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Reflection

Final Reflection: MAET Summer Cohort 2013 Jeffrey Fisher Michigan State University

Reflection

Fredrick Douglas, a writer and opponent of social injustices in the United States during the late 1800s describes the importance of reflection when he states, A battle lost or won is easily described, understood, and appreciated, but the moral growth of a great nation requires reflection, as well as observation, to appreciate it (Blight, 1995). Douglas is referring to the United States around the time of the Civil War. He insists that it is important for a nation to reflect on events to achieve moral greatness. Teachers, and other professions alike, should reflect on their practices to turn potential greatness into mastery. The Michigan State Universitys Masters of Arts in Educational Technologys Summer Cohort of 2013 provided the students with an abundance of information. The focus of the two-week class centered on educational psychology and attempting to understand how people think, act, and behave the way they do. It is our job, now, as growing and maturing students and teachers, to reflect back, decipher the information, and use it as we will. Throughout this reflection I will highlight an important and reoccurring topic that I have seen throughout the course. The connections will mostly be made around Willinghams book and the lessons provided by the professors in the classroom. Most of these important concepts focus around the idea of understanding, mastery extended into application of concepts (Henrickson, 2013). As educators, we cant just pack our students full of knowledge. That knowledge needs to be extended into understanding where students can take that knowledge and apply it to different problems or scenarios. Part of the two week face-to-face component of the MAET Summer Cohort was focused around Daniel Willinghams, Why Dont Students Like School: A Cognitive Scientist Answers Questions About How the Mind Works and What It Means for the Classroom. In it, Willingham analyzes key issues with the minds of the students and why those key issues make it difficult for

Reflection some students take facts and information, transfer it into knowledge, and then be able to transform that knowledge into understanding when they apply it to various situations.

Critique of Willingham: Throughout the book, Willingham seems to categorize all students minds into one category and generalize the issues he sees as pertaining to them all. In doing so, Willingham ignores the complex minds of special needs children. If Willinghams intention is to generalize the minds of all our students, when he does not differentiate in his writings the mind of a student with special needs from that of a general education student, then he is making a mistake. Throughout his writing, he could have shifted his focus and attention briefly to write about these students, but he does not. Willingham seems to focus, according to Piagets Stages of Cognitive Development, on the Concrete Operational Stage (7 years old 11 year old) and the Formal Operational Stage (12 years old 16 years old). There is little, if any, attention given to children who fall in the PreOperational Stage (2 years old to 7 years old) or the Sensory Motor Stage (birth 2 years old). After studying Piaget, more of which will be covered in detail later in my paper, Willingham and all teachers need to take into account the characteristics of these different levels of cognitive development when approaching students in their classroom. The mind of a student in the PreOperational Stage of Development cannot be compared to the mind of a student in the Formal Operational Stage. Mastering Knowledge First, it is important to dissect a concept that teachers need to understand in order to get their students to master understanding. Willingham breaks down knowledge into three levels: rote, shallow and deep knowledge. Rote knowledge is understanding simple basic facts with no ability for application. Shallow knowledge is being able to apply knowledge to one situation, but

Reflection

not another (i.e. solving the area of a table, but not a soccer field) and deep knowledge is the ability to apply knowledge to a variety of situations and to see the parts and the whole. (James, 2009) Its easily understood that some students are effortlessly able to transfer information across various applications (deep knowledge), but some students are stuck at the level of having only rote knowledge (Willingham, 2009). As educators, these varying degrees of knowledge make it difficult to get all students to master the information. A great suggestion for educators is to differentiate instruction geared to cater to the assorted learning styles in their classroom. Differentiated instruction and meeting the needs of every student is close to impossible, but we need to provide our students with the basic information first and then build them up from there. This closely resembles the scaffolding model, a term developed by Jerome Bruner, Lev Vygotsky, and others. Scaffolding refers to the steps taken to reduce the degrees of freedom in carrying out some task so that the child can concentrate on the difficult skill he/she is in the process of acquiring. (Bruner, 1978) If students dont have the basic information or a solid foundation of information (rote knowledge), then they will never be able to achieve mastery (deep knowledge). This tells me that it is important to teach those little things and not dismiss them as unimportant. Sometimes I think we assume that students know the information so we quickly move to the next topic. We need to be sure to give students all of the little things first so that they can achieve success when they apply knowledge. Willingham offers another piece of insightful information of how teachers can get students to master knowledge into understanding. A theme that Willingham, along with John Dewey, Jean Piaget, and other educational reformists, refutes is an outdated idea constructed and designed by traditional educational theorists who view children and students as blank tablets (empty vessels). (Papert) Educators need to realize that students bring all sorts of past

