Sunday, April 28, 2013

Group Differences Forum

I was apprehensive about the Group Differences Forum at first, mostly because I didn't know how it would work. If you were in a class that didn't feel safe, or where your classmates were unwilling to talk and discuss, the forum would not have worked at all. Our class, however, isn't shy about talking. Everyone was very well-spoken, prepared, and respectful of other people's opinions and feelings.

I enjoyed hearing all the different perspectives on a given topic. Hearing a variety of proposed solutions to the issues we discussed made me take another look at my own assumptions and opinions. Truly, I do think many of my classmates may change their opinions and feelings over time, perhaps when they have more experience in their own classrooms, or when/if they have children of their own. And yet I loved the enthusiasm, passion, and concern I heard about advocating for students/children. I would put my child in their classes any day.

The only suggestion I would have for the forum is to clarify better how the article is presented to the class. It takes up valuable time when the groups get bogged down in "presenting" the article. Just some clarification about what is expected and how best to move from presentation to discussion might be in order.

Overall, I felt that it was a great way to end the semester, pretty low stress, friendly. The discussion forum provides a "capstone" experience so as to summarize and crystallize our thinking about all the complex issues we discussed this semester.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Post 10: Language Development

Question: Theories in educational psychology promote the idea that language plays a critical role in cognitive development. Examine Table 2.2 (p. 51), paying particular attention to the age range that you are interested in teaching. consider how you might incorporate or adapt the strategies presented for use with your own students.

One aspect of language development that the table mentions only briefly (K-2 using age-appropriate storybooks, and 3-5 creating short stories) is exposing children to quality literature at all ages. Certainly many parents are happy if they can get their children to read anything (guilty as charged parent here), but selecting high-quality literature at every age greatly enhances both language development and speaking and writing skills.

In "Reading Aloud In Classrooms: From the Modal toward a 'Model,'" Hoffman et al (1993) write:
When students are exposed to carefully selected pieces of quality text...students are more likely to develop a long term relationship with literature. In addition, the benefits gained by children in language growth, critical thinking, and depth of response have been reported by researchers who looked into classrooms in which students met the best in children's literature. (p. 501)
I would argue that this is true at any age, grade, or developmental stage. And parents and teachers do not have to wait until students are independent readers to begin reading excellent and complex children's literature. Starting in infancy, parents can read aloud both picture books and more complex works to their children. In our textbook, Ormrod (2011) states that "[t]he richer the language that young children hear -- that is, the greater the variety of words and the greater the complexity of syntactic structures that the people around them use -- the faster their vocabulary develops" (p. 49)

An excellent place to start for choosing high-quality materials is with an award-winning book list like the Caldecott Medal awards for most distinguished American picture books or Newbery Medal for most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.

There are also countless websites like this one, which offer guidelines for choosing literature of your own to use in your classes, to select for your library, or to read with your own children. And, of course, there's probably a librarian nearby just dying for you to ask her for recommendations!

Reading Aloud in Classrooms: From the Modal toward a "Model"
James V. Hoffman, Nancy L. Roser and Jennifer Battle
The Reading Teacher , Vol. 46, No. 6 (Mar., 1993), pp. 496-503
Article Stable URL:

Monday, March 18, 2013

Post 9: Self-efficacy and Self-regulation

Question: How might self-efficacy and self-regulation contribute to the intervention plans you use in your case study?

Self-efficacy: the belief that one is capable of executing certain behaviors or reaching certain goals

Self-regulation: the process of setting goals for oneself and engaging in behaviors and cognitive processes that leas to goal attainment

Both self-efficacy and self-regulation contribute greatly to the success of any behavior or intervention plan.  As any parent (or teacher) will tell you, unless the child wants to do something, it is very difficult to enforce meaningful change in behavior. Yes, we can make/prod/require students to do x, y, or z, but when it comes to he student's making a choice to perform a certain action or act in a certain way, the choice is largely up to them. The key is for the child to be motivated to do it, to believe in her/her power to do it, and to know how to do it.

Some ways that we can encourage children in their own self-efficacy and self-regulation are to:

  • Name a strength. Help the child gain some self-confidence by focusing on a strength. As the child starts to believe in himself in some areas, that can-do feeling can carry over into other areas.  Similarly, try to deliver constructive feedback constructively, positively, and gently.  At our house, when we have to deliver something negative, we try to use a strategy we call "stroke-kick-stroke" - something not-so-good sandwiched between two positives. For example:  Wow! You did a great job getting your spelling homework done. I see a couple that you missed with the -ing suffix. Let's fix those. Thanks for working so hard on it!
  •  Be specific. Often a child either is unaware of a problem or has no idea how to fix it. We can help them by naming behaviors (both desired and undesired) very specifically, and providing very specific guidance and feedback about how to do something appropriately and when it is being done appropriately. with practice, a child can learn to do these action for himself, and learn how to set attainable goals for his own behavior and learning.

