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I began this blog thinking I would look at how teachers must make accommodations in their teaching styles to better fulfill governmental requirements or standardized testing requirements. It was in my opinion that as teachers are having to worry about getting their students to do well on governmental and testing levels, that they must compromise good teaching. These types of requirements, I thought, forced teachers to think not of the needs of their individual students, but of outside requirements. And obviously, that kind of teaching would produce classrooms where teachers do not have time or energy to form creative lesson plans to fit students’ learning abilities and styles.

As I began to think about students’ unique learning capacities, I realized that I was not really interested in how teachers are being trodden upon by a strict system, but the unique needs of their individual students. Therefore, I revised my opening post multiple times to show that I was going to discuss the needs of students, and how schools and teachers should look for options and creative solutions to engage all kinds of learners.

My posts, then, came to be about the differences in learning styles, between all students, between genders, etc. I soon came to see that teachers could do a lot in their individual classrooms to provide learning environments conducive to individual student needs. I also saw that school systems and school programs could do a lot to provide options for students.

Overall, I still maintain that each student has a unique learning style and ability. Whether through school programs or classroom learning, every student should be given opportunities to learn in environments where they learn best. 

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Here are links to all of the comments I posted for this class:

Comment 1

Comment 2

Comment 3

Comment 4

Comment 5

Comment 6

Comment 7

Comment 8

Comment 9

Comment 10

After posting all about learning styles, I actually came across an article from the Sacramento Bee about schools that are providing a way for students with specific interests and talents can utilize them in a classroom setting. The program that has been developed is very innovative, and also extremely specific:

The students are enrolled in a Project Lead the Way class, a pre-college engineering program that provides free curriculum to middle and high schools throughout the country in an effort to enhance learning and encourage students to pursue engineering.

Not only, then, is this alternative learning environment, but also a college-preparation course, and an economically incentive program. Students who are in this program are future engineers, and are able to use their skills and passions for engineering in middle schools and high schools, where before it would be difficult to find such a program. 

I’m thinking of my high school, and we had an engineering class, a woodshop-type class, and multiple physics courses, and yet we never had something like that–much less something free!

These classes in this new program do not deter away from the regular academic schedule, but are offered as elective courses for students as an option, not a requirement. This program is rapidly gaining popularity:

Cooley Principal Karen Calkins said the classes, taken as electives, are in high demand. Parents request them; students are on waiting lists. Classes focus on the science of technology, flight and space, automation and robotics, the magic of electrons and design and modeling.

One of the coolest things I learned from this article was that programs like this one were not exclusive to “honors” students, or any type of student:

The program also is accessible to all students and learning styles. Teachers find that special education students excel with the hands-on approach.

The fact that such a special program would be offered to anyone interested is so cool. I am extremely interested in having special interest programs, and differentiated programs in schools. My only problem with these programs is that they sometimes either force students into a exclusive curriculum on that subject, or that they force students out, creating requirements so that various learning styles and abilities are unable to take them. Obviously, there are exceptions to both sides, this program being completely open and elective. Any student could get into this program, and the students, once in the program, do not have to become engineers, even though this program is geared towards that career field.

This program is gaining success, and I think many more programs will be developed that also fit these unique innovations:

Sixty-five schools in California now use the curriculum. That will rise to 107 next year, said Duane Crum, California’s Project Lead the Way leader.

And it’s proving effective. Fifty-six percent of students who have gone through the program elect engineering in college, more than five times the national average of 10 percent. And they are 30 percent more likely to complete an engineering major than the national average, program officials said.

Full Article Here

Lofing, Niesha. “Program Encourages Teens to Pursue Engineering Career.” The Sacramento Bee. April 10 2007.

Most of my entries on this blog have been about how learning abilities need to be addressed and taught specifically to in the classroom.I don’t believe, though, that I have spoke directly to the issue of different learning styles. There are typically three different learning styles: visual, auditory, and kinesthetic. I found a blog called Suite 101 that has some really great ideas for teaching reading and writing geared towards a specific learning style. Although this blog seems made more for teachers of young students, the philosophies and even some of the teaching ideas are valuable to me as a secondary education major.

