The Institute for Learner Centered Education Newsletters

TOPIC: LEVEL the PLAYING FIELD; THEN TRY NCLB

Volume #6, Edition #1 __________Date: January 03, 2005

During this first week of the new year, it seems appropriate to ask these four questions?

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    Are you are interested in a
    one-of-a-kind conference, July 18 - 22
    ? A ten percent discount is available to teams that submit a registration form prior to March 1. Information packets may be requested by sending an e-mail to
    dmesibov@twcny.rr.com Check out the website of The Institute for Learning Centered Education: www.learnercentereded.org or e-mail a request for information.

    The Institute is currently offering substantial discounts for teams that register prior to January 1 for the 2005 summer conference. Don’t miss the opportunity for this unique conference that models the constructivist behaviors that teachers are using increasingly in the classroom. Check out the website of The Institute for Learning Centered Education: www.learnercentereded.org or, e-mail a request for information.

    The author welcomes comments, feedback, reactions of any kind to the thoughts expressed (above).

    Please feel free to forward this message to a friend or colleague. If you know someone who would like to be put on the list, please send a message to Don Mesibov at dmesibov@twcny.rr.com.

    Copyright (c) 2005, Institute for Learning Centered Education. All
    rights reserved.

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    The Institute for Learner Centered Education Newsletters

    TOPIC: Defining Constructivism

    Volume #6, Edition #2 __________Date: January 10, 2005

    My major failure with my undergraduates, this semester, was in not doing enough (coaching) to help them understand that “constructivism” is a theory, not a strategy. However, I am pleased that most of them are able to define what a classroom environment based on constructivist theory would look like and they can identify and apply strategies that often build upon our understanding of how people learn.

    As I reflected upon my own teaching, I decided that if I want students to understand that constructivism is a theory:

    My experience is that most people equate constructivism with hands-on or interactive learning. Frequently, people define constructivism as being the antithesis of lecture. I find myself prone to lecturing that “A constructivist lesson can include lectures; an interactive lesson is not necessarily constructivist.” But these points are hard to get across.

    Recently, I called upon co-authors Pat Flynn, Paul Vermette, and Mike Smith to help me amplify on the definitions of “ constructivism” included in our books about standards-based constructivism and a two-step process for lesson design. We do state, in our books, that an interactive lesson must challenge students to think beyond the level of simple recall if it is based on constructivist theory. However, we have now tried to create a brief definition of “ constructivism” that focuses on the purpose of the lesson as the guiding principal for determining if the lesson is based on constructivist theory about how people learn.

    Please let us know if this definition is helpful; feel welcome to offer modifications or to raise questions.

    WHAT IS CONSTRUCTIVISM ?

    Constructivism is a theory
    Constructivism is a theory about knowledge and learning.*

    Constructivism is not a teaching strategy or a way of teaching. Constructivism is a theory which suggests that knowledge cannot be poured from one mind to another as if it were a liquid. Instead, people construct their own meanings. An effective teacher creates an environment that enables learners to access their prior knowledge and build new meanings.

    Purposes of a lesson based on constructivist Theory
    For a lesson to be constructivist the purpose must be to:

    What do we mean by “critical thinking”? The purpose of the lesson must be to force students to think at the higher levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy – evaluation, synthesis, analysis, application, and design. Evidence of students’ critical thinking is important because of its value to the teacher for improving instructional practice. It is also important because the reflection that often occurs when a student thinks critically is an important part of the learning process.

    The authors believe in standards-based constructivism. Some proponents of constructivism espouse the belief that the objective of a lesson is not as important as the learning process. Some go so far as to recommend that the objectives of lessons be chosen by the students. The authors’ brand of constructivism requires that lessons based on constructivist theory also address subject area standards.

    Understanding Requires Engagement
    Information, by itself, is of little value. Without engagement there is neither understanding nor the ability to apply. Because of what constructivist theory explains about how people learn, an effective lesson engages students with new information so that they can make connections with their prior knowledge. Therefore, to be effective, a lesson must begin by helping students to access and assess their prior knowledge and it must engage students with information so they can build upon their prior knowledge.

    Accessing and assessing prior knowledge is important for two reasons:

    * Brooks, Jacqueline Grennon and Brooks, Martin G., The Case for Constructivist Classrooms, 1993, ASCD.
    Lecture and Constructivism are Compatible

    It is a mistaken belief that there is no place for lecture in a lesson based on constructivist theory of how people learn. A lecture provides information. Information becomes meaningful when a lesson is structured to require students to actively engage with it. Therefore, an effective lesson provides information as well as methods of engagement. Each is equally important if students are to learn. Think of information and methods of engagement as separate categories. How a teacher imparts information and what the teacher does to force students to engage with the information are among the strategies a teacher elects to use based on her professional expertise. Examples of

    Examples of Methods of Providing Information

    Examples of Types of Engagement with Information

    . Lectures

    . Pair Share

    . Text books and other readings

    . Group activities

    . People/class guests

    . Tasks

    . Work sheets

    . Projects

     

    Therefore, a lecture – or any other teaching strategy – can be compatible with constructivist theory as long as it is part of a learning environment that is aligned with what we know about how people learn.