For more information, see Self-Efficacy: Helping Children Believe They Can Succeed, from the National Association of School Psychologists. They have an excellent page of resources for parents as well as teachers.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Response: Barb Rentenbach lecture

I’m not sure what I expected from the lecture presented by Barb Rentenbach and Dr. Lois Prislovsky. I think I expected to hear about the difficulties associated with living with Autism, and how we as educators can learn to assist autistic individuals in our classrooms. And yes, the lecture did address these issues, but in quite a roundabout and unexpected way.

Her comments about people being “flecks of God” bring a unique perspective to the question of living with autism.  I am not unfamiliar with children with autism, so I couldn't say that the presentation changed my view of them in any real way. What I will say is that the lecture was a great reminder to teachers about the individuality of every student, including those with disabilities. Despite whatever barriers a student has to learning, communication, or social interaction, the reality is that there is a beautiful, thoughtful individual behind it all who desires relationship and human kindness.

I wanted to ask her about her education – how she was schooled, what methods were used for learning, and how she felt about the whole process of childhood “education.” Not knowing exactly how old she is, I wasn’t able to place her education during an “era” – what the emergent educational trends were, how she might have been placed, what was known about autism at that time. I think that would be quite a conversation.

After the lecture, another student brought up some of the controversies surrounding facilitated communication. I certainly think there could be some validity to those arguments; however, I saw Lois’ involvement with her communication more as the product of interaction over time. When you spend that much time with someone (disabilities or not), you begin to anticipate another’s thoughts and sometimes have your own “shorthand” for communicating. It seemed to me in this case that Lois serves as assistant to Barb’s numerous and witty thoughts.

The following Monday after the lecture, I observed in a special education classroom at a local elementary school. Obviously, I could not know for certain what the students’ disabilities were, but several were non-verbal and, I suspect, fall somewhere on the autism spectrum. Barb’s talk certainly influenced my time with them. Instead of sitting back as a passive observer, I was able to help out with the class. My favorite time was with 1st grade student who was very interested in me, the new person in the room. She wanted to be near me and hold my hands, so we spent the morning with her holding my hands, touching my face, and clapping my hands for me. There is nothing I would rather have been doing that holding that sweet girl’s hands. That’s the way SHE communicates right now, and that was good enough for me.

At the risk of being unprofessional, I have to say that there is some irony in listening to a lecture given by a non-verbal person. The way that Barb communicates with her tablet device is pretty amazing, albeit slow.  She has tremendous wit and (can I say it?) snarkiness. But I wouldn't say that she is cynical – quite the opposite. I think she has a real optimism about life and living just as she is.

For further information about Barb Rentenbach, you can visit the website for Mule and Muse Productions.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Post 8: Comparing Approaches

Question: Consider your CSEL intervention case study. Are there tools from a behaviorist view for either encouraging productive behaviors or discouraging undesirable behaviors that you could apply to the case? What are they?

In a previous post, I discussed how I would handle "Lisa," a third-grade student in the case study who seems to be the catalyst for the problems in one of our learning groups. Some of the behaviorist tools we have discussed in class could also be of benefit in her case. I certainly would give immediate feedback as the class works in their learning groups -- praise for appropriate or correct behaviors and correction of mistakes for inappropriate responses within the group. (I am not speaking here of correct "answers" to the tasks, but how Lisa is responding appropriately or inappropriately to her group.)

We could also use a contingency contract, where both teacher and student agree on appropriate behaviors and the reinforcers that will accompany those behaviors. In Lisa's case, I would like for her to 1) respect the other group members by listening to them and not interrupting, and 2) contribute to the group's learning/work by making suggestions or acting on the group's solutions or strategies. The reinforcers could be a choice between: 10 minutes of computer time at the end of library period; extra material checkout privileges; extra reading time; or special open-access pass to the library. I would be interested to hear what Lisa's chosen reinforcers would be.

The Wikipedia entry for Behaviorism explains it well:
Within the Problem Based Learning (PBL) environment, students may be encouraged to engage with the learning process and their peers within the group by positive reinforcement from a skilled facilitator to increase positive actions of engagement, contributions and questioning. Negative behaviours, e.g., lack of engagement, negative contributions, could be minimized by the facilitator using negative reinforcement.
The difficulty in exclusively using a behaviorist approach in my class, however, is that I will not be in a typical general education classroom. Because visits to the media center are often infrequent, I may not have enough time with Lisa to truly make an impact using this approach. To reap it's full potential, it seems to me that I would need our interactions to be much more frequent.

Now, compare the interventions that you have identified above with what you think might work from a cognitive or constructivist viewpoint. How do they compare to behaviorist tools? What are the benefits of each theory, and what are the deficits? Which theory might play a larger role in how you determine classroom management?

A behaviorist perspective can be of great benefit in managing classroom behavior, but I think it is limited in it's concept of the mind as a "black box." True, the mind is not observable, except through measurable outcomes or responses. However, I am not sure that even human behavior fully expresses the complexity of the human mind. Perhaps even when learning has occurred, one's behavior may not reflect it. In this YouTube video comparing behaviorism, cognitivism, and constructivism, the author states that a with behaviorism, instruction is given through repetition and reinforcement. A teacher can expect regular responses to this type of instruction.

