Types of Teaching and Learning
Foundational Ideas
The "How" of a 21st Century One Room Schoolhouse
Traffic Engineering, a metaphor for teaching
How to Think Like a Teacher
The Mechanics of the Violin Bow, by Carolyn Osborne
The Teaching/Learning Relationship

Joel Speyer's power point for introducing himself to the classroom (this kind of thing could be really useful).


Tobie's response to Joel: Love it!!! You respected the children's curiosity...made a 'professional" entrance into the classroom, provided rich vocabulary (essential question), invited the students to be your partners in learning and teaching, and clairified your expectations in one engaging experience.
Way to go! T

Joel's thought process:
Through the PPT presentation I introduced myself to the 3rd grade students. I thought it might be fun to let them generate some questions, so I didn't tell them too much during the introduction. When I was finished I asked if anyone had any other questions they wanted to ask. I was a little intimidated by the number of hands that went up, and I didn't want to allow an inappropriate question to undermine the authority I was trying to establish, so I made a split decision not to answer any questions immediately. I asked that students give me their questions written on a piece of paper, and told them that I would answer some later in the day. I answered a few questions that afternoon, and more students began writing questions. This ritual became known as Mr. Speyer's Mailbox and is something that the students really look forward to!

In addition to being a fun student-directed activity, I realized that the Mailbox gives me a soapbox to talk to the students about topics that I think are important for children to think about, such as eating healthy.


Types of Teaching and Learning

One of the things Tobie and I are trying to do is to create a model of the twenty-first century one room school house. In other words, we believe that every classroom has as many grade levels in it as a typical one room school house. Those teachers succeeded in teaching students at multiple grade levels and they didn't have computers to help them out. Sometimes they had very little in the way of school resources, and yet they did their job.

We have computers and Tobie and I believe that computer technology is key to being able to teach each student at his or her level of challenge.

However, it is one thing to have this belief and quite another to put it into practice. Our goal is to find ways to put individualized education into practice.
back to top


Foundational Ideas

There are some foundational ideas that contribute to this belief, and here they are:

Disruptive innovation suggests that computers are a disruptive technology in the field of education which means that computers will drastically shift how we do education.

Universal Design for Learning attempts to level the playing field for all students through the use of technology. UDL practitioners point out that accommodations made for one group of students actually benefit all students.

Imaginative Education IE suggests specific ways of engaging students in learning.

Funds of Knowledge Funds of Knowledge suggests that students come to school with a knowledge bank. If we draw on that knowledge bank and extend it via our curriculum, students will find learning a lot easier and more movtivational.

Reading/Writing Workshop Nancie Atwell and others have created a way of doing individualized literacy in the classroom. These principles and the philosophy that accompanies them can be adapted and actually made easier through the use of technology.
back to top


The "How" of 21st Century One Room School House


See also Multi-Age and Multi-grade Classrooms for resources
If we are going to actually put computers Using Technology in the Classroom to use in the classroom effectively, then we have to think about how we plan to use them. In order to do this, we need to think about the types of learning that need to happen. Right now, we have three types: skills, processes, and knowledge.

Skills are things that students learn how to do. Some of these skills are related to the curriculum, such as the ability to sound out words or the ability to reduce a couple of fractions to their lowest common denominator. Some skills are related to the process of learning, such as the skill of being able to find information. There are skills related to being able to "do" school, such as being able to label one's own belongings and being able to find a book in the library. There are also skills related to the work ethic: being able to structure one's own time or being able to read the clock and factor that information into work plans. Finally, there are skills related to being part of a classroom community, such as being able to function in a specific role in a group or being able to problem solve.

Processes are things that students use in order to accomplish a school-related task. These are items that have a different outcome. In other words, the skill of reducing fractions leads to the same answer time after time, given the same numbers. The process of approaching a mathematical problem (e.g., the order of functions) is a process that leads to different answers each time. Curricular examples would be using the process of figuring out words in context to attack new vocabulary. Process of learning skills would be knowing how to break down large tasks into smaller, do-able ones and knowing how to organize one's work. "Doing" school includes knowing how to operate in a classroom (e.g., knowing where to store one's work, knowing when to sharpen a pencil without disturbing others, knowing how to move from one place to another in a school across contexts--with or without one's fellow class members). Work ethic processes include being able to plan one's work and being able to put oneself to work even when the motivation is not strong. Classroom community processes involve knowing how to address problems other students have, knowing how to be part of welcoming a new student, knowing how to address someone who is beginning to be a bully.

