Monday, November 15, 2010

Section 5 - Chapter 8 - How Can I Help Slow Learners?

Willingham starts off the chapter with the million dollar question: “How can school be optimized for students who don’t have the raw intelligence that other students have?” The chapter is then written with the principle that “children do differ in intelligence, but intelligence can be changed through sustained hard work.”

Willingham explains the theories of what makes people intelligent. It comes back to the old debate of nature (genetic) vs. nurture (experience). Willingham explains that the thought process in the past was that it was probably both, but mostly genetic. In recent years, that has changed to both, but mostly environmental. He shared some of the results from many tests done on both identical and fraternal twins. It was determined that “genetics seems to play a huge role in general intelligence; that is, our genes seem to be responsible for something like 50 percent of our smarts.” Other aspects were that when twins were separated and placed in a home with greater means, the intelligence level increased but the effect was usually small. He goes on to share a study done in 1982 where intelligence scores went up 21 IQ points. They realized that this had to be more environmental than genetics because a genetic pool doesn’t change that quickly. However, this still didn’t fit with the results from the twins study. He gave the example of twins that were separated but genetically tall. Because of their genetics, there was an interest in basketball for both of them. In both cases, each twin asked parents for basketball things. As a result, they practiced and both of their skills improved. It was concluded that their genetics led them to an environment that included basketball. “Genetic effects can make you seek out or select different environments.” “The key idea here is that genetics and the environment interact. Small differences in genetic inheritance can steer people to seek different experiences in their environments, and it is differences in these environmental experiences, especially over the long term, that have large cognitive consequences.”

Willingham believes that “intelligence can be changed.” He is quick to point out that this isn’t something that can be fixed quickly, but rather over time. He then concludes the chapter with things that we can do in our classroom to help the slow learners.
• Praise Effort, Not Ability - He encourages us to encourage them that intelligence is under their control and can be increased by hard work. He cautions us about dishonest praise.
• Tell Them That Hard Work Pays Off – We need to remind students that the students who do well in school are the ones that work hard and put forth the effort.
• Treat Failure as a Natural Part of Learning – We need to create an environment in our classrooms that makes it ok for students to fail and to teach them that by failing, they are ready to learn.
• Don’t Take Study Skills for Granted – We need to remember that as students continue in their education and that things become more independent that they may not know how to study or manage their time.
• Catching Up is the Long-Term Goal – Remind them that to catch up they must work harder than the brighter students. It is also wise to set up goals that they can reach in a shorter amount of time and to get the help of parents.
• Show Students That You Have Confidence in Them – Set high standards and then praise them when those standards are met. When we praise work that isn’t up to par, we lower our standards for them.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Section Four Summary

“What’s the Secret to Getting Students to Think Like Real Scientists, Mathematicians, and Historians?”
According to Willington, they are unable to.

He explains in this chapter that “Experts” have a very different way of using their cognition then do “Novices”. When novices are compared to experts, experts have extensive background knowledge that they can use to access the “right” information from long-term memory efficiently, they can transfer what they know to similar situations, and they can solve problems in a reasonable way. The novices have similar background knowledge to the expert, but lack the ability to access it as readily, they are unable to transfer their knowledge to similar situations, and they lack the reasoning necessary to solve problems. He says that experts are able to think abstractly because they are automatic at the things that they have practiced; where as novices can only think at the surface level because they still need to think about everything they are doing. He goes on to say that while novices are using their working memory to think about what to do experts are using their working memory to talk to themselves, thinking about their own understanding and what they can do to make things better.

He says to improve your working memory you have to increase background knowledge and practice time. Researchers have agreed on the ten year rule to be considered an expert, but once you are considered an expert you will only maintain it if you continue to learn and practice. He says that it is important to remember that no one is an expert right away and quotes Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Every artist was once an amateur.”

He talked about how novices (our students) are unable to create new information because of their deficit in thinking abstractly. So he feels that although the creativeness of projects is not successful that creative projects do seem to motivate students. He thinks that “knowledge comprehension” is more likely to be where students are able to be successful thinkers. This makes me wonder what he would think about the revised or original “Bloom’s Taxonomy”.

