Picture of a closet

How People Learn II: Types of Learning and the Developing Brain

This is the second in a series of posts examining the new text How People Learn II: Learners, Contexts, and Cultures a companion to How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience and School. In this post I share my reaction to chapter 3: Types of Learning and the Developing Brain.

Chapter 3 of HPL II focused on discussing different types of learning and examples to demonstrate that learning. It was fascinating to examine the different ways that learning occurs and apply those different types to various teaching methods.

My take-aways from this reading:

Habits

“…the prevalence of habit-driven acts shows that much of our behavior is not consciously chosen” (p. 39)

Remembering being a novice & perceptual learning

“It is easy to forget how dramatically people’s perceptions and actions can be changed by experience because once they have changed, the individual no longer has access to the earlier perception” (p. 44-45)

“The importance of perceptual learning for academic topics can easily be underestimated. One reason is that experts may not realize how much of their understanding steps from perceptual learning” (p. 48-49)

The impact of “critical and sensitive periods in development”

“The best-known example of a critical period is that for development of vision: without the opportunity for sight during certain periods of infancy, the brain will forever be visually impaired” (p. 57)

Brain Adaptation in Response to Learning

“The reciprocal interactions in learning between the dynamically changing brain and culturally situated experience form a fascinating developmental dance, the nuances of which are not yet fully understood” (p. 59).

“Individuals are not infinitely adaptive, but the extent to which they can rise to cultural expectations when provided with opportunities and support is impressive” (p. 62)

 

Novices, experts and messy closets…

I’m always intrigued by writings that explore the differences, weaknesses and strengths of novice and expert learners because teachers need to float in this space to really be successful. They need to have the expert in-depth knowledge of their discipline to provide context to facts and methods to help new learners make sense of new knowledge, but they must also remember what it was like to be a novice to be able to empathize and support their students.

Picture of a closet

Closet by Sofy Marquez, cc licensed on flickr at https://flic.kr/p/aDLzzs

I envision learning like a closet. If you throw facts at a new learner it’s like throwing clothes on the floor of a closet. You get a pile of junk that all needs to be sifted through to find one piece of information. If a teacher structures their content in a way that contextualizes each piece of information and works to connect it to other ideas and methods in their discpline, they are placing those clothes on sorted hangers. It provides a structure, or schema for students to more quickly and logically connect ideas and sequences in ways that make sense. An added complexity explored in HPL II is the way in which cultural schemas can impact knowledge creation and interpretation.

 

picture of a boy wearing headphones

So you want to podcast….

picture of a boy wearing headphones

boy_stand_headphones by Tom Ray, cc licensed on flickr at https://flic.kr/p/4V6Zfm

Since I started working in Academic Technology five years ago interest in podcasting has remained relatively constant. Over the years we’ve worked to streamline processes and recommendations to make the process of creating a podcast as straight forward as possible. Podcasting is a great way to strengthen a student writers’ voice and encourage them to connect to new audiences in a conversational tone. It also provides a means to consider how ideas and concepts should be organized to tell a story to listeners as well as how reorganizing can shape or manipulate a message.

If you are interested in getting started with Podcasting here are some great resources to familiarize you with the process of creating and teaching the assignment.

Teaching Podcasting: A Curriculum for Educators (from NPR)

Podcasting with Youth Radio (from KQED Teach)

NPR Training – Storytelling Tips and Best Practices

Additional Resources for Middlebury students, faculty & staff:

Suggested podcasting timeline/workflow

Audacity Lynda tutorial

Garageband Lynda tutorial

Equipment Borrowing at Middlebury

Make an appointment with a member of DLINQ

Audio Components

ccMixter – Creative Commons licensed audio files (background music, etc)

Internet Archive – non-profit digital library

Creative Commons Search – a means to search creative commons licensed media files

How People Learn II: Learners, Contexts and Cultures

This is the first of a series of posts examining the new text How People Learn II: Learners, Contexts, and Cultures a companion to How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience and School. In this post I share my reaction to chapter 2: Context and Culture.