Knowledge is having a collection of information at one's fingertips. Curricular knowledge includes knowing the multiplication facts. Learning skill knowledge is metacognitive--knowing how one's brain works so that one can use that in the learning process. "Doing" school knowledge means knowing where things are in the building and which people to talk with about what. Work ethic knowledge includes metacognitive knowledge about options for getting work done, such as the possibility of using a timer. Classroom community knowledge includes knowing that people think differently and knowledge of different kinds of content (e.g., culturally-related content that is significant to the classroom).

We can therefore create a chart of the types of learning:


Skill
Process
Knowlege
Curriculum



Learning skills



Doing school



Work ethic



Classroom community




The point of this chart is that different forms of learning can take place in different contexts. For example, a lot of knowledge-type learning can be done using computer technology. Information can be presented on the computer in multiple formats and available for students to go over as many times as they want. Lecture is an extremely inefficient means for delivering knowledge because it is limited in terms of format and learners cannot adjust the speed at which the information is delivered. Learners also cannot have the lecture repeated at will unless they taped it (and then the format is still limited). Educational Psychology is an example of a course where students need to develop quite a lot of knowledge. I provide them with an illustrated power point on all topics (visual learners), mp3 files, texts to read, and videos.

There are some processes and skills that can be developed on the computer. Simulations offer students opportunity to try out skills and digital video allows students to view people modeling the processes we want students to use. For example, if we want students to use a particular process in reading, two or three videos that students can view multiple times of people actually using that process can help students to learn the process.

Just like there are certain skills that are best learned on the computer, there are other skills and processes that can only be learned through interaction with other people. Classroom community skills such as being able to work constructively in a group can only be learned by experience. If we consider using the computer for individualized access to knowledge over time, then we can make deliberate decisions about students working together in groups to develop the community skills.

Another type of learning that cannot be done at the computer is kinesthetic. In other words, students need opportunities to move a lot in the classroom. The more we have students moving in terms of learning experiences and exercise/stretching breaks, the better students will learn and behave. There are some students who need to be in almost constant motion. These students should be accommodated with seating options that allow movement (e.g., a pilates ball while doing computer work).


The following pdf has information about the kinds of knowledge people need to have in relation to computer technology. This article is useful for discerning some of the types of teaching we need to be doing.

Also, here is an article about quantitative literacy. It is necessary for us to really think about what people need to know in order to succeed and then figure out how to teach that.

back to top


Traffic Engineering
See also:
Kids are not French Fries
The Tyranny of the Bell Curve
Tobie and I have slowly been moving toward the idea of the teacher as engineer. This began, probably, when I started writing about troubleshooting the reading process and we have been moving steadily in that direction since then. Today I decided to do some research on what exactly an engineer does. What I like about this metaphor is that it suggests that there are rules and rigor--engineers have to know about the properties of the materials they use--but it also recognizes that engineers have brains, unlike the "teacher as technician" which is implied by highly scripted teaching materials. It also possibly opens up some new ways of thinking about teacher education.

Well, actually, it opens up a lot more than that, because in the process of doing research, I stumbled upon "traffic engineering." Now, I like to drive and when I drive I think about why different traffic engineering decisions have been made. I do this especially if I am on Ohio Route 315 going to Delaware, and I am just south of Powell Road during rush hour. Let's just say that one has a lot of time to think while waiting to get through the light at that intersection. So, I investigated traffic engineering and then I shared what I found with Tobie and we had a great time getting excited about this as a metaphor. I'm going to try to capture some of what we said and then my next challenge will be to try to figure out how to teach a class as a traffic engineer.

The Arizona Dept. of Transportation got us started on this route (see how easily travelling metaphors come?):
http://www.azdot.gov/Highways/Traffic/Trafeng.asp

Here is one thing they say about the whole field of traffic engineering:
"Traffic Engineering applies engineering principles to help solve transportation problems, and brings into play a knowledge of psychology and habits of users of the transportation systems."

