Development can be defined as changes that are happening all throughout the time of your life. These changes are not sporadic and are a response to your surroundings. Developmental changes that occur can be physical (getting taller), cognitive (increased understanding of knowledge), or social (being able to speak). Development generally occurs in a somewhat non-sporadic fashion; however, it is not the same for every child or person as everyone develops in a different time frame. What's important to remember is through development we're always being changed by either something to do with our environment or how we’re brought up. However, our natural tendency all throughout life is to stay at equilibrium (balanced state). Through this semester we've learned three different theories of development: brain, Piaget's and Vygotsky's. The one that resonates with me the most is Piaget's theory of Cognitive Development.
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Through Piaget's studies, he came to the conclusion that children are always learning and they want to learn, however, the catch is that only when it's something they're interested in. Meaning if a child is very interested in dinosaurs, they will actively seek out more information about them but if you're trying to teach the child mathematics; it's going to be very difficult to get their attention. Additionally, he believed that children learn through the process of assimilation and accommodation. Children are constantly building and/or altering their schemas of the world around them. Schemas are the building blocks of thinking that are changed through time and become more complicated. Through assimilation, children assimilate (learn) new information to their own schema. For example, if a child only knows apples to be red and sees a green apple for the first time; they're assimilating this new information (apples can be green) to the preexisting schema. Through accommodation, children make a new schema when they experience something that doesn't fall under an already created schema. For example, if a child knows only red fruits to be apples and they see a tomato for the first time, they're ccommodating that experience and creating a new schema of a tomato. The tomato didn’t fit into a schema they already had made, which is why they had to create a new schema of a tomato. Assimilation and accommodation are all techniques made to stay at equilibrium (balance), and thanks to this natural tendency, this is how we learn. This teaches us that as teachers, we need to realize that our students are going to be entering our classroom with their own schemas of the subject matter we're going to be teaching. We need to make appropriate preparations in order to meet and engage each student.
Piaget also outlines his four stages of cognitive development that will happen through a person's lifetime. The first stage is sensorimotor and often occurs from ages 0-2. As the name implies, infants and toddlers learn from their motor activity and interaction with the environment (senses). The two biggest accomplishments in this stage are object permanence (object still exists even when they can't see it) and goal-orientated actions. The second stage is the preoperational stage and often occurs from ages 2-7. Piaget calls this stage preoperational as the child in this stage has not quite become adept at operations (the process of planning tasks) hence preoperational. They begin to develop their linguistic skills, have a habit of thinking everyone sees the same world as you do (egocentric), and have trouble thinking in terms of future or past. The third stage is concrete operational and often occurs from ages 7-11. As the name implies, the child thinks in terms of concrete problems in which they interact with physical objects to solve problems. They can now think in terms of past, future and present, comprehend that some qualities of an object stay the same even when you change the appearance (conservation), can turn quantitative information (height, weight, etc.) in a series (seriation), etc. Lastly, the fourth stage is the formal operation stage and can occur anywhere from the teenage years to adulthood. People in this stage have demonstrated mastery of operations and can now do formal operations which involve theoretical thought on a wide number of variables. They can think more scientifically and deductively, are much more focused on their own thoughts and ideas, able to solve very theoretical issues, etc. As teachers we need to realize what stage our students are in so we can plan and help them effectively. For example, if a student is struggling to understand fractions, they might need to learn it in a more hands-on approach and therefore might be in the concrete operational stage.
Through the semester we learned about many different theories of learning such as social-cognitive, information-processing, etc., however the one that resonated with me the most was constructivism. Broadly, constructivism places the role of learning on the student in which they actively learn through analyzing, synthesizing, and understanding the information given to them. Students are actively constructing their own information and building up their own ideas of the material learned which happen both socially and cognitively. The aspect of social constructivism comes from Vygotsky who believes our social interactions shape our constructed knowledge. The aspect of cognitive constructivism comes from Piaget who places emphasis on our own cognitive tendencies such as thinking and beliefs which shapes our constructed knowledge. Constructivist theorists are concerned with how people construct their knowledge.
