Thursday, August 10, 2000 Section:



Are you an active learner or a reflective learner?Do you use problem-based or behavioral methods?

Have you ever used or even heard of situated cognition?

In today's classroom what is taught is just part of the process. How it is taught and how children learn are gaining more attention.

Modern society requires more than just regurgitating facts or following directions. Rapid changes require adults who can change with the times, learn new skills as they're needed and solve problems as they happen.

So it's out with the old approach, where the teacher stands in front of the classroom, lectures and tests.

New approaches bring students into the learning process through problem-solving and critical thinking.

"Instead of pouring knowledge into students' minds, we have to get them to develop their own learning," said Daryl Ensminger, a Hamilton Township history teacher who hosted a summer workshop for teachers on Problem-Based Learning.

Ensminger said good teachers have always used multiple methods to reach all children, even if they didn't have a fancy name for it. Today there are terms like multiple intelligences to address why some students learn best reading a book and others by building a project.

Ensminger used science experiments as an example of problem-based learning that now needs to expand to all subjects.

"You still have to take the time to teach the content that is needed to solve the problem,

" Ensminger said. "But then students take on the problem themselves and analyze their results." Ensminger said teachers must become proficient in computers and Internet use if they are to effectively use them with their students.

"Students get proficient in using chat rooms and looking up the MTV site," he said. "They also need to learn how to do complex searches, use different search engines and evaluate what they get."

Teamwork and collaboration are vital today. The old rows of desks may be replaced by small clusters of desks or even tables.

Old-fashioned tests are being replaced by "authentic assessments" that challenge students to show not just that they know the material, but that they know how to apply it.

Students who understand their own learning styles can also learn more effectively, gaining an understanding of why they may perform better in one subject than another or seem to perform better with a teacher with a compatible teaching style.

But a learning style is not a crutch to justify failure.

Ensminger said by identifying learning styles, teachers and students can develop strategies to overcome weaknesses and develop strengths. Ensminger said teachers who learn their own styles also become more effective in identifying what works best with their students.

"Teachers need to help students make the transition to different types of learning," he said.

Following is a synopsis of some of the trends in teaching today: The Gagne-Briggs Behaviorist Model: This view holds that learning is a sequence of stimulus and response. Focus is on nine events of instruction: gain attention, identify the objective, recall prior learning, present stimulus, guide learning, elicit performance, provide feedback, assess performance and enhance retention and transfer.

This model was very popular in education the 1950s and '60s. Other famous behaviorists include Pavlov and Skinner.

Constructivism: This model is based on the theory that knowledge is active and that individuals themselves build, or construct, knowledge. The teacher acts as coach, mediator, facilitator and strategist in leading students to learning. Education is problem-oriented, with loose structure and open-ended questions.

Examples of problem-based learning models include:"You are a science adviser at NASA. A planet much like earth has experienced massive destruction of elements in its biosphere. What is causing the destruction of the plant life? Can new plants from Earth be successfully introduced to help save the planet's environment? (Second-grade science lesson)"

"You are a 36-year-old widow with a 5-year-old daughter who after your husband's death has received $20,000 in workers compensation and $10,000 in stock option shares. How might you invest them so that by your daughter's 18th birthday their growth is maximized (Community-college level)"

Famous constructivists include: Bruner, Piaget, Vygotsky.

Active and Reflective Learners: Active learners tend to retain and understand information best by doing something active with it - discussing, applying it or explaining it to others. They tend to like working in groups and like to experiment with ideas.

Reflective learners prefer to think information through first. They may prefer to work alone.

Everyone is a mix of both, with a preference for one, and the balance of the two is desirable.

Sensing and Intuitive Learners: Sensing learners like to learn facts, while intuitive learners often prefer discovering possibilities and relationships.

Sensors dislike surprises and complications. They may need to be given specific examples of abstract concepts.

Intuitors love innovation, and dislike repetition and rote memorization.

Visual and Verbal Learners: Visual learners love pictures, diagrams, charts, films and demonstrations. Verbal learners like written and spoken words best. But both learn more when the information is presented in combination. More people are visual learners, yet many courses, especially in college, are primarily verbal. Students may benefit by finding or creating their own visual cues.

Sequential and Global Learners: Sequential learners like to learn in linear steps, with each step following logically from the previous one. Global learners learn in big jumps, absorbing material almost randomly, then suddenly "getting it."

Sequential learners will follow logical steps to get to conclusions. Global learners may be able to solve complex problems quickly, or in novel ways, but may have difficulty explaining how they did it.

Many people think they are global, but use sequential skills to help bring the big picture together. Truly global learners really don't see the whole picture until the end. People who are too sequential have trouble applying data to other areas.

Multiple Intelligences: Developed by Harvard's Howard Gardner, it follows the principle that there are eight basic intelligences. Learning and teaching should focus on the particular intelligences of the student. Different cultures emphasize particular intelligences.

The eight intelligences are: Linguistic (poets and writers), Logical-Mathematical (scientists), Spatial (artists and inventors), Musical (singers, musicians), Bodily-Kinesthetic (dancers, athletes, surgeons), Interpersonal (sales people, teachers), Intrapersonal (therapists, entrepreneurs), Naturalists (anthropologists, environmentalists)

Gardner believes students should be encouraged to use their preferred intelligence or intelligences. Instruction and assessment should be tailored to recognize the different learning styles.

For example, one student might prefer to do a report on the Civil War, while others might prefer to perform a battle reenactment, or build a scale model of a battle. Teachers can encourage group projects in which all students can display their strengths.

Situated Cognition: This is a modern concept with ancient beginnings. Simply defined as reality-based learning, apprenticeships are one of the primary examples.

"It's a modern method from the middle ages," Ensminger said. "It's student teaching and hospital internships.

" In this method teachers serve as models and coaches, then fade into the background to allow the student to show and develop their knowledge. It's a model used extensively in vocational schools, but can be adapted to classroom learning.

"The fine line is knowing when to coach," Ensminger said. "You need to be very observant to know when a child really needs help, and when you're being intrusive."

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