    The Learning Environment is Important
    The learning environment consists of all those things a teacher does to make students comfortable fighting their way through confusion. So the learning environment includes "the methods of providing information" and the arrangements that need to be made to accommodate the "types of engagement with information" she has selected to use. If a teacher’s beliefs are aligned with constructivist theory about how people learn, then the classroom environment will encourage critical thinking, dialogue (student to student and student to teacher), reflection, interdependence, and self reliance. A classroom may frequently appear chaotic with students working in groups, seated in circles, teaching each other and simultaneously engaging in different activities. However, at any one time, seats may be in rows and students may be sitting silently taking notes as a teacher, or someone else, addresses (lectures) the class.

    The purposes of the lesson should determine the appropriate classroom environment. A lecture to students seated in rows may not be the norm in a constructivist classroom, but it can be appropriate. Whether a lesson is building on what constructivist theory explains about how people learn depends on whether the classroom environment is designed for engaging the learner in critical thinking, giving evidence of students’ critical thinking, and fostering critical thinking as a habit of mind.

    Teaching Strategies are Important
    The teaching strategies a teacher uses are greatly influenced by "the type of engagement with information" the teacher has elected. In many instances they may be one and the same. Generally, teaching strategies which challenge students to think critically in the subject areas may include cooperative group work, authentic performance based tasks and performance assessments, portfolios, inquiry based learning, reflective activities, and activities that require students to teach each other. However, whether a teaching strategy is appropriate at a particular time can only be determined with regard to the purpose it is serving. Similarly, a good lecture can be appropriate if it is for the purpose of providing information as part of a larger process of student engagement to connect this information with prior knowledge and construct new meanings, and to force students to think critically.

    **** If you are interested in a one-of-a-kind conference, please reply by e-mail; we will immediately send you a packet of relevant information.

    A ten percent discount is available to teams that submit a registration form prior to March 1. Information packets may be requested by sending an e-mail to dmesibov@twcny.rr.com

    The Institute is currently offering substantial discounts for teams that register prior to January 1 for the 2005 summer conference. Don’t miss the opportunity for this unique conference that models the constructivist behaviors that teachers are using increasingly in the classroom. Check out the website of The Institute for Learning Centered Education: www.learnercentereded.org or, e-mail a request for information.

    The author welcomes comments, feedback, reactions of any kind to the thoughts expressed (above).

    Please feel free to forward this message to a friend or colleague. If you know someone who would like to be put on the list, please send a message to Don Mesibov at dmesibov@twcny.rr.com.

    Copyright (c) 2005, Institute for Learning Centered Education. All
    rights reserved.

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    The Institute for Learner Centered Education Newsletters

    TOPIC: PEANUTS and the RELEVANCE of INSTRUCTION

    Volume #6, Edition #3 __________Date: January 17, 2005

    In a recent PEANUTS cartoon in the Sunday papers, Sally is taking a short answer test.

    Question Number One: What is the capital of Cameroun ?

    Sally’s answer: When I grow up, I am going to be a hair dresser, and hair dressers obviously don’t have to know such things.

    Question Number Two: What is the length of the Rio Grande River ?

    Sally’s answer: When I grow up, I will also probably be a housewife, and could not care less about the length of the Rio Grande River .

    Question Number Three: What is the name of the largest pyramid?

    Sally’s answer: When I grow up, I will undoubtedly be a member of the smart set. We members of the smart set rarely discuss such things as pyramids.

    It doesn’t matter if Sally’s perceptions of the relevance of this information is correct. The perception of students like Sally IS the reality. If a student doesn’t perceive a lesson to be either relevant or just plain fun then the student is not motivated to learn and, even if the student does memorize for a test, the retention rate for the information will be brief.

    Students will be motivated to learn, understand, and apply new information if they are engaged in a task that has authenticity for them.

    A few years ago I worked with a group of excellent teachers on standards-based unit writing. A secondary math teacher was obviously uncomfortable with the unit she had been designing for several weeks. I asked her to share with us the learning objectives for her unit and she quickly named “quadrilaterals.”

    “Why is this important for students to know?” I asked.

    She hesitated so I rephrased my question: “What use will students ever have for this information?”