“Learning does not happen in the same way for all people because cultural influences pervade development from the beginning of life.” (p. 22)

In this chapter the author’s dig into the concept of culture and how it impacts not only “what people learn but also how they learn” (p. 23). The impact of culture on an individual’s learning is vast when all of the components of culture are taken into account. The chapter covers topics including:

  • The role of culture in learning and development
  • Learning as social activity
  • The dynamic interaction of culture, biology and context
  • Social and emotional influences
  • Physical influences

Some of the most interesting takeaways:

The importance of early childhood education and childcare:

“A large body of work published before HPL I (but not addressed here) established that socialization practices – caretakers’ ways of interacting with children – shape how children learn, what they learn, how quickly they learn, and even what the developmental end point of that learning is (for everything from walking to how they interact socially).” (p. 24)

Cultural impacts on biology & childhood development:

“Human development, from birth throughout life, takes place through processes of progressively more complex reciprocal interactions between the human individual (an active, biopsychlogical organism) and that individual’s immediate physical and social environments. Through these dynamic interactions, culture influences even the biological aspects of learning.” (p. 28)

The impact of emotion on learning and motivation:

“People are willing to work harder to learn the content and skills they are emotional about, and they are emotionally interested when the content and skills they are learning seem useful and connected to their motivations and future goals” (p. 30)

Strong beginnings

As I read this chapter I couldn’t help thinking about how much of this content is driven by the very beginnings of children’s lives and how little influence our institutions of education have on those circumstances. It also reminded me of some work that has been done to identify the high return on investment in early childhood education. The Center for High Impact Philanthropy at the University of Pennsylvania has collected some great research and articles about this topic here.

 

Small move #5: Student-centered course design using Canvas

Letters by Nico Kaiser cc licensed via Flickr at https://flic.kr/p/dohth3

In this series of blog posts I’m going to share some of the small moves that were discussed during the online session Student-Centered Course Design Using Canvas. If you were not able to participate in the session feel free to follow along here as I share some of the activities and design elements that you can implement in class to amplify the connectivity in your class.

Small Move #5: Stop – communicate and listen!

Who isn’t overwhelmed by email? Did you know you can use the message feature within Canvas to message students and classes and keep those messages connected to their relevant course spaces? Consider this a way to create a built in filter system for communications that you would otherwise have to manage manually in your email client.

Learn more about Conversations in Canvas by reading these instructions.

Canvas also offers a chat feature that allows you to conduct an open-real time chat with class participants who are online in Canvas at that moment. This is a good way to foster interactivity in an online space and check in with students as they are actively navigating your course. Just keep in mind the chat is open for viewing for the whole class and the history is retained, so messages should be general and openly sharable.

Connected Canvas Topics:

Using Conversations as an instructor

Using Chat as an instructor

What does this look like to students?

To view this functionality from a student perspective contact me to be added into a course space designed to demo this feature.

 

Small move #4: Student-centered course design using Canvas

Picture of an old teacher's desk

Teacher’s Desk – Linn School, by Todd Petrie, cc licensed on Flickr at https://flic.kr/p/omuFWN

This is the 4th in a series of posts to cover small actionable steps you can make to create a more student-centered course design in Canvas. These moves were developed from the Zoom session hosted on October 25th.

Small Move # 4: Virtual office hours

How convenient can you make it for students to have one-on-one time with you? By coupling Canvas’ scheduler function with your personal Zoom room you can offer flexible office hours without having to adhere to a set physical location meeting space.

To set up online office hours using the scheduler in Zoom follow these instructions.

To get started using Zoom visit help documentation here.

What does this look like to students?

To view this functionality from a student perspective contact me to be added into a course space designed to demo this feature.

 

Small Move #3: Student-Centered Course Design Using Canvas

Image of tired student with text "What are your students' concerns?"

How do you know unless you ask?

This is the 3rd in a series of posts to cover small actionable steps you can make to create a more student-centered course design in Canvas. These moves were developed from the Zoom session hosted on October 25th.

Small Move #3: Interest Surveys

To be able to tailor some of the content or options available to your students throughout your class is helpful to know their interests and questions as early on in the semester as possible. You can use the ungraded survey (quiz) option in Canvas to construct some quick questions that can help you collect info that would be helpful to you when making these adjustments.

As you create your questions think carefully about what information is helpful to you and how you might use that info in your course. Most will find this to be an iterative design process that they tweak each semester to best serve their needs based on previous semesters’ responses and your unique course content.

Connected Canvas Help Topics:

Creating a survey in Canvas

Viewing survey results in Canvas

What does this look like to students?

To view this functionality from a student perspective contact me to be added into a course space designed to demo this feature.

Vulnerability, messy learning & research — How can we be better?

Picture of a sunrise

Every new day is a new chance to learn.

A synopsis of chapter 8 “Teacher Learning” of How People Learn.

This chapter of How People Learn (HPL) focused on ways that teachers continue to learn once they are in their own classroom and how those compare to what we know about how people learn. The authors categorized the opportunities for learning for practicing teachers into three buckets:

  • Their own practice
  • Interactions with other teachers
  • From teacher educators in the schools (HPL, p. 191)

What I found most intriguing about this chapter is something which I have personally noticed about my teaching practice: the impact that being a parent has on my ability to teach. The authors noted that teachers “…learn about the intellectual and moral development in their roles of parents” (p. 192). This is not to say that a person without children cannot teach, however being a parent provides a unique longitudinal perspective of children’s development over years rather than semesters that can significantly impact an individual’s understanding of where a student might currently fall on that developmental spectrum.