Wow!! That's what we do as teachers! One way to approach the traffic engineering metaphor is to imagine knowledge as a large country, not unlike the United States.

map_of_knowledge.jpg
There are some things that maybe are close to each others. There are some destinations that only a few people want to go. There are some destinations we expect everyone to go.

So, as traffic engineers, we have to construct the ways to get from one place to another in the magical journey of learning. Now in the real world, there are usually several ways to get from one place to another, despite what Bert and I have to say:

When I am in a hurry to get somewhere, I take the freeway. Even if it is a couple of miles out of my way, because I can go fast and because there are no traffic lights, it is worth taking the freeway to save time.

If, however, I have to travel during rush hour, something which I have arranged my life so I don't have to, I don't take the freeway because they turn into parking lots. I take the surface streets.

My husband hates the freeway. He gets really nervous even though he has acknowledged many times that I am a good driver. His means of transportation when he was a little kid was a mule and wagon (no kidding) and the freeways are a little fast for him. So, when he is in the car, I often take the streets, usually the main streets where I can go 35 mph. Sometimes when I am going somewhere, I like to try a new route, often without a map. So, I drive in the general direction I want to go and see if I can get there. It's always interesting, but that way I am often driving on small residential streets. Getting there in that case is more than half the fun. Usually I manage to get there!!

Another characteristic I have is that I don't like left turns. The street where I live is one way, going towards High Street, which is a big, busy street. Most of the time if I have to turn left on High Street, I take the alleys to a street with a light. I only make that left turn when I know the street will be quiet. During snow storms. Also, after 7 p.m. During the Superbowl. I know people who don't mind making that turn even when High Street is busy. More power to 'em, but don't make me do that!

When you are traveling on the roads, you notice all kinds of vehicles. Motorcycles, motorized skateboards, 18-wheel semi trucks, oversized trucks carrying a house or even a turbine:

On city streets and rural roads, there might be bicycles, horses with wagons (in Amish country), tractors, gigantic farm equipment with tires the size of a small house, minivans, SUVs, electric cars, hybrids, dump trucks, police cars, fire trucks, etc.

All of these go at different speeds and no one says that a semi is deficient because it is different from a Hummer or that a Porsche is strange because it is different from a pair of roller skates. These forms of transportation suit the people they carry. Some people like going fast and others don't. It's fun riding a bike somewhere because of how quiet it is and how easily you can hear the sounds of nature near you.

Also all these are going different places for different reasons. Some people have to go to a place either for work or to handle a problem they are having. Some people have to go to the emergency room--QUICKLY!!!! Some people like to take a Sunday drive. Some people get on a bus with a lot of other people and they all go the same place. Some people travel alone or just with one person.

Yet all of these people are traveling on roads designed by traffic engineers, with signs that traffic engineers designed and placed for your safety and information, with traffic signals put in place by traffic engineers.

On some roads, there are places to pull off if you have a problem. There is a big hill on Interstate 64 going east in West Virginia. At the bottom of the hill is a place for runaway semi trucks--it is marked with a lot of signs, "Runaway Truck Ramp" --as you go down the hill. The place is a big, long pit of sand and there are a lot of large yellow rubbery-looking barrells, presumably which would be reasonably soft to crash into after the sand has slowed you down. Traffic engineers are really concerned about everyone's safety.

Okay, how is this like teaching?

Well, each person is really on his or her own journey in this gigantic place of knowledge. Like the driver or user of any type of vehicle, each person makes a decision of where to go, how to get there, why they are going, and so forth. Drivers may be required to go one place, such as a court hearing for a crime they have been accused of committing, but they still have a choice: to show up or to forfeit bail. There are not that many ways to force a person to go somewhere--maybe the back of a police car--but for the most part, people make a choice about where they go.

As teachers, we do not create the knowledge, the various possible destinations or stops along one's life journey. Instead, our job is to facilitate the trip, and to do so safely!!

Just as traffic engineers think about how people are going to travel on a road (fast, slow, times for rush hour, etc.), we as teachers need to create different paths towards knowledge to accommodate the different ways people travel.

Another realy powerful part of this metaphor is that there is no assumption about "normal" or "not normal." Semis are normal, but so are VW Beetles. Inline skates are normal and so are mountain bikes. Traffic engineers don't demand that everyone travel at a particular speed to a particular place; instead, they make it safe so people can travel at different speeds and by different routes. They accommodate the needs of all travelers without thinking of one group of travelers as some kind of "problem" for which there needs to be "special" means of traveling.