Reflection

experiences and knowledge into the classroom, even at a very young age. For example, today, through various experiments, we know that babies are born with remarkable social capacities that help them identify voice and faces. (Dewar, Ph.D, 2009) So, what does this tell us? It tells us that people are able to absorb all sorts of sensual information into their minds from a very early stage of life. These developing sensual and social skills, as well as other cognitive skills, develop further as children progress throughout their lives. Therefore, its safe to assume that children enter your classroom with a lot of outside information. It is, however, not safe to assume that all the knowledge and worldly experiences that students enter your classroom with are correct. As we know through our Understanding Understanding project, the senses, regardless of age, can often create misconceptions. However, these past experiences, along with large quantities of knowledge obtained from other classes or from their lives outside of school, can be extremely vital for any teacher to tap into in order to help students apply their knowledge. For example, as a teacher begins to transition into unknown concepts and ideas, some students will have a difficult time wrapping their minds around unfamiliar words. When discussing these new ideas, a teacher should begin by bringing in familiar ideas that are similar to the new one being taught. By making parallel comparisons and showing the students the similarities of one event to another event, the students will then be able to make better connections and understand the topic more completely. As a teacher begins to compare two similar events, the students will then also be able to make connections to other topics independently. As a social studies teacher, this is something that I pride myself on and something that I try to use in every single lesson. Almost every event in history that is discussed in my classroom can be compared to other events in history. When making these connections, students not only

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are able to understand the topic more clearly, but are also able to articulate their understandings of similarities and differences between two topics. For example, students know little about the causes of the French Revolution, but they might know more about the causes of the American Revolution. Therefore, we can take our understanding of the causes of the American Revolution and apply it to the French Revolution. To cap this off, making a connection to todays Arab Spring Revolution will allow the students to take their understanding to a more current topic. This type of lesson idea allows the student to master their understanding of a revolution and apply it to other situations. This also allows me to become a more knowledgeable teacher as I am able myself to make more connections to historical events. As students begin to master the content, they need a way, besides in the classroom, to display their findings and make connections to events in their lives and occurrences happening in the world news. I believe that it is important for educators to allow students to grow outside of the classroom in a 21st century style. With social networks consuming the lives of most of our students, its important for educators to take advantage of those networks to help their students grow mentally and to show their mastery of the content. Teachers must still use caution when allowing their students to use social networking devices. However, a simple course webpage, containing guidelines and rules, with a discussion board following that activity would be sufficient. In order to further assist students in mastering knowledge and converting it into understanding, teachers need to address the diverse learning styles or multiple intelligences in the classroom. Howard Gardner identified the different ways in which our students learned. Those learning styles are logical-mathematical, interpersonal, intrapersonal, visual/spatial, bodily/kinesthetic, naturalist, verbal/linguistic, and musical (Smith, 2002, 2008). As stated

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previously, how then is it possible to plan a lesson where you are able to reach all of these diverse learners? I do know that you cannot lecture hour after hour and that you do need to change up your instructional input. However, I believe that this question needs to be viewed differently. I believe that in order to have students show their understanding of a subject, the teacher should allow students to uncover information and then give them different products that can be created to show that they have learned the material or content. The teacher needs to give the students various options to show that they have mastered the knowledge. For example, many assignments can be easily transformed into open-ended creations. A teacher can instruct the students that their final product must show the various causes to the French Revolution and that its their job to create something (a poem, a model, a journal, a skit etc.) that shows those causes. This will allow for an increase in individuality, originality, and creativity. Students will be motivated by the thought of creating something that is streamlined to uniquely express their individual thoughts and ideas. Furthermore, when briefly allowing students to present their final products to the classroom, students will be able to learn from one another, thus furthering the idea of differentiated instruction and multiple intelligences. Besides tapping into previous experiences and knowledge, the teacher can attempt to increase motivation amongst their students in order to encourage them to master the content. As we know, the more motivated students are the better they will perform in your classroom. However, what can you do to help motivate students to want to become successful in mastering knowledge? Praise is something that can help motivate students to continue to perform better in your classroom. Students in your classroom are at different skill levels. Some kids work really hard for Bs and Cs while other students attain good grades easily. Its always important to praise those students who work tremendously hard for what they produce for you. For some, like

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myself, praise is something that I work for and it helps motivate me to continue to give my work my best effort. However, students should not be praised for their intelligence levels. For example, Wow! Samantha, youre really smart! As Carol Dweck (1999) found throughout her research published in, Caution Praise Can Be Dangerous, the wrong type of praise can have adverse effects. In her study, she gave different groups of students different types of praise based on their efforts or their intelligence. The students who were praised on their intelligence performed worse on more difficult tasks. This is a study that will forever stick with me. I believe in praise and I treat my students as I would want my teacher to treat me. Sometimes this works and sometimes it doesnt. However, I think few, if any, students do not want to be praised for their hard work. In conclusion, these are a few ways I believe that educators can assist their students in mastering knowledge so that they can take their knowledge and transfer it into understanding where they are able to apply their knowledge to new types of problems. However, these ideas are not the silver bullet to education and will not solve all of your problems. Teaching is difficult and everyone needs to figure out what works for them. I found myself agreeing with several of the ideas presented to us in this MAET Summer Cohort and I will find a way to utilize this information. However, I found myself disagreeing with some of the philosophies of the educators we read about and while that wont assist me by giving me good ideas for my future teaching, it makes me feel stronger and more confident about what I know to be true, myself. This, alone, is invaluable and makes this summer all worthwhile. Building confidence in ourselves is extremely important and gives us the courage to try new things. Looking to the Future: When reflecting, a person cannot simply reflect on the present and the past, but also must