The first learning style, visual or visual-spatial, is described in the Suite 101 blog as a style in which people “think in pictures rather than words.” The name obviously shows that visual spatial learners need visual aids to best. Therefore, a completely auditory lecture would be not conducive to these types of learners. Suite 101 gives examples of teaching methods to use with these types of learners:

Teachers who integrate pictures, clip art, and graphics into phonics and reading curriculum teach visual-spatial learners to decode and comprehend.

One can see that visual learners learn best when given a visual aid to understand a concept.

Auditory, or sequential, learners learn best by taking in auditory lessons. The lectures and discussions work best with these types of learners. Suite 101 points out that though (finally) teachers are being forced to consider visual-spatial and kinesthetic considerations, auditory learning should not be thrown completely away. There will always be students who learn best by hearing, and consideration still must be taken for them, even though auditory teaching is considered a  “traditional” mode of teaching. 

The last category, kinesthetic, or tactile, learners, learns best using thier tactile senses. Suite 101 states

Lesson plans that allow children to move and touch will appeal to kinesthetic-tactile learning styles…. [They]learn best with hands-on and movement activities.

 Kinesthetic learners need that environment of change and movement.

After looking at all three of these learning styles, the thing I still love most about learning about them is that there is no need to specifically test each child for their learning style, and then teach them in that specific way. Of course, test like that can help create a knowledgeable and conductive classroom environment, but it is, in my opinion, impossible for a teacher to have only one or two out of the three learning styles represented in his or her class. Furthermore, these styles only describe for an individual how that individual learns best, not how that person learns totally. Almost everyone will have each learning style represented in them, but will usually be more to one area. Therefore, a teacher who puts in effort to consider each learning style in his or her lesson plans for a week, cannot go wrong. If a teacher finds that a lesson will only work by an auditory style, visual and kinesthetic learners can still grasp the material.

So if these syles are represented in everyone, why even try? The point is that although a person with a visual learningstyle can learn if presented with an auditory lesson, but that he or she would learn faster and better if presented with a visually-oriented lesson. Teachers need to be looking for these opportunities so that each one of their students can learn how he or she learns best.

Suite 101 Blog Posts:
Visual Learners

Hyde, Susan. “Teaching Visual-Spatial Readers.” Suite 101. February 15, 2007.

Auditory Learners

Hyde, Susan. “Auditory Reading Lesson Plans.” Suite 101. February 14, 2007.

Kinesthetic Learners

Hyde, Susan. “Teaching Kinesthetic Readers.” Suite 101. February 14, 2007.

Yesterday I attended the Bright Ideas conference at Michigan State University. I enjoyed this conference, but was surprised at how small it was. However, there were many choices of sessions to attend, which made this conference, in the end, useful. 

The conference began with the keynote speaker: Jacqueline Woodson. She is an award-winning author of many children and young adult books. In my opinion, she was not the best orator nor an excellent adviser for teaching methods. Despite these traits, when she read excerpts from her various works, her talk became motivational and inspiring. One of the things I really liked about her talk was that it was personal. She was not afraid to give the audience glimpses of how she became a writer. In this aspect, she urged the audience to help kids understand that they have such a powerful voice in the world. She compelled me to think about the stories that so many kids could tell if given the right environment and the chance to write. Overall, though she was not well-versed in innovative teaching methods, I felt that her writing was extremely powerful.

After Jacquelin Woodson spoke, I went to my first session called “Engaging Literature Lovers and Reluctant Readers.” This session was facilitated by Erin Bentley of Western Michigan University and Jackie Folkert of Portage Northern High School. I have not taken English 311 (Teaching Reading to Adolescents) yet, and so the ideas presented were very new to me. I did not even now what a literature circle was. Therefore, I found a lot of what these two speakers had to say, very interesting. Jackie Folkert talked about engaging literature lovers with after school sessions of book talks and writing chats. This, to me, was a really cool idea, especially seeing as I will not be interested in coaching as an after school option, I could see myself doing this with really good results. Overall, I feel as if this session got me excited to teach reading, and to take English 311 next year.

