Saturday, October 02, 2004

Session 3 reading: comments

Just a few ideas I took note of in the margin as I read a third very interesting and useful chapter of The Learning Classroom.

"Education and experience do develop the brain... Learning abilities can be developed by access to an environment that stimulates and uses the brain" (p. 51, bottom). All the more reason to be demanding in our teaching and to keep pushing students that extra mile. By this I mean that we should not embrace "facilitism", as we say in Portuguese. In doing so, we seem to be dealing with students as if they were "mentally disabled". Unfortunately, that is a common practice and maybe that is why I'm not understood by many, and also why I cannot conform to the status quo and generally need to do things my way, though as well grounded as my knowledge and experience allows me.

"One of the most commonly cited studies on the effect of the environment on brain development... suggests that brain development is "experience-dependent..." (p. 52, top). This causal effect of the environment on learning could generate hundreds of words. For now, let me just comment: No wonder kids from socially deprived or (ver) low backgrounds have so many learning problems. And I often also wonder why they aren't worse human beings than they reveal to be in school. O feel really sorry for them, though generally impotent in dealing with their problems due to lack of specific training. The only way I can deal with them is to treat them as human beings with feelings (though thay may be hidden) and try to lead them in the right track by talking to them as "a friend", not as their teacher (as I often tell them).

The signs or indicators of disabilities (p. 54, top) are a very relevant piece of information.

"For learning to occur, facts, concepts, and ideas must be stored; connected to other facts, concepts, and ideas; and built upon" (p. 54, parag. 2). The image that came to my mind was as endless skyscraper!

And where would we be if it weren't for the working memory and the long-term memory?! Especially now, in this information age, that we have access to so much more? These two memories are like a defense mechanism.

I liked the part about enhancing memory (parag. 4): overlearning, which I saw as "practice, practice, practice!"; learning with understanding or applying/transferring knowledge in/to a new situation; and building on an existing organized knowledge base (p. 55, middle). This last item certainly relates to how I want to start the new school with my 6th graders: new material (the simple past) will build on earlier learning (the simple present) or "prerequisite knowledge base to pave the way for new information".

The idea that 'meaning' is fundamental to learning has stood out so far. I always try to have this in mind when planning, sometimes even more so when improvising. I have found that acting out or mimicking in an exaggerated manner works wonders with the younger ones. They love it and learn!

Other topics that stand out:
  • way of presenting new information is paramount to paving the way for making new connections (p. 56);
  • schemas or ways to organize/map out info (again the stress on one's background/environment influencing what is learned and recalled) (p. 56-57);
  • mental models or explaining how we understand something (p. 58).

That structered overview of what a teacher can do to support these three aspects is extremely helpful (p. 59).

The differences between experts and novices is also interesting (p. 59-61). But aren't we all experts and novices at different stages of our careers? Don't we all have to learn and gain from one another? We have seen this constantly in the Webheads in Action CoP. While we may be experts (strong word, isn't it?) in some things, we are novices in others, so we "come into the limelight or go into the background" in a very natural way. And that's part of what enriches our personal and professional lives by being members of such a community. So... teachers only have to gain by collaborating with one another f2f and/or online.

That's quite enough for today! :-)


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