Cognitivism, on the other hand, deals with the recall of stored information. Teachers get the learner's attention and help him make sense of new information so that it can be stored for later recall. It seems that this perspective deals less with [stimulus ---> response] outcomes, focusing less on behavior and more on memory and recall.

Likewise, constructivism also focuses on skills and knowledge. Knowledge, in this case, is interconnected and drawn from as needed, and added to when new information is presented. Constructivists believe that you build knowledge by doing and that teachers guide through the problem-solving process.

In the school library environment, I believe that students learn best by doing. Both teaching and assessing must take a very hands-on approach. When students come to the library independently, they are intrinsically motivated by their own curiosities and desires. Librarians often guide them in finding books they like to read or point them toward new sources on familiar topics. Likewise, we guide them through challenging research projects, where they are generally less intrinsically motivated. Still, the process is hands-on, and students learn by doing.

In this way, I would probably categorize myself as a constructivist, with a nod to the social cognitivists. We learn so much in the context of community, taking in information from watching others and imitating what they do, that I do not think we can discount the role that others play in our learning.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Post 7: Information Retrieval is Problem Solving

Question: Think of an activity or lesson component that explicitly teaches one or more metacognitive and one or more problem solving skills.

In class, we discussed the following set of procedures that could be applied to any problem-solving situation:

I - Identify the problem.
D - Define the problem.
E - Explore possible strategies or solutions.
A - Act on those strategies.
L - Look back and evaluate.

Essentially, the information retrieval process is a continuous loop of this cycle. From the simplest search for a book that you might enjoy reading to the most complex dissertation research processes, all learners engage in this cycle, or some variation of it, in order to "solve" their information question(s). Thus, any activity that engages learners in actively participating in this process is teaching problem-solving and metacognitive skills.

In the article "Information Problem Solving: A Wider View of Library Skills," Penny Moore concludes that we cannot perpetuate the division be "library skills" and "study skills." From her research, she notes that the development of skills in information problem solving is: 
a prime candidate for [special efforts to foster thinking abilities] since these are essentially concerned with complex concept formation. In addition, skills developed in this area are widely applicable as the information retrieval process is largely unaffected by the user's level of cognitive development and the subject matter being sought. What changes with the student's level of education is the complexity of the materials use to solve the problem and the depth of research necessary to produce a satisfactory answer. (30)
Her article finds that some students (in this case, 6th grade) may have difficulty with the necessary tactics to execute various strategies. However, most still engage in the necessary function of evaluation - sometimes early, sometimes late in the process - because at the end of the day, the success of a research process depends on it. Follow the flow chart......Did I find what I was searching for? Did my question find a satisfactory answer? If the answer is yes, then my process has been completed. End loop. If no, then I need to go back and explore another strategy (which we hope leads to further questions about why the original process did not work or was not successful). Loop continues.

Moore, P. (1995). Information problem solving: A wider view of library skills. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 20(1), 1-31.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Post 6: Constructivism and School Libraries

Question: Make a list of the sequence of skills necessary for ultimate mastery of the content of your lesson through a constructivist approach. Which of these learning activities/skills lend themselves to student’s individual or group construction? How might you structure learning activities that lead students to discover these skills/principles? 

In a previous post, I outlined a set of competencies that would enable a student to use the library and find information successfully. The steps closely model the cognitive skills outlined in Bloom's Taxonomy -- Knowledge, Comprehension, Application, Analysis, Synthesis, and Evaluation. A student would know and understand basic information about the library environment, how materials are arranged, and a process for finding them. Then, the student would apply that knowledge in a search process, which eventually leads to the analysis, synthesis, and evaluation, not only of the resources found, but of the process itself and how effective it was.

When taking a constructivist approach, I'm not sure that the skills would be different. In fact, I think they would probably be very much the same. However, as I said in my original post, because library use and research are by nature process-oriented, the ways in which I teach or present, or facilitate, students through the steps of research lend themselves to a constructivist approach.

In the early stages of teaching basic research or library skills, I can see great value in cooperative learning or group construction. Students will certainly learn a lot from working with, listening to, and watching other students engage in the same tasks. Eventually, particularly in older grades or into higher education, learning and research will shift more toward the individual and his/her own research needs and processes.

I see my role as a librarian as more of a guide or facilitator. Certainly, more traditional means of instruction have a place in school media centers. There is a certain amount of "teaching" that accompanies any lesson in any subject. However, traditional methods should be accompanied by more learner-centered, rather than teacher-centered, activities. Then learner, then, constructs his own knowledge of the process based on experience. In addition, the higher-order critical-thinking skills which we so desire our learners to master (analysis, synthesis, evaluation, and application) are inherent to the success of the research process and must be performed every step of the way.

Sources for further reading:

James O. Carey, in Library Skills, Information Skills, and Information Literacy: Implications for Teaching and Learning, looks at two approaches to problem-solving, as Cognitive Objectivist (or instructional design perpective) and Cognitive Constructivist. (AASL)

Jesus Lau provides an excellent discussion of learning theories and information literacy in a paper, Guidelines on Information Literacy in Lifelong Learning.