The second session I attended was called “Let’s Talk Writing: How to Help Students Share Their Own Writing and Effectively Respond to Peers.” This session was taught by Christine Dawson of Michigan State University. She talked about ideas for peer editing and how to teach students to become good peer editors. The most valuable thing I took away from this session was an idea for peer review called “fishbowl.” In this exercise, most of the students in a class form a circle, while four or five of those students form a smaller circle in the center of this larger group. The smaller group discusses a piece of writing, while the other group listens. Then, when one small group member feels that he or she is finished, he or she goes to someone in the larger circle and switches seats with him or her. The teacher in this exercise begins in the small group to begin discussion, and then eventually ends up watching the students discuss amongst themselves.

Overall, the ideas I heard seemed to all look at empowering students to love literture and writing.

As an emerging teacher, I look forward to the day when I am finally facilitating students’ learning in my own classroom. However, I know that it is not going to be easy. I will have a large number of students, each with individual needs and abilities. How can I best fit each one of those needs as I am trying to get the entire class to grasp a concept in the short amount of time of our class? In my opinion, this will be difficult, but not impossible. If I form relationships with each of my future individual students, I will be able to assess and group learning needs of each individual and each class. How, though, can I structure my lessons simply enough so that no one will be left behind, and challenging enough so that students are not bored?

One web-article I found from a Google News search about learning styles had a few suggestions. First, this article acknowledged that even individual students themselves have “mixed abilities,” and stated that teachers must be accomodating to these variances within their students:

All students themselves have mixed abilities, as some may find one particular task or approach more appealing then other tasks or approaches. With this in mind, some teachers may have some difficulty dealing with the different learning levels of their pupils. What they should always keep in mind is that they need to adopt a flexible methodology that allows for a variety of learning styles and abilities.

After recognizing the diversity of learning abilities within their students, teachers must try to incorporate these differences in their teaching in a process the articles names “differentiation:”

Teachers can set up classrooms where everybody works towards essential understandings and skills but uses different content, processes and products to get there. 

How though does this play out? Can it really produce effective and individually-challenging learning environments? The article gave suggestions that would possibly help work towards these goals:

Here are some tips to help you deal with heterogeneous classes:

● Try to make sure that all students understand what is happening in the lesson

● Use group work, pair work and individual work. Such activities are useful not only for the teacher to observe students but also for the students to cooperate and to learn from each other.

● Follow your course book, which may contain a variety of tasks, but also try and find supplementary materials. Since most textbooks are designed for an ideal homogeneous classroom environment, teachers always have to deal with the problem that students react to the textbook differently due to their individual differences.

● Ask open-ended questions and encourage creativity without limiting the students to single no or yes answer. These tasks allow each learner to perform at his/her own level. Some of the students may be good at understanding but might be weak in expressing themselves orally or in written work; thus, open-ended tasks give them the chance to express themselves without trying to find the one and the only correct answer

● Use visuals. They are always useful for all age and proficiency levels, so even using coloured chalk or board markers attracts learners’ attention to the teaching point. Hence, teachers can make use of visuals to grab students’ attention and to motivate them.

● Students love games, competitions and dramatisation, so these are ways of ensuring their interest in the lesson. Regardless of the differences among the students in terms of language level and learning styles, they are motivated to use the target language while they are playing a game or participating in a completion or a role-play for instance. 

I really like the suggestions that teachers must differentiate their teaching style to accommodate the individual learning differences of their students. This, to me, is my essential argument that looking into learning styles will be so beneficial for my future career. Things that help involve students, promote creativity, introduce personal stakes can enhance the classroom experience for students, making them want to learn, and excited about the subjects.
 
    “How to Teach in a Mixed Ability Class.” I’express Outlook. February 27, 2007. Full Article Here

Most researchers, educators, and even parents believe that smaller, specialized schools promote greater academic success. Specialty schools usher in smaller class sizes, more individual attention, and a friendlier environment–most people agree on the statistics.  Can there be disadvantages for these schools, then? Of course.