It would be ridiculous to require people to travel at the same speed. Even on super highways, there is a range. You are supposed to travel at least 40 mph, but in Ohio trucks have to keep their speed to 55 (ha ha) and of course, cars can go 65 and police cars can go as fast as they need to. That is quite a range of speed. Probably at least a range of 60 miles per hour.

But in schools, we have everyone on their different forms of transportation, and we lay out the route for them, even if that route doesn't work. And we complain that the motorcyclist doesn't like traveling in the rain or that the person on stilts can't keep up with the Jaguar..

Our goal here is to figure out how to apply the traffic engineering metaphor--to create ways in which teachers can be engineers, with a set of tools and a lot of knowledge about how to use them, but also context-sensitive discretion, which engineers are allotted and teachers have not been.
back to top


Thinking Like a Teacher

Carolyn here:
This summer I set out to learn a programming language, Python. In the process of perusing web-based tutorials for Python, I ran across a book called "How to Think Like a Computer Scientist," which is an Open Book available on the web: http://openbookproject.net/thinkCSpy/index.html. I thought about it and I wondered if anyone had written up "How to Think Like a Teacher." Google yielded some interesting things such as a discussion of classroom discipline (which I believe is only one aspect of thinking like a teacher) and studies on student teachers.

Then I started thinking about first principles, as I am wont to do. What is teaching, for that matter? Definitions looked fairly tautological (a teacher is one who teaches).

If learning is a cognitive change, then teaching is a way of facilitating cognitive change. There are many facets to this process in that people do not change when under stress, so interpersonal relationships are crucial to the foundation of teaching. But what of the technical aspect of teaching?

I read the following paragraph in How To Think Like a Computer Scientist:

1. The way of the program
The goal of this book is to teach you to think like a computer scientist. This way of thinking combines some of the best features of mathematics, engineering, and natural science. Like mathematicians, computer scientists use formal languages to denote ideas (specifically computations). Like engineers, they design things, assembling components into systems and evaluating tradeoffs among alternatives. Like scientists, they observe the behavior of complex systems, form hypotheses, and test predictions.

The single most important skill for a computer scientist is problem solving. Problem solving means the ability to formulate problems, think creatively about solutions, and express a solution clearly and accurately. As it turns out, the process of learning to program is an excellent opportunity to practice problem-solving skills. That’s why this chapter is called, The way of the program. (http://openbookproject.net/thinkCSpy/ch01.html).

To me, it was a pretty good description of the technical aspect of teaching: how to get a grasp on someone else's understandings of the world and how to design experiences for students that lead to cognitive change. So here is my rewrite:

The Way of Teaching
The goal of this wiki is to teach you to think like a teacher. This way of thinking combines some of the best features of mathematics, engineering, and natural science along with psychology. Like mathematicians, teachers must be careful in their use of language, in part by being consistent so that students will not get confused and in part by recognizing the different ways in which students are likely to interpret language and using language in a way that reflects this sensitivity. Like engineers, teachers design things, assembling learning experiences designed to meet the cognitive needs of one or more students. Like scientists, teachers observe the behavior of complex systems, form hypotheses, and test predictions. Like psychologists, teachers are concerned with how people develop from infants to adults, how to communicate, and how to establish an emotional climate in which people are likely to learn.

The single most important skill for a teacher is problem solving. Problem solving means the ability to formulate problems, think creatively about solutions, and express a solution clearly and accurately. As it turns out, the process of teaching is an excellent opportunity to practice problem-solving skills.

What Does This Mean?
I have taught violin for many years, and it is a good example of the technical aspects of teaching, in part because the mechanics of the violin are so visible.

Here is what I have to say on the mechanics of the violin bow:

Part one:
Part two:
back to top

The point of these two articles is that learning to use a violin bow is a complex undertaking.

When I teach, I first ask the student to play for me and I watch and listen very carefully as he or she is doing so. I look at the mechanics of the bow in relation to the sound the student is making and I also decide what the most significant issue is for this person. For example, some people might have a bow that is not parallel to the bridge and some might be playing too far over the fingerboard. If a student is doing both, I think about which one is the most significant influence on sound for that person.