Teaching with a constructivist approach allows the learning to be student-centered. As the teacher, you need to encourage student discovery by providing challenging learning scenarios. Additionally, you need to allow for collaboration and/or cooperation among your students as well as give multiple perspectives on an issue. There are many different methods or strategies you can use such as problem-based learning (in which you give your students a world issue or problem, provide the tools/resources needed to come to a solution, and make sure your students know there's technically no wrong answers), reciprocal teaching (in which you allow students to work in groups where they discuss and debate each other's grasp of the subject at hand; all with the goal of critical thinking), and inquiry learning (in which you assign your students a difficult problem, give them the means to complete it, and allow for hypotheses to be tested). With this student-centered teaching in mind, the perfect example of something I did this semester in my other education class was create a WebQuest. A WebQuest is an inquiry-based assignment in which you present thought-provoking questions and provide the web-based resources needed to discover the answers. My WebQuest was on the Social Revolutions of the 1960s, which includes: New Wave Feminism, Anti-War Movement, and the Civil Rights Movement. Through students completing this WebQuest, they're actively constructing their own knowledge of the movements of the 1960s through researching these topics and answering questions.
Lastly, let's discuss collaboration and cooperation. Collaboration is a way of thinking about how to connect with others. Cooperation, on the other hand, is a way of working with other individuals in order to reach the same goal. Through cooperative learning, students work together as a team and support each other in the learning process. This is able to not only promote understanding and critical thinking but will teach students how to work respectfully with other people. Cooperative learning also allows students to have their own scaffolding in place as they have their own support structure in their group. There are many different assignments you can arrange with cooperative learning such as reciprocal questioning (in which students gather in their groups to review the material through inquiry), "Jigsaw" (in which students are given their own important portion of the material for that day and need to each become a master in their own piece for the group's goal is to complete the "puzzle" cooperatively) and structured controversy (in which students receive a controversy to gather information on and discuss with the group). Cooperative learning allows students to give social support to each other in order to promote understanding and comprehension of the material at hand.
Higher order thinking skills are the pyramid of the ways we process the material or information that is presented to us. Also known as Bloom's Taxonomy, there are six levels in the pyramid. The six levels (from lowest to highest) are remembering the material, understanding the material, applying the material, analyzing the material, evaluating the material, and creating something with the material. Remembering the material is straightforward enough as it's basically memorization. Understanding the material means you know the material as well as comprehend it's meaning and importance (ex: remember the material from WWII but understand it's historical significance and last effects). Applying the material means you take the knowledge you learned and use it in a different situation-you apply it. Analyzing the material means you have a full grasp on the material that you're able to critique it, question it, etc. Evaluating the material means you're able to judge the material and have a productive discussion about it. Lastly, creating something with the material means you're able to take your knowledge and make something new with it.
Higher order thinking skills are important because it shows us how advanced you are in your thinking about the material at hand. Additionally, they provide us with benchmarks of evaluating how well a student knows the information we're teaching. These allow us to challenge the student to think deeper and more critical about the material at hand. The pyramid of higher order thinking skills also allows us to see where the student is and to challenge them to think higher. For example, if I see a majority of my students have a clear understanding of the complexities of the American Revolution; I will challenge them to reflect on the current state of affairs in the U.S. and decide if we need another Revolution. Here they're applying their understanding of the American Revolution to today's time. Another example is if I see my students are able to apply their knowledge of the philosophies of the Enlightenment to the revolutions that occur; I will challenge them to analyze a political cartoon or an important quote, etc. Here they're thinking higher with analyzing a particular piece of literacy based on the knowledge that they have already attained and mastered. This is how I will use them in my class; as a way to see the level of thinking that my students are at, in order to challenge them to think deeper.