In an article from The New York Times, a high school in particular in Brooklyn is focused on as bringing about negative consequences as the district attempts to restructure its failing, larger schools into more numerous smaller schools that would hopefully be more effective in raising grades and student success. Initially, this process seems to be positive, the larger, more impersonal schools will be transformed into smaller, individualized and specialized schools. However, in the case of Lafayette High School, major concerns arise with the application of the specialty schools for the bilingual/English as a Second Language students.

Well, it’s not with the students, themselves, but with the programs for English Language Learners, most if not all will be wiped out with the emergence of smaller schools. The majority of the 650 students that attended Lafayette High School were Chinese and either bilingual or had English as their second language. At this large high school,  a federal mandate had forced the school to provide classes for these language needs. As the proposal was accepted to break up this school, Mr Chung, the president of the Chinese-American community association, along with faculty from Lafayette High School issued a proposal for a school specializing in “international studies.” At first, reception from the department to this idea seemed extremely positive. However, when the three smaller specialized schools were announced, the association’s hopes were crushed:

The department announced its plan for restructuring Lafayette, which now has about 2,100 students, beginning in September 2007. It would contain three new schools — one emphasizing sports management, another focusing on film and music, and a third offering “expeditionary learning” under the aegis of Outward Bound. None will offer bilingual instruction, at least at the outset.

“This is an absolutely unacceptable choice,” Mr. Chung said. “These three schools have nothing to do with our community. They’re forcing the immigrant students out of their own neighborhood. New York is an immigrant city, but I think the education policy is not for us.”

In my opinion, Mr. Chung’s dissenting views are extremely valid. Sure, the specialties of these schools are interesting and innovative and could really help promote student success. However, with a large population of bilingual students in the classrooms, one has to realize that these students have particular needs–this one being that they would benefit from bilingual instruction, which will not be a possibility for them in these schools when the schools open:

In the trade-off for the closing of Lafayette and Tilden, with the net loss of about 800 places in bilingual and E.S.L. classes, the Education Department has announced the opening of only one small school geared to immigrant pupils in the entire borough. And even now, less than two weeks before eighth graders throughout the city must submit their applications to high schools, the department has not revealed the location of that school, the Multicultural High School. For all any parent or child knows at this point, it could be anywhere from Bay Ridge to Brownsville.

This whole process seems covered in just unacceptable accommodation for these students. Sure, these smaller specialized schools look really good. They seem to have everything they would need for students to succeed. The problem is that they have set up these schools to promote only certain students to succeed. They don’t have the original plan for an intercultural setting for these students. Could the new schools integrate the bilingualism of the students into their curriculum? Sure! It would be a bit more work, but why not? Well the article says…

Any new school gets a two-year waiver before it even tries to establish a bilingual or dual-language program. And even after two years, few small schools will ever reach the critical mass of students eligible for a bilingual or dual-language class with a certified teacher.  

So what are these students supposed to do? Obviously they have parents and organizations backing them and advocating for them, but the services they need will not be available in these new schools. How, then, are these students supposed to succeed?

In my opinion, schools are there for the students. Teachers are there for the students. Programs are sought out and initiated solely to help the students and to further their academic knowledge and collegiate abilities. It is wonderful that governments are looking at unsuccessful schools and are trying to evoke positive change. However, if the change being enacted is not proportionate and does not fit the student body, no change will be made, and students will remain in a failing system, one that cannot help but perpetuate failure.

“On Different Pages with Bilingual Education” by Samuel G. Freedman. The New York Times. February 14, 2007. Full Article Here.  

The film “Super Size Me” has acclaimed national attention to America’s growing epidemic: obesity. This documentary was made after lawsuits threw alegations at the McDonald’s corporation, stating that the food served at McDonald’s causes obesity. Based on acting out some of the claims made in the lawsuits, “Super Size Me” revolves around a month in the life of a healthy man who decides to eat three McDonald’s meals every day. This man also restricts his exercise, and researches various aspects of the restaurant chain. What is  obvious is that the consequences of this dietary experience lead to a super sized-unhealthy adult…in just a month. What is less obvious is if McDonald’s is to blame for this health-risk or the autonomous decision made by the man.