Then, I take care of psychological needs first. I talk to the student about what I hear that is some form of accomplishment on the student's part. I might ask the student what he or she thinks was strong about this performance.

After we discuss what the student has succeeded in doing, I get ready to address whatever issue I think might help the student. This I often do in terms of "now you are ready to learn such and such." In other words, I'm not correcting a mistake. I'm extending learning.

I explain whatever mechanics I need to at the time, such as the need to play close to the bridge, and then I encourage the student to experiment with the mechanics--try out playing near the fingerboard or too close to the bridge. Students get a feeling of success when they play with my suggested mechanics and the sound improves markedly. There we have it: cognitive change. Not that they get into a habit right away, but they have some new knowledge and they apply it intermittently but can make reference to it when I make reference to it in the future.

Watching and listening is how I assess. I am a scientist observing and making hypotheses. I am an engineer looking at structures.

Then I use language carefully to communicate with the student. My goal in language use is to be clear, specific, and encouraging. That is why I focus on success and on "you are ready to learn something new" rather than "let's fix this."

My communication of the new information is verbal and also a demonstration at first. Then it becomes experiential as the student not only plays the "correct" way but also tries out less successful ways.

How does this apply to reading?

The mechanics of reading (insert any part of the curriculum here) are less visible than those of the violin bow. Yet through reverse engineering via conversations with kids, we can figure out what a student knows about something. Once we figure out what the student knows and what the student does not know yet, our choice as a teacher is to figure out what would be the most helpful thing for the student to learn. My question to myself is, what information would make the biggest difference in this person's ability to produce sound on the violin? Sometimes it is left-hand related (as in pitch or vibrato) and sometimes it is the bow or coordination between both hands. After I answer that question, I design a teaching process/learning experience that will help the student take on the new information and skills.

Sometimes the learning experience has to be engineered to accommodate the developmental level of the student. For example, I was teaching an 8 year old about the need to use a larger amount of bow for each note. When I tried what I would tell an adult ("use more bow when you play that" along with a brief demonstration of what I meant), she started slurring or putting several notes in one bow direction. Well, that was good because she had not been able to do that skill before, so I was happy about that and told her so. But I still needed to get her to use a longer bow for each note: instead of using 1.5 inches of bow per note I wanted her to use about 4 inches of bow.

So, I put two stickers (stars) on her bow about four inches apart and asked her to play a note going from star to star. Then she played a song she knew making sure she went from star to star. The psychological part of this was that she got to choose the color of the stars and also the fact that I put them on my bow too. She also discovered that when she went from star to star, the sound she produced was better.

This student was perfectly capable of pulling off playing with the longer bow, but my first attempt at getting her to do this was not successful. Rather than trying to "correct" what she was doing following my first attempt at instruction (particularly since what she did was actually something good and I didn't want to "correct" that skill), then I changed gears and tried the stars, thinking that the stars would be a concrete representation of what I wanted her to do, which was developmentally appropriate.

What is the take home message?

1. When a student does not learn, we need to look at our teaching procedures rather than blaming the student.
2. It is more positive (and motivational) to add to learning rather than "correcting."
3. Focus on the one thing that can make the biggest difference in what the student is doing, especially as you are getting to know the student. This provides a foundation of success in your relationship with that student and in that student's experience with learning. Refinements can be added as the relationship is built.
4. Remember there is more than one way to get something across. You might have to try several. Instead of focusing on students' deficits in this process, focus on "hey let's try..."

How do I do this in a classroom of people?

First off, for any given subject matter, there are probably at least a couple of kids who could benefit from a similar focus to instruction. Also, this is the reason that we are advocating the use of One Room Schoolhouse Teaching techniques as well as the use of technology: students need individualized approaches to learning.
back to top


The teaching/learning relationship

I was asked by Casey Barnes what characteristics were essential to a good teacher. I gave a verbal answer, but here I would like to consider this more indepth and to change what I said a little.

1. Maturity. Teachers must possess the two most important types of maturity that Juanita Price and I identified: emotional maturity and ethical maturity (http://juanitaprice.blogspot.com). This means that teachers must be able to make choices about how they express their emotions, particularly the emotions they have that reflect personal hurt. Also, teachers must be unselfish, which means being willing to make personal sacrifices for the well-being of their students.