The learning opportunities for teachers were also examined using the framework of learning environments that I discussed in my last blog post here. As a refresher those environments were:

  • Learner-centered
  • Knowledge-centered
  • Assessment-centered
  • Community-centered

I was most interested in the section on being knowledge-centered as it focused on the ways in which teacher prep programs impact this centering. For a little personal background, I attended an undergraduate college with a primary focus on education majors (k-12) that was founded as a teacher’s college. I was an English major with a focus in Secondary Education, however I was friends with several students in the Elementary Ed and Early Ed degree programs and I found it fascinating to see the differences in our curricula. The difference in comfort-level with specific subjects was very interesting. In my quick summary – it appeared that secondary ed majors were trained as specialists in content and generalists in pedagogy, whereas the El Ed and Early Ed majors were specialists in pedagogy and childhood development and generalists in content. It was satisfying to see this observation reflected in the HPL authors’ inventory of challenges facing teacher prep programs:

“4-year undergraduate degrees make it difficult for prospective elementary teachers to learn subject matter and for prospective secondary teachers to learn about the nature of learners and learning” (HPL, p. 202)

Consequently many student teachers feel vulnerable in various components of their student teacher placements. As the authors note:

“Learning involves making oneself vulnerable and taking risks, and this is not how teachers often see their role” (HPL, p. 195)

I immediately thought of all of my observations when I was student teaching and teaching in high school and how those lesson plans were always my least ‘risky’. I wanted to be in complete “control” of those lessons and project a classroom that “looked like good learning”. The problem is, in my experience and through much of what I’m reading in HPL, students often learn the most in very “messy” environments.

“When they [teachers] encourage students to actively explore issues and generate questions, it is almost inevitable that they will encounter questions that they cannot answer — and this can be threatening” (HPL, p. 195).

Raise your hand if you want to tell a student “I don’t know” while being observed by your direct supervisor. This is especially true if the culture of the school does not support the significance of this type of learning.

“Beginning teachers are especially influenced by the nature of the schools in which they begin their teaching” (HPL, p. 204).

Lastly, the authors attention to the way in which educational research is detached from classroom practice demonstrates one of the most wide-reaching negative impacts on the teaching profession as it is seeded at the beginning of most teachers’ careers.

“…a message is sent to prospective teachers that research in education, whether on teaching or learning, has little to do with schooling, and therefore, that they do not need to learn about the findings from research” (HPL, p. 202).

The example that always springs to mind is the many times I have heard teachers talk to other teachers and students about learning styles. In 2008 Harold Pashler, Mark McDaniel, Doug Rohrer and Robert Bjork authored an article titled “Learning Styles: Concepts and Evidence” in the journal Psychological Science in the Public Interest. In their paper they outlined the research methodology that would be required to prove or disprove the science of learning styles and concluded that “…there is no adequate evidence base to justify incorporating learning styles assessments into general educational practice. Thus, limited education resources would better be devoted to adopting other educational practices that have a strong evidence base, of which there are an increasing number” (“Learning Styles: Concepts and Evidence”, p.105).

In 2017, in an article titled “Evidence-Based Higher Education – Is the Learning Styles ‘Myth’ Important?” in the journal Frontiers in Psychology by Philip M. Newton and Mahallad Miah, the authors point out that “…a substantial number of participants (32%) stated that they would continue to use Learning Styles despite being presented with the lack of an evidence base to support them…” (“Evidence-Based Higher Education – Is the Learning Styles ‘Myth’ Important?”) which reinforces the authors of HPL’s stance that teachers are taught that

“…educational theory and research have little to do with classroom practice” (HPL, p. 203).

So my question to you – how does this change? Why don’t we listen to the research?

picture of a child in snowstorm catching snowflakes

The child is at the center

picture of a child in snowstorm catching snowflakes

A child’s environment fundamentally impacts their learning

A synopsis of chapter 6 “The Design of Learning Environments” of How People Learn

I am currently working on building out a series of blog posts in connection a session I presented on creating a more student-centered Canvas course site. You can view what I’ve written so far here. So I was very pleased to see a reference to learner-centered environments as I read through Chapter 6:  The Design of Learning Environments, in How People Learn. In particular the authors point out:

“We use the term “learner centered” to refer to environments that pay careful attention to the knowledge, skills, attitudes, and beliefs that learners bring to the educational setting” (p. 133).

