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Memorandum

 

To:            Donna Shea, Instructor, et all

From:        Philip Fournier

Date:        Sunday, August 07, 2005

Subject:    WR2 Problem Solving: Domain specific versus Content specific Assessment and Accommodation

Before I start relating what I think is relevant to this discussion, I want to state how I came out on the personality test and see if anyone has further insight into my results and how I reacted so differently to two different high school teachers.  I am a “Guardian” and in reading the secondary indicators, I come out somewhere between an ESTJ “Supervisor” and a ISFJ “Protector”.  (Actually, I think my wife should have answered the questions for me, as I think she knows me better than I know myself.)

 

In reading the Funderstanding 12 theories “About Learning” I am most impressed with the statement from the article on Problem Based Learning “We want the students to become life-long learners. To do this, they need to learn where to go for resources and they need expert guidance early in the experience.”  What a concept!  This is so much farther reaching than the usual concept of teaching students a particular skill or knowledge or even skill set.  The goal is that their education be tailored in such a way as to influence their thirst for knowledge and their ability to achieve it throughout their LIFE.  Now, having said this, I’m going to give two examples from my high school education that have influenced me to this day, one positive and one negative.

 

First, the positive: My tenth grade Spanish teacher inspired me, a typical negative outlook high school sophomore, to such an extent that I can honestly say that no other single thing has had a greater impact on my life.  She did it by using what I found in the theory “Brain-Based Learning”.  Because it is relevant to her teaching method, I will quote it here:

  1. Orchestrated immersion--Creating learning environments that fully immerse students in an educational experience
  2. Relaxed alertness--Trying to eliminate fear in learners, while maintaining a highly challenging environment
  3. Active processing--Allowing the learner to consolidate and internalize information by actively processing it

Her immersion practice even in Spanish one was such that we as students were speaking in basic sentences from the very start.  She converted me from a rebellious teenager (rebellious in that my parents wanted me to learn French, my cultural heritage) to a graduating senior with a reasonable grasp of the language, set up for a life-long learning experience.  This has had the effect of making me a competent translator, instructor in automotive education in the Spanish language, and a world traveler among Spanish speaking peoples.

In contrast, my high school algebra teacher converted me from a fairly competent math student to an avowed hater of the subject, such that I never took another math class after 10th grade algebra 2 until college algebra (21 years later), and that I only took because I could not avoid it.  I have a poor memory of many things in my youth, but I distinctly remember something she did that frustrated me terribly.  William Glasser, author of Control Theory (and another book I have read earlier, Choice Theory) suggests the following: Lead teachers will "fight to protect" highly engaged, deeply motivated students who are doing quality work from having to fulfill meaningless requirements.

My algebra teacher taught us to do what are called “logarithm extrapolations”.  This had to do with finding the fifth digit of a four digit number by using calculations.  I did a few of them, and found the work tedious and repetitive.  In the words of Dr. Glasser “if students are not motivated to do their schoolwork, it's because they view schoolwork as irrelevant to their basic human needs.”  I could not figure out the point in doing the same exercise endlessly, though I was sure the logarithms themselves were probably useful for something.  So, I went to my dad who was an engineer, and asked for a better way.  Remember this is before there were any calculators.  My dad dug me out a book with tables of logarithms all filled out to five digits.  This to me was the smart way to avoid a lot of repetitive busy work.  But when my teacher found me using the five digit logbook, she snatched it away, and administered some punishment (which I have now forgotten but I resented it deeply at the time).  I was back to doing meaningless calculations.

In my opinion, an enlightened teacher would have rewarded me for finding an innovative way to avoid busy work.  If she had done so, and continued that pattern throughout her course of instruction, I might have developed a desire for life-long learning in math, like I did in Spanish.  I think I could have excelled in the subject, or at least have avoided the intense dislike I developed toward math. I am handicapped to this very day in my math, possibly as a result.

I think the lesson learned, both from my personal experience and from reading the 12 theories, is that there is no “one-size-fits-all” method of learning or instruction.  As a “Guardian” personality style, I can see I have a weakness towards liking things to be very orderly and scheduled in advance.  As a result, I might tend towards an inflexibility of instruction that would fail to meet the needs of some of my students.  Being aware of my own personality style, plus being aware of the different styles found in my students will help me to tailor both my curriculum and teaching style to a flexibility that will work to attain that thirst for “life-long learning” among my students.  Now that I have heard the phrase, I can hardly think of anything more important for a teacher to do.  After all, how many facts can I possibly hammer into the heads of my students in a 16 week, 4 hours per week class?  Would they not be better served by learning how to learn?

I had several rather strong reactions to some of the suggestions made in the 12 theories.  I’ll just mention a couple of them since I can’t go on endlessly here and there is a huge amount of information in the material.  First, I just ask this question regarding the statements under Observational Learning, where the learner is said to gain motivation by observing a model, presumably the instructor.  What could be said for instruction on a subject in which the instructor has no real life experience?  Specifically, a company I work for as a contract automotive instructor has several full-time instructors who have never worked on vehicles professionally.  Observational learning theory, to my mind, suggests that such people could not be effective instructors.  Yet I don’t think it is all that uncommon for teachers to have little practical experience in what they teach, particularly in academic subjects.  How does this impact learning?

The second reaction I had was to the Social Cognition theory.  This statement: “Interactions with surrounding culture and social agents, such as parents and more competent peers, contribute significantly to a child's intellectual development.”  In reality, in my humble opinion, those cultural things are just as likely to have the opposite effect; not a positive contribution but a negative one.  Cultures, which in the interests of avoiding being offensive will remain nameless, which demean the education of women and place little value on a broadened outlook are an obstacle to be overcome, at least at the primary level.  One would suppose that at the adult level, those that have continued their education to that point have escaped those cultural things that have been a positive hindrance to their progress in life-long learning.