The ethics of teaching include understanding how authority works in teaching and making choices that acknowledge that reality. Teaching is a funny sort of field because it requires one person (the teacher) to do something that affects the other person (the student) and yet the student has the authority. Students choose whether or not to learn. So part of the ethics of teaching include respecting that authority.

How do you respect the authority of the student?

First, we need to learn who the student is so we can connect the curriculum to the student. Secondly, we need to care about the whole student which means taking time to be aware of the student's life. Thirdly, we need to recognize that human beings are learning beings and trust people to learn. This means that we don't have to use institutional authority to make people learn (which actually isn't possible). Instead, we have to create intrinsically interesting learning options (which can only be done if we know our students), we have to scaffold the learning where necessary so students feel supported in their learning, and we have to make sure that the learning experiences we create have tangible utility in the lives of students and that we communicate this to them.

2. Client-centered therapy-stance towards students. Carl Rogers created client-centered therapy and the stance he believed therapists should take was characterized by:

  • Listen and try to understand how things are from the client's point of view.
  • Check that understanding with the client if unsure.
  • Treat the client with the utmost respect and regard.
  • There is also a mandate for the therapist to be "congruent", or "transparent" - which means beingself-aware, self-accepting, and having no mask between oneself and the client. The therapist knows themselves and is willing to be known. (http://world.std.com/~mbr2/cct.html).

Teachers and counselors are in the business of helping people change their minds. Rogers identifies the emotional climate that makes this possible.

3. Intellectual curiosity. Juanita Price said "The example you set is your authority to speak; no example, no authority." We cannot ask students to learn unless we provide the example by being learners ourselves. This means being excited about knowledge and being willing to share that excitement. The world is full of amazing things to learn and learning is a fun and interesting thing to do.

4. One of the ways we get into trouble as teachers is when we assume that a student can pick up critical pieces of information solely by osmosis. We often project our own learning styles on others, so if we figured out something on our own without being told it, then we figure our students don't need to be told that thing.

In fact, we need to be willing to think through any thing that we want to teach in terms of all the information and abilities that contribute to the task so that we can figure out whether the student has enough foundation to accomplish the task successfully.

This is one of the hardest parts of teaching: to be able to identify exactly where a student is having a problem even when you have never had a student have the same problem, and then to create a way to solve that problem--a new explanation, a new way of breaking down the whole thing, or whatever. In order to do this, you have to be a kid watcher--you have to observe and listen very carefully to find out what the student understands (schemas) and where the understanding breaks down.

The reason I think of this as engineering is that it is thinking about a system that you are creating. The courses I teach are a system. Over time I change the system as I watch people interact with it. For example, a lot of people have had a hard time doing online courses, so recently I broke up each week's work into five one-hour segments. That is a structural decision that has helped students be more successful in completing the course in general. Beyond the engineering is the relationship that I have with each student which helps me to help each student individually. But thinking through the system, whether it is the classroom environment, the structure of a lesson, the structure of an assignment, or the structure of a whole course, is a critical piece of work because it is through developing the system that you can either add or remove barriers to learning.

I believe that when we undertake the job of teaching that we are obligated to do so, which means that if our students fail to learn, then we have failed to teach and we haven't done our job. Engineering is a way of looking at the teaching job in order to figure out what needs to be done to ensure that every student can master the material. Part of this involves using principles of UDL to ensure that students have access to the types of materials from which they can best learn. Part of this involves breaking down the items that need to be learned into the types of learning (need link here) so that the teacher can figure out the most efficient approach to the learning. Part of this involves analyzing tasks in minute detail to ensure that all the steps in learning are available (but then also using wisdom to make sure no one has to learn things that they are capable of figuring out all by themselves). In other words, as teachers, we want to be sure there is information available on all aspects of what we are teaching and that the information is easily findable for students, but, different from behaviorist philosophies, we believe teachers can figure out which students need the additional information and which students don't. Finally, part of engineering is to basically reverse engineer students' schemes. Reverse engineering means taking a product and figuring out how it was made. When a student creates a product, we can use the principles of reverse engineering to figure out the schemas the student has about that topic or process or skill. Reverse engineering is a form of assessment. The nice thing about it is that it uses actual authentic productions of the student instead of artificial tests.

5. Creativity. The ability and desire to approach problems with interest and the potential to generate new perspectives.
back to top