Students as Learners

1-      Does intelligence change across the lifespan?

Continuous learning is a something I believe in. Certain researchers such as Vygotsky and Chomsky have theories relating to development through life, and how if certain needs are not met the result will affect development permanently. I do not hold these beliefs to be entirely true, and I have to side with Erikson that even though early experiences shape us we can revisit these personality traits later in life and modify them. The thought of changing intelligence could even reflect the idea of mental disablement in geriatrics, but much of this is due to co-morbidity with the entire body and not just the brain. Does intelligence level off at young adulthood and eventually deteriorate? It would seem that many people continue to gain not just knowledge, but the ability to learn new skills and ideas. It’s tough to argue against the leveling off of intelligence when we look at when most of our brilliant minds did their quintessential works, such as Einstein and Vygotsky, which is usually before they are 35 years old. Still I look at how adaptive some people over 70 are at learning new skills and technologies, which brings to mind that maybe in the past people leveled off because they could or expected, and now with technology and/or the need to change careers people have been motivated to adapt at later ages. It may be difficult for most people, but with incentive many are successful. Another factor is not just that older people in our time have difference expectations, but that they are living much longer than in the past. It’s hard to compare the cognitive growth of a sixty year old woman today with studies down a century ago. People used to retire at sixty, now people are lucky to retire in their seventies. Harvard Professor of Education Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot speaks firsthand, “We must develop a compelling vision of later life: one that does not assume a trajectory of decline after fifty, but one that recognizes it as a time of change, growth, and new learning; a time when ‘our courage gives us hope’” (2009).

2-      Is giftedness a blessing or a curse?

My first thought is that it is neither, that it just is, but maybe that’s an oversimplification. Pressley and McCormick mention that one of the greatest components in developing a prodigy or gifted child with a positive outcome is a supportive family (2007). Terman’s studies support this fact, though there were criticisms of his population studies concerning mostly non-minority middle to upper class children. I think we have take this in historical context whereas Terman was producing these studies in Northern California in the 1940s, and his subjects were recommended by teachers and parents. What kind of parents during this period had the time, aptitude and connections to recommend their children as geniuses? If the same studies were recreated now in the same area and structure the subjects and results would differ greatly. Many families from Indian and Chinese cultures pride themselves on their emphasis in educations, such as “Tiger Mothers,” but the trade off is immense pressure to succeed. To really understand a group of people I feel there is no better way than listen to those exact people. It was revolutionary when Temple Grandin started advocating for people with autism because the nature of the disability is a social constriction, so she was able to answer questions that no scientist could ever discover. On that note I submit Adora Svitak:

http://www.ted.com/talks/adora_svitak.html

To show both sides I found this British series highlighting child genius, and it very reminiscence of Searching for Bobby Fischer gone horribly wrong:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uYpaa-jWd2c

3-      How can you create a motivating classroom?  Cite Rafe’s teaching practice for examples.

One of my all time favorite quotes and book title is, “Teach Like Your Hair’s On Fire,” partly because it’s so outlandish and pertinent at the same time. Rafe’s approach is a little different than Medina’s (2008) thought about teaching things that are already interesting to a student, Rafe makes things interesting. One of first things I noticed about his classroom is that he tells the kids up front that it’s going to extremely difficult. He’s almost trying to scare them off with sayings like “Kill your television” and “There are no shortcuts,” but the kids get even more excited to be a part of it. Another impressive facet of his class environment that was the peer approval and support of each other, which I think stems from his positive enthusiasm, “Be nice, work hard.” He also makes use of the token system for rewarding good behavior and achievement, which is a very useful tool in any classroom. I had always heard of the reward system as a behavior modifier, but when I see it in action I’m reminded that many of my peers use it at some level.  Of all the things we can learn from Rafe in the classroom the most important is the exhilaration he shows for the subjects and learning, and his empathy for his students. All these things will help to create a motivating classroom, and teach us to become better educators. He tries to emulate the type of person we want the kids to be, and I think that will make us better people as well as teachers. Rafe had this to say to new teachers when they become discouraged, “This is a really hard job, this is a long journey. It’s a marathon, it’s not a sprint.”

Chapter 5 and 6

4-      Whose theories of development did you find more useful as a classroom teacher: Erikson or Vygotsky? Why?

Both theories have valid points, but one seems more applicable in the classroom. Vygotsky’s theories on inner speech and learning while playing (early childhood) are very significant, but his teaching method of scaffolding is particularly pertinent to the classroom to this day. Scaffolding is used very effectively for students with learning disabilities. These students need a lot of help on the front end of learning new information, and once they start to work things out on their own we as teachers start to remove the underlying structure until they are operating on their own. It’s as if we’re tricking them into learning. Like a parent helping as the child learns to ride a bike and as the child is focused on the task they don’t realize that they are already doing it by themselves. This reminds me of an a surprising argument to direct instruction brought to Siegfried Engelmann’s  (Kauffman & Landrum, 2006) attention from a teacher who had used direct instruction to break down tasks and provide immediate feedback. The teacher said they didn’t like the method because the kids “didn’t work hard enough.” Engelmann then would ask if the students had learned the content. The answer was yes, but for some reason various teachers need to see a struggle to consider it learning. It’s like the old adage, “if it doesn’t hurt, it’s not working.”