    Again she paused, and then finally responded, “I’m not sure I see the relevance, but I am required to teach it.”

    I have since shared this story with others and quite a few math teachers have been able to explain the relevance of “quadrilaterals” for students. What this otherwise excellent teacher needed to do was to challenge other teachers to explain the relevance to her before she attempted to teach it to her students. If she didn’t feel that what she was teaching was relevant to students’ lives (present or future) than how could she expect students to take an interest?

    Sally may not be right about the relevance to her future of capitals, river lengths, and pyramids, but unless the teacher can either help her to see the possible relevance or make the lesson fun so that Sally gains this information as a by-product of something she enjoys, what chance is there that Sally will try to learn about them? And if she does study (for fear of getting a bad grade) what are the chances she will retain what she learns? If teachers are interested in assessing meaningful learning, maybe instead of moving the test up so that students can be assessed before they forget, they should move the test back from the time of teaching the material so they can assess what students have really learned .

    The Institute is currently offering substantial discounts for teams that register prior to January 1 for the 2005 summer conference. Don’t miss the opportunity for this unique conference that models the constructivist behaviors that teachers are using increasingly in the classroom. Check out the website of The Institute for Learning Centered Education: www.learnercentereded.org or, e-mail a request for information.

    The author welcomes comments, feedback, reactions of any kind to the thoughts expressed (above).

    Please feel free to forward this message to a friend or colleague. If you know someone who would like to be put on the list, please send a message to Don Mesibov at dmesibov@twcny.rr.com.

    Copyright (c) 2005, Institute for Learning Centered Education. All
    rights reserved.

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    The Institute for Learner Centered Education Newsletters

    TOPIC: DEAR SUBSTITUTE: “ASK the STUDENTS!”

    Volume #6, Edition #4 __________Date: January 24, 2005

    Bruce Bonney and Jack Drury are major contributors to education reform through the work of their company, “Leading Edge.” Jack once said that one indication of a good teacher can be whether he can leave a lesson plan for a substitute that simply says, “Ask the students – they know what to do.”

    I reflected on this observation recently when I was two minutes late to my St. Lawrence University undergraduate class. As I approached the room, a team of four students was in front of the class directing peers in an activity. Seats had been rearranged into a circle to enable everyone to participate in a class discussion. Class was being conducted so effectively that I intentionally remained outside the classroom for a few minutes longer, out of sight of the students, to enable them to take even more pride in their ability to run their own class.

    This was the tenth class of the year. It had taken a little while for students to become familiar with the class routine, but they had obviously reached a point of familiarity with each other and with my expectations that they didn’t need me there every second of the time in order to begin the learning process.

    Before you chalk this off as something that can only happen at the college level, I want to share that I have e-mails from a 4th grade teacher in Elmira, several years ago, who described the roles she has created for her students – from attendance taker, to timekeeper, to activity initiator. This teacher, similarly, described a classroom environment where students often take responsibility for their own learning and, on days when the teacher is absent, the fourth graders are capable of behaving appropriately and conducting their own class. It might not be realistic to go to the extreme of expecting a 4th grade class to function without the presence of an adult, but it is possible for it to supervise its own learning -perhaps continue work on a project that was begun under the regular teacher’s guidance –as long as a substitute’s presence is there to oversee discipline and as long as the students know that their regular teacher will receive a report on their behavior and will be expecting to see progress on whatever products they are working on in her absence.

    What is necessary for a teacher to bring a class to the point of running itself? Here are some thoughts:

    When students are trained to run their own class, with assistance rather than total direction from the substitute, not only is the time spent in the regular teacher’s absence more valuable in terms of student learning, but the pride of accomplishment felt by the students is substantial. Even at the college level, the journal entrees of my students for the few classes that I have missed entirely (but put students in charge) reflect surprise, and pride, at how much was accomplished in my absence.

    Most teachers are fearful of being out of their class – having students miss a day of work. Perhaps we can view an absence as an opportunity rather than lost time.

    The Institute is currently offering substantial discounts for teams that register prior to January 1 for the 2005 summer conference. Don’t miss the opportunity for this unique conference that models the constructivist behaviors that teachers are using increasingly in the classroom. Check out the website of The Institute for Learning Centered Education: www.learnercentereded.org or, e-mail a request for information.

    The author welcomes comments, feedback, reactions of any kind to the thoughts expressed (above).

    Please feel free to forward this message to a friend or colleague. If you know someone who would like to be put on the list, please send a message to Don Mesibov at dmesibov@twcny.rr.com.

    Copyright (c) 2005, Institute for Learning Centered Education. All
    rights reserved.

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    The Institute for Learner Centered Education Newsletters

    TOPIC: Am I an “AUTHENTIC TASK” CONSTRUCTIVIST?