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reflect on the future and what is desired in the future in order to improve their skills. As an educator, there are a few topics/goals that will be important for me in the next 5 years of my career. I believe its very important to expand my personal learning network (PLN) to continue to learn and improve on best practices and more efficient ways of teaching students through technology. Also, I want to take the knowledge that I have developed in my short time as an educator and have the ability to teach and inspire others to use technology in the classroom. One of the goals in the next five year is to continue to grow my PLN. Starting last summer with the MAET program, I have realized that there are people in the education profession that have some really awesome ideas that I could easily implement in my classroom. At times, I think some educators, myself included, become a little egotistical in our teaching and think that what we do in class is the best. We compare ourselves to other teachers within our district or to the teacher next door, but rarely compare ourselves to teachers around the world. I believe that this type of mindset makes us stagnant and doesnt force us to continue to grow with our skill set. In Chapter 9, Willingham (2009) even states that after the first five years of teaching a teachers performance begins to flat line. Developing a large PLN by using resources like Twitter, Facebook, and attending various educational conferences like MACUL and the upcoming MIGoogle Conference will introduce me to individuals who are considered pioneers in the 21st century educational world. When viewing their posts or listening to their presentations, it forces me to critique and reflect on my own practices to see if the presenters information can be implemented in my classroom to benefit my students and my own practices. Some of the best ideas that I have used in the classroom have been borrowed from other teachers. Teachers should feel like they are part of a large community where they can share their great ideas. Developing my PLN has also provided

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me with opportunities to share my knowledge at educational conferences at MACUL, Michigan State University, an Adult Learning Conference in South Carolina, and various school districts and ISDs in Southern Michigan. Lets face it, in this highly competitive world its all about social networking. When looking to my future, I have to look back to the time I started going through undergrad classes to become a teacher. I never thought that I would retire as a teacher. There were too many other things that I wanted to do and accomplish as an individual. As I have continued to grow as a teacher, I feel like I love it more and more each year and Im finding it harder to contemplate the pursuit of other occupations outside of the teaching world. I enjoy talking and interacting with students because I see bits of myself in each of them. I enjoy working with other teachers in graduate classes, online through Twitter, and teachers in my district. I think that teaching is an extraordinarily complex profession. At times, I think it seems as if you either have the skills or you dont, and if you do have the skills then you should invest your time heavily into educating others. There is nothing more satisfying to me than learning, regardless of the importance of the knowledge. To some, I have made it clear that the skills that I have developed should be used wisely and should be given to those who are pursuing any type of educational degree. The MAET Summer Cohort of 2013 has once reenergized me and has solidified my love for teaching and my enormous pride in the job that I do.

Reflection References:

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Blight, D. (n.d.). The meaning of the fight: Fredrick douglass and the memory of the fifty fourth massachusetts. The Massachusetts Review, 36(1), Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/25090590?uid= 3739728&uid=2129&uid=2&uid=70&uid=4&uid=3739256&sid=2110 2486110471 Bruner, J. (1978). The role of dialogue in language acquisition. In A. Sinclair, R., J. Jarvelle, and W. J. M. Levelt (eds.) The Child's Concept of Language. New York: Springer-Verlag Dewar, Ph.D, G. (2009). The social world of newborns: A guide for the scienceminded parent. Retrieved from http://www.parentingscience.com/ newborns-and-the-social-world.html Dweck, C. (1999). Caution - praise can be dangerous. American Educator, Retrieved from http://www.aft.org.proxy1.cl.msu.edu/pdfs/americaneducator/spring1999/PraiseSpring 99.pdf Henrickson, D. (2013, July 23). Still thinking out loud [Electronic mailing list message]. James, R. (2009). Motivation and learning. Retrieved from http://www.slideshare .net/rjames01/motivation-and-learrning Papert, S. (n.d.). Papert on piaget. Retrieved from http://www.papert.org/articles/ Papertonpiaget.html Smith, M. (2002, 2008). Howard gardner, multiple intelligences and education. Retrieved from http://infed.org/mobi/howard-gardner-multiple-intelligences-and-education/ Willingham, D. (2009). Why don't students like school?: A cognitive scientists answers questions about how the mind works and what it means for the classroom. (pp. 93-95). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.