It struck me that this also connects tightly to the focus of Chapter 3 and how transfer occurs for learners of all abilities and the significance that both prior learning and experiences impact both learners and their environment. Cultural practices are also addressed – “Learner-centered instruction also includes sensitivity to the cultural practices and the effect of those practices on classroom learning” (p. 135). I’d encourage you to take a look as they provide some specific examples of how these different practices can drastically impact the instructional method chosen by teachers.

In addition to a focus on learner-centered environments this chapter also examines the ways in which environments are centered on knowledge, assessment and community. When considering how knowledge-centered an environment is the relevance to a student’s day-to-day life is critical as is the balancing of “…activities designed to promote understanding and those designed to promote the automaticity of skills necessary to function effectively without being overwhelmed by attentional requirements” (p. 139).

An assessment-centered environment also seeks balance by offering opportunities for revision, and adeptly utilizing both formative and summative assessment to foster students’ learning. It was reassuring to note the way in which a learner-centered focus wove its way through each of the other “centers”. For example, when concentrating on assessment the authors point out that “Effective teachers continually attempt to learn about their students’ thinking and understanding” (p. 140).

Assessment can also be used for teachers to self-reflect on their instruction. “Appropriately designed assessments can help teachers realize the need to rethink their teaching practices.” (p. 141). This emphasizes the iterative process of teaching and the way in which a teacher’s methods should evolve over time as they learn more about the different environmental levels they are working in and the students they are working with.

Lastly, the authors discussion of community-centered environments took into account the different levels of communities including classroom, school, homes, community centers, after-school programs and businesses (p. 147). Special attention is paid to the way in which cultural practices can impact classroom communities and what practices are well-received which is a good reminder that norms are not globally or even regionally standardized. Some of my favorite quotes from this section include:

“Teaching and learning must be viewed from the perspective of the overall culture of the society and its relationship to the norms of the classrooms” (p. 147).

 

“A key environment for learning is the family” (p. 148).

 

“Children also learn from the attitudes of family members toward skills and values of schooling” (p. 148).

Every passionate educator that I have ever met understands that the child is at the center of every educational experience. It was reassuring to see that focus reflected in this reading as well. Learning is a personal thing and I remain convinced that it can only be done really well when an educator is aware and receptive to all of the impacts that a child’s many environments have on their view of the world.

Small Move #2: Student-Centered Course Design Using Canvas

“If teaching is conceived as constructing a bridge between the subject matter and the student, learner-centered teachers keep a constant eye on both ends of the bridge.”

How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School, 2000, p. 136

Picture of a bridge

University Bridge by Brandon Giesbrect, cc licensed on flickr at https://flic.kr/p/avDHs9

This is the 2nd in a series of posts to cover small actionable steps you can make to create a more student-centered course design in Canvas. These moves were developed from the Zoom session hosted on October 25th.

Small Move #2: Virtual introductions – one end of the bridge

Ideally this can happen even before the class starts so that students can start to make connections and have a chance to share some of their interests and perhaps even outstanding questions about the course topic.

This is a great way to introduce learner-choice options including the opportunity to use the text, video and audio options within the discussion forum in Canvas. Be sure to enable threaded replies so that students can respond to each other and start mini-conversations along the way.

Connected Canvas Help Topics:

How to create a discussion in Canvas

What does this look like to students?

To view this functionality from a student perspective contact me to be added into a course space designed to demo this feature.

Small moves to make your Canvas course more student-centered

In this series of blog posts I’m going to share some of the small moves that were discussed during the online session Student-Centered Course Design Using Canvas. If you were not able to participate in the session feel free to follow along here as I share some of the activities and design elements that you can implement in class to amplify the connectivity in your class.

So let’s get started with small move #1 – making a virtual tour of your class site.

Move #1 – A Virtual Tour of your Class Site

One step that you can take in designing a student-centered Canvas site is that once your site is designed you can take time to give your students a virtual tour of the class space.

This can be done in-person via projection in a classroom, or asynchronously by creating a video-walk through of your course space. Below is a rough sample of what a course tour can look like. It was created on one take (with a script) using Panopto.

When you are making or sharing your course tour be sure to include your expectations for how often and how students should be accessing your course as well as:

  • How they will know new content is posted?
  • What components of Canvas are you using for your class?
  • Where can students find due dates?
  • What do they do if they have a question about the course?
  • What do they do if they have a question about Canvas?

This is a time to distinguish how you are using Canvas. Although students will encounter Canvas several times in their classes, it can be set up and configured many different ways. Taking time to introduce them to your layout and help them understand how your space works is a great way to try to avoid confusion and surface course site questions early on.

Connected Canvas Help Topics:

Canvas Course Home Page Options