I found much of Erikson’s theories interesting and applicable. It was refreshing to see him expand his studies and theories over cultural and age boundaries. I can identify with his eight stages of development, and feel his stage on identity crisis is very pertinent to me in particular. While Erikson’s theories are extremely valid in most students’ lives, especially in mine, Vygotsky’s theories and methods are probably more appreciated when instructing children with disabilities. Even so, it was very informative reading through Erikson’s stages and adapting them to my own memories and upbringing. I thought it was appropriate that there was a picture of two adolescents with Mohawk haircuts (Pressley & McCormick, 2007, p. 148) when referring to the moratorium phase. Though I preferred a closely cropped shaved head I had many friends with Mohawks early in my life, and not a single one of them has one now, which confirms the his thoughts on the search for an identity.

Brain Rule 4

5-      Describe how you might create a humane emotionally charged classroom learning event.

This is a tough question for someone who is becoming a special education teacher. The complication is that we want to have emotionally connected and exciting lessons for our students, which is very achievable in a self contained environment because of the flexibility that having individualized education program (IEP) provide, but the conflict can be within the various disabilities and disorders presented in class. Many students in the special education classroom are struggling with emotion and behavior disorders (EBD), so a careful approach to these students would seem prudent. In these cases I will use the term emotional has a rousing of interest instead of an excited or agitated sensation. I am reminded of Medina’s reference to the initial apple computer commercial (2008), which I remember to this day because of the modern artistic allusion to George Orwell’s 1984. If I can create a section of curriculum that is that memorable for my students then I think it would be a huge success.

My idea for an emotionally charged lesson would include what initially drew me to pursue furthering my education, and that would be art. Now art in the special education (SE) environment is nothing new, but I would like to expand on the usual thought of finger painting and hand shaped turkeys. Much like the way the Rafe Esquith elevated mere classroom reading to Shakespeare when the general consensus was that it was over the children’s heads. I would like to delve into what I feel was the most instrumental fine art movement in history, The Impressionists. Rather than stare at the same old poster prints such as The Starry Night and Water Lilies by Van Gogh and Monet, even though both are favorites and Vincent is technically a Post-Impressionist, I would like to explore the background for this movement, the color theory, and the concepts which brought them notoriety and then fame. Many critics might think this is beyond most thinking of elementary aged children especially in SE classrooms, but I it could confirm Rafe’s idea that kids rise to meet expectations. This ongoing lesson theme would also include sensory integration (multimedia, film, tactile experiences, music, and even food), and that could be a way to break through barriers concerning students with learning disabilities.  It could include trips to the Children’s Art Museum, the Seattle Art Museum and the Frye Art Museum, where they all have art workshops for students. The lessons would be about more than just painting, but the emotional process behind painting what you see and feel. This could also contain lessons in primary and secondary colors, and the effects of sunlight and environment on what we observe. I would also take the kids outside (en plein air) to paint and study plants, biology and insects, which are always intriguing to younger children with or without disabilities. This would be an ongoing process throughout the school year, and capped off by an art show at a gallery or a hip coffee shop to raise money and awareness for their individual disabilities… and abilities!

Brain Rule 8

6-      What are the three parts of stress? Are you stressed right now? How do you know?

Yes! Aaaargh! Well, not that much… okay, maybe a little.

To quantify as stress according to Kim and Diamond you need to meet three criteria (Medina, 2008); first, “there must an aroused physiological response to the stress, and it must be measurable by an outside party;” second, “The stressor must be perceived as aversive;” and third, “The person must not feel in control of the stressor” (Medina, 2008, p. 173). It seems the hardest factor to achieve is also the easiest to measure, and that would be the fact of your stress being obvious to others around you. In our society people to want to avoid stressors and many feel a lack of control over them, but when other people start to notice the cracks in the shell then that’s usually when stress is at its extreme or when it been wearing someone down over time.

The most noticeable signs of stress in an adult that I observe are when my wife goes on an airplane or thinks I’m driving too close to another vehicle. Both experiences materialize instantly in her body language, she curls up in her seat, tends to gasp, and clutches for any bolted down piece of hardware.  In either example the second and third stress rules apply as well. Anyone with children sees the stress of everyday life affect them, and with a young child’s lack of locus of control, the third rule seems to pertain to them in everything from scratchy shirt tags to having a bedtime.

If I felt the stressors were to overpowering I could go back to my regular job or get one hamming nails for a living, so the third rule doesn’t fully apply to me at this time. The steady schedule of school combined with a full time job, two young children, two large dogs, and trying to keep a house from falling apart are all stressors, but none of them are things I would ever trade away, so the positive aspects of these things make the stress well worth it. The first rule about showing stress is less discernable when dealing with the slow burn of long hours and self induced pressure, but it’s there smoldering under the surface. The saving grace for these stressors is a time limit where I can see the light at the end of the tunnel, which is hopefully the break at the end of the school quarter and not a train (ugh, old joke). I reason that while I’m feeling stressors I’m am not consumed by stress.

References:

Lawrence-Lightfoot, S. (2009). The third chapter: Passion, risk, and adventure in the 25 years after 50. New York: Farrar, Straus, & Giroux.

Kauffman, J., & Landrum, T. (2006). Children and youth with emotional and behavioral disorders: A history of their education. Austin: Pro-Ed, Inc.

Medina, J. (2008). Brain rules: 12 principles for surviving and thriving at work, home, and school. Seattle: Pear Press.

Pressley, M., & McCormick, C. (2007). Child and adolescent development for educators. New York: The Guilford Press.

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