Coming from just seeing a clip of this film lead me to begin all sorts of opinionated reasoning inside my head and with my peers. Smaller issues of unhealthy fats and the composition of fast foods arose…as well as larger, more pressing concerns of responsibility, accountability, and media influences on diet. Films like this, though they can be extremely opinionated and blunt undeniably arouse discussion.

As a future English teacher I am on the lookout, always, for topics that will initaite discussions…that could lead to actual thinking. So…how could I use this film to reach a level of productive discussion?

The first part, in my opinion, arises from a comfortable classroom atmosphere. A teacher needs to cultivate a open environment–discussions need to start with high expectations for respect and remain safe for all members and opinions. A teacher, in my opinion, can do this effectively by being the objective negotiator.

Another way to effectively use this film as critical pedagogy is to look at a specific more neutral aspect that the film brings up. How about instead of looking at the issue of obesity and accountability, but look at the overall way that media influences and guides our choices? How about taking a critical eye at fast food companies, and then look at social values of materialistic wealth and the way that we are influenced by the people and media around us? How about looking at a history of our social structure and see really why fast food is so commonplace now?

There are so many issues raised in this movie it would be extremely effective, in a safe environment, to get kids writing!

It would also be a great time to look at the opposite side of the spectrum. What about McDonald’s? What do they have to say about this film? Obviously, the publicity that this film acquired had to affect the McDonald’s corporation. I found an actual web page from MacDonald’s in response to the film. This interactive site tries to take the position that their food can be used in a healthy diet. If you balance their burgers and fries with more healthy menu choices and exercise, no adverse health effects should be seen McDonald’s says:

We do agree with [the film’s] core argument-that if you eat too much and do too little, it’s bad for you. What we don’t agree with is that eating at McDonald’s is bad for you.

This part of the site goes on to explain that McDonald’s has healthier choices on their menus, including bottled water and orange juice to drink instead of pop, salads instead of burgers, and fruit slices instead of fries. It’s your choice, McDonald’s attempts to show–it’s your choice…. With this site, McDonald’s throws a lot of information together, many facts which go completely against the facts stated in the film. They also provide a sample five day all-McDonald’s menu including three meals and two snacks, with what they would consider a “balanced diet.”

Having both the film and the interactive site as resources, teachers could do so much with these, especially to get students to begin writing! After presenting both sides of the issue, teachers could allow their students to write about which they think is a more credible source, or which presents a more believable argument and why. This could even turn into a persuasive writing assignment or speech on various student-chosen subjects.

Bottom line: films and websites like these can provide amazing writing opportunities for students if presented and applied appropriately by the teacher.

“Super Size Me.” Director: Morgan Spurlock. 2004. Website Here

“A Balanced Diet. A Balanced Debate.” McDonald’s Corporation. 2007. Website Here.  

There have been many different approaches to help the unique learning differences between boys and girls in classrooms. One can argue that statistically that most boys need a different learning environment than girls. What this difference is and how to calculate it is usually the problem. An article from the Toronto Sun talks about one approach that seems to be working. A school in Canada holds that typical public schools are geared more towards the learning abilities of girls than they are to boys: 

Elementary schools work better for girls. Girls tend to be more social, more eager to please and have a much better ability to sit at a desk, be quiet and at least look like they’re paying attention. Boys have more energy and don’t sit still as well. Sound sexist? You might want to have it out with the human brain first. Research shows male and female brains are hardwired differently. And those differences show up early — for one thing, female brains develop faster, especially in the area where language is processed.

With this in mind, there is a lot of support for segregating schools, or even classes on the basis of sex. This support seems well founded the schools that are hesitantly implementing boys-only classes are seeing positive results: 

Boys report they find classes with girls more distracting and are less apt to speak up in class because they don’t want to look silly in front of the opposite sex. In a boys-only class, that pressure is off. Glad Park Public School in Stouffville has had boys-only classes for language for nearly two years. “Kids’ marks are going up,” reports Sandra Mullins, a French immersion teacher at the school. Boys “feel smarter and are learning more … they’re having an opportunity to rise and shine.”