In chapter 7, Willingham discusses the differentiation of learners that teachers sometimes use talking about cognitive styles versus cognitive ability. He defined cognitive ability as the types of thinking, and cognitive styles as thinking in a certain way. He concluded that the differences between the two don’t matter to teaching.

He gave many examples around the visual-auditory-kinesthetic learner concluding once again that these styles do not mean much to the teacher. He says that children will have a tendency to have stronger visual and auditory memories, but not necessarily that they will learn better by having things presented in a certain way. He does admit that presenting content in different styles throughout the lesson refocuses their attention and therefore makes it more interesting to students.

He states that although differentiation is good and necessary in the classroom, scientists are not able to offer any research as to how to categorize students or what instruction would best suited to each category. He recommends that teachers know best in how to do this in their classrooms.

I thought his comment about not telling a student that he/she is smart was interesting. That he says it will actually make them less smart. I agree with him and have some thoughts as to why this may be true, but I wonder what the research behind it might be?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Section Three Summary

The beginning of section three the author starts by talking about memory and memory that lasts. He talks about his high school Geometry class and how much of the material that he has forgotten over the years. The author then talks about research that has been done about studying for tests. He talks about cramming for tests as opposed to studying in shorter increments over a period of several days. The research showed that cramming helped a student do well on a test, but they didn't remember it as long as the student that studied in shorter increments.
The author then talks about solving problems. People who practice math regularly are more likely to remember freshman algebra better than those who do not. Engineers are more likely to remember their old freshman Algebra problems, even though they are doing much more complicated math at work. The more this person practices doing math, the better that person can transfer that information to another problem, and have a better chance to solve that problem.
The author says that students that are more motivated to learn will be able to retain that information for a longer time and increase that opportunity of that learning tranferring to new situations.
Chapter 6 talks about the difference between teaching students facts and information and teaching them to think beyond just the facts and think about why things happen. The author talks about getting students to take information and process it to solve problems. To thinks like mathematicians, scientists, and historians.
The author talks about adjusting teaching styles for different types of learners. The author claims that although all students have different interests and abilities, most students share the same learning style.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Book cover image

I chose this picture because it reminds me of times in my classroom. At times, students are more interested in anything but what is being discussed in class.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Chapter 2: How Can I Teach Students Skills They Need When Standardized Tests Require Only Facts?

The chapter starts out with the concerns from teachers about the time factor in teaching skills and preparing for standardized tests. Is fact learning useful or useless? Willingham states that the cognitive principal guiding the chapter is, “Factual knowledge must precede skill.” (pg. 25) He gives examples where having background knowledge on a topic allows the student to learn and remember more taught about that topic. He discusses how background knowledge is stored in long-term memory which aids in critical thinking processes such as reasoning and problem solving. (. 28) He then goes on to talk about how working memory, which has a limited capacity, can keep more stuff it in it by “chunking” together separate pieces of information from the environment. He demonstrates this with examples such as how the letters F B and I can be remembered better if chunked together as FBI. He says, “. . . background knowledge allows chunking, which makes more room in working memory, which makes it easier to relate ideas, and therefore to comprehend.” (p. 35) I agree with his statement, “. . . comprehension depends on background knowledge, and that’s where kids from privileged homes have an edge. They come to school with a bigger vocabulary and more knowledge about the world than underprivileged kids. And because knowing things makes it easier to learn new things, the gap between privileged and underprivileged kids widens.”(p. 37) I see this as a growing concern in our district. We have an increased number of students coming to school each year from lower economic families. He ends the chapter with the following suggestions for helping children learn background knowledge to aid in making cognitive processes work better:

· Be sure that the knowledge base is mostly in place when you require critical thinking,

· Shallow knowledge is better than no knowledge.

· Do whatever you can to get kids to read.

· Knowledge acquisition can be incidental.

· Start early with knowledge.

· Knowledge must be meaningful.