    Volume #6, Edition #5 __________Date: January 31, 2005

    The difference between utilizing constructivist strategies and identifying yourself as a constructivist teacher could be compared with the difference between baking some excellent dishes and calling oneself a chef. In the first instance, we are focusing on only one piece of a much larger “whole;” in the other we are putting many pieces together into a system.

    Here is a self-assessment to see how constructivist you are and whether you are an “Authentic Task” constructivist:

    Are you are interested in a one-of-a-kind conference, July 18 – 22? A ten percent discount is available to teams that submit a registration form prior to March 1. Information packets may be requested by sending an e-mail to dmesibov@twcny.rr.com Check out the website of The Institute for Learning Centered Education: www.learnercentereded.org or e-mail a request for information.

    The author welcomes comments, feedback, reactions of any kind to the thoughts expressed (above).

    Please feel free to forward this message to a friend or colleague. If you know someone who would like to be put on the list, please send a message to Don Mesibov at dmesibov@twcny.rr.com.

    Copyright (c) 2005, Institute for Learning Centered Education. All
    rights reserved.

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    The Institute for Learner Centered Education Newsletters

    TOPIC: Student “Relevance” and Professional Development

    Volume #6, Edition #6 __________Date: February 07, 2005

    Our good friend GS Kumar, from India, responded to a recent newsletter (Peanuts and the Relevance of Instruction) with this observation:

    Here is the response I forwarded to GS Kumar:

    Are you are interested in a one-of-a-kind conference, July 18 – 22? A ten percent discount is available to teams that submit a registration form prior to March 1. Information packets may be requested by sending an e-mail to dmesibov@twcny.rr.com Check out the website of The Institute for Learning Centered Education: www.learnercentereded.org or e-mail a request for information.

    The author welcomes comments, feedback, reactions of any kind to the thoughts expressed (above).

    Please feel free to forward this message to a friend or colleague. If you know someone who would like to be put on the list, please send a message to Don Mesibov at dmesibov@twcny.rr.com.

    Copyright (c) 2005, Institute for Learning Centered Education. All
    rights reserved.

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    The Institute for Learner Centered Education Newsletters

    TOPIC: Vermette’s Wild Ride through the Digestive System -- a middle school science lesson --

    Volume #6, Edition #7 __________Date: February 14, 2005

    Author, researcher, professor extraordinaire Paul Vermette did, February 4, what I don’t think anyone else would attempt to do, and he did it, as he has been doing since 1998, with an effectiveness no one could surpass.

    Applying his unmatched ability to generate student interaction, consider the multiple intelligence strengths of all people, and engage students in meaningful thought and dialogue, Dr. Vermette taught seven classes at the Massena middle school in subjects ranging from DBQs in social studies, to atoms in science, to changing units in math, and to poetry and persuasive writing in English. His students ranged in ability and included some with special needs. He taught the scheduled classes while the teacher of each class, and several other teachers, observed. Also observing were retired Lockport middle school principal Ted Werner who is currently teaching at Niagara University and two St. Lawrence University students, Tim Morse and Kelly Scott.

    For this newsletter, here is a chronological description of the lesson taught by Dr. V. on “Characteristics of Phylum Anneilida” to a 7th grade science class of approximately 20 students.
    (Bold face type indicates observations by Ted Werner or one of the Massena teachers who was observing):

    The young man, seated near Mr. Werner, had written only two items on his own list and then began doodling an excellent picture of a car. When Dr. V. asked the class to move around and check the lists of other students, this young man turned and asked, “What are we supposed to be doing?”

    Our thanks to Deb Beaulieu and the parent involvement team of the William J. Leary Junior High School for arranging Paul’s visit – an outgrowth of his work with them at the 2004 summer constructivist conference. Our thanks, also, to the principal, Pat Brady, the curriculum coordinator, Judy Leary, and superintendent Doug Huntley for their active support and for, each, observing at least one class and thereby validating and reinforcing the efforts of their middle school teaching staff.

    Thanks, Deb; you and your colleagues are terrific!

    Are you are interested in a one-of-a-kind conference, July 18 – 22? A ten percent discount is available to teams that submit a registration form prior to March 1. Information packets may be requested by sending an e-mail to dmesibov@twcny.rr.com Check out the website of The Institute for Learning Centered Education: www.learnercentereded.org or e-mail a request for information.

    The author welcomes comments, feedback, reactions of any kind to the thoughts expressed (above).

    Please feel free to forward this message to a friend or colleague. If you know someone who would like to be put on the list, please send a message to Don Mesibov at dmesibov@twcny.rr.com.

    Copyright (c) 2005, Institute for Learning Centered Education. All
    rights reserved.

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