Results like these seem to show that this segregation can be a very positive thing for both boys and girls alike. I would like to emphasize the word “can,though, for in my mind, this type of policy leaves me with some reservations.  First, boys obviously need to interact with the opposite sex at some point, to be conducive to social development. When would this occur? Middle school? High school? But if thrown into a situation with girls then, especially during the time of preadolescence and puberty, would it be helpful to their learning?  Second, what would this look like for teachers? Would a male teacher have to teach a male class, and vice-versa? Sure, boys need a strong male role model but, then again, so do girls. This type of teaching environment seems to be a bit sketchy, especially since, on average, most teachers are women. How would this look to me, then, a female teacher looking for a position? Would I not be considered for a position, even if I were more qualified than a male candidate? Third, I do not see how this will play out with GLBTQI students. It is very likely, maybe closer to a middle school/high school setting, that there could be an individual of the male sex, but who identifies with the female gender. Would this individual feel comfortable in a classroom where a more masculine based curriculum is taught? I don’t know really how this would look like, or how it would feel to one who does identify GLBTQI, but it does raise what will be an important topic if this policy is to be considered nationally. In closing, I would like to think that we see each child with individual needs and unique learning capacities. These capacities of course, are not based on the sex of the child, but on the complexity of the individual. Therefore, while the implementation of this segregating policy might help some, I think in the long run it could hurt many. Of course, keep the discussion open. Of course, let’s look to better our policies and programs, but to segregate the sexes might cause more harm than good.

“Marks are up, misbehaving is down when girls aren’t in the classroom” by Moira MacDonald. The Toronto Sun. January 29, 2007. Full article here       

Each child possesses uniqueness in his/her abilities, competence, and learning style that requires a specific teaching style. Thinking back to my own schooling, I have encountered many teachers who teach to only one learning style. I am thinking of the teachers who would stand, every single class period and lecture and lecture…and lecture. With this stifled approach, only predominantly auditory learners are at advantage. Teachers need to realize that while they may not have the necessary tools or time to teach to a variety of learning styles for each lesson, but they must try to vary at least from day to day. They need to really get to know the way their students learn, and then at least attempt to utilize tools and technology and give options for various assignments to help their students better grasp concepts and learn new ideas.Campbellsville Independent Schools in Kentucky is doing just that, with positive results! An article in the Central Kentucky News describes a new learning model that this school has adopted called “Thoughtful Classroom.” This model takes four different learning styles and applies it to the style of teaching of the students, determined by their specific learning style. At the beginning of the year, the students are tested and placed subsequently into one of four learning styles: mastery, understanding, self-expressive, and interpersonal. These categories are described in the article as such:

A mastery learner needs to be active, preferring action to words and involvement to theory.An understanding learner prefers to be challenged and to think things through for themselves. They like to work independently and require little feedback until their work is completed.Self-expressive learners prefer activities that allow them to use their imaginations and prefer open-ended questions.Interpersonal learners take a personal approach to learning, preferring social, experimental and community-oriented activities. They prefer learning about things that directly affect lives rather than impersonal facts or theories.

These learning styles are integrated into special “Thoughtful Classroom Days” where every assignment has options geared toward specific learning styles. Not only are these surprise days used to provide a learning environment specified by individual students, but teachers also take into account students’ learning styles when assessing students’ progress, and looking to help struggling students, as states teacher Donna White:

If a student is struggling with a concept, my first thought is to check his or her learning style and think about how I presented the material and the homework assignments I’ve given. I’ll ask myself, ‘Was this geared to his or her learning style?’

True, this type of learning environment does put a lot on teachers in terms of planning and assessment. It would also be difficult for teachers trying to use some of these alternative methods, when standardized exams only test for certain types of learning (such as…ahem…recognition on multiple choice questions, memory and repetition, and structured essay questions…) However, this program seems like it does spark interest and creativity in learning. If it is getting students to learn, then it, and programs like, need to be implemented. Could this perhaps be the first in new learning models all over public schools in America? Donna White of Campbellsville Independent Schools seems to think so:

It goes back to the adage, ‘Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.’

 “’Thoughtful’ Learning.” by James Roberts. Central Kentucky News- Journal. January 24 2007.  Full article availiable here