Motivating your students is probably the most difficult task as the teacher. As I've stated before our students are going to be coming into our future classroom with their own schemas and preconceived notions of the material we're going to be teaching. It's our jobs as teachers to cater to this and make students care about the subject we're going to be teaching. One of the easiest ways you can motivate your students is with food. For example, if you tell your students if they complete this task, then they will receive candy; your students will be motivated to finish the assignment. This goes into the theory of behaviorism as this is a form of positive reinforcement- you're giving them a desired stimulus of food. However, this should not be the only way to motivate your students.
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In class we completed the "can you teach it to me?" activity, in which we were practicing the launch where we grab our student's attention for the lesson and motivate them. What I noticed with many people's (even ours) is that there were two ways people grabbed everyone's attention: the "wow" factor or relating it to our lives. The "wow" factor is simply an action or item that grabs student's attention and "wows" them. If you can do this, then you have your students hooked and interested, therefore motivated to learn more about what you're teaching. For example, with our activity in which we taught everyone how to fold a t-shirt in less than ten seconds, we hooked everyone just with the "wow" factor of being able to do that. Everyone was interested in what we did and wanted to learn more about it, which is a crucial aspect of getting your students motivated. Regarding relating what you're teaching to students lives, I did this in two of my lesson plans in my launch. For example, in my lesson plan on the rise of totalitarian Germany, I began with describing what life is like under Nazi Germany (loss of civil rights, full allegiance to the state, no voice, etc.). I had my students reflect, write down their thoughts on how they would feel living under this regime and would have a discussion about what they wrote. Another example is what our group did in the “can you teach it to me?” activity, where we began by asking questions related to everyone’s lives such as “how many of you know how fold a shirt?”, “how many of you hate folding laundry?”, etc. I believe these launches would grab my student's attention by relating it to their lives and making it personal, therefore motivating them to learn more.
Designing activities that promote learning and/or allow your students to practice what they've learned is another difficult task for the teacher. An even more difficult task is being able to assess if your students are learning the material or not. From what I've done in my lesson plan, the activities that I have implemented are group work, whole class collaboration, writing tasks, worksheets, and technology. The best one to use really depends on the lesson plan and how well you use it. For group work, I would have my students complete a worksheet together based on the lesson or even have them research a particular topic and then have them present it to the class. Group work allows for cooperative learning in which the students are given social support through each other which is very vital. Regarding whole class collaboration, I would have my students participate in a whole class discussion based on the material we're learning. I feel discussions are especially important for Social Studies as the material I'm teaching can become very complex and talking it out is perhaps the best way to understand. Another whole class collaboration idea I've had is a debate. For example, my students could take on the roles of members of the French National Assembly during the French Revolution. They would get assigned their political party and debate in class about what belongs in the Constitution, with me moderating the whole thing. I feel this activity would provide a great way to have the whole class be involved as well as be immersed in history through role-playing. Writing tasks and worksheets are designed to be a review of the material we've learned and practice different concepts. For writing tasks, I would try to put a creative spin on it instead of them just answering an essay question. For example, in one of my lesson plans, I tasked my students with being members of the Committee of Correspondence and they have to address two grievances to King George. This would be more fun, interesting, and grab my students due to the creative aspect. Regarding worksheets, I would make sure the questions correspond exactly with what we've gone over in class to minimize confusion. Lastly, regarding technology, there are many different ways you could implement it as there's a diverse number of tools available. I could make a Kahoot game that reviews the material we covered and have my students play it at the end of the lesson. I could design a WebQuest, in which my students use web-based resources to answer questions. The important thing regarding technology is to always have a plan and to keep it student-centered, with the tools you provide being the medium.
I will assess the learning that takes place based on the correctness of answers, thinking, reasoning, and effort. Regarding group work, depending on the kind of assignment I assign (presentation, worksheet, etc.), I will evaluate my students individually based on the criteria above. Through looking at the answers they give to the questions I will see if its correct, what thinking they had in their answers, their reasoning (I will be always asking why in the questions I give to be able to see this) and overall effort. Regarding whole class collaboration, through the responses my students contribute to the discussion I will mainly be looking for their thinking and reasoning for their answers. For example, if we're discussing a