacher should give up on their students. At the same time, it makes things a lot more complicated for teachers.

It isn't practicable to teach every student at their level. Ironically, while it seems that to do so would be easier at smaller schools where individual students have more attention, it may actually be easier to do at bigger schools. Bigger schools have more individuals at the same level, making it easier to teach large classes at a level appropriate to them.

I found it very interesting that people who already know the facts and have the procedures for learning start out ahead on everything. What this implies is that by giving open-book tests and not requiring students to learn the material, teachers are doing a disservice to their students.

Considering that recent research has indicated that long term memory is suffering in modern times due to devices that remember everything for us, we need to make sure that long term memory doesn't become a thing of the past. Thus, we have to force students to learn and remember things rather than giving them an easy way out.

When the thinking process does not provide an easy solution, there is no satisfaction for having spent so much time thinking. It should come as no surprise, then, that people really don't want to think about problems that they have no knowledge about. They prefer to stick their heads in the sand and hope that someone who understands the problem better will solve it. And, if we consider what Willingham says about how "factual knowledge must precede skill," we can see how a lack of knowledge in the subject matter of the problem can cause the 'head in the sand' phenomenom.

However, people also like to have solutions. When you give people a problem to take home and consider, they will often return the next day with interesting solutions. Many of the solutions might not work, but I think that what is important is that they tried to get to an answer. A class that has no facts to base their solutions on is probably less likely to come up with even possible answers.

The text and the movies we watched have added a new level of understanding about this subject for me. It will take some time for me to assimilate this information and put it to use, but I am now aware of a whole new aspect of learning.

Willingham, Daniel T. Why Don't Students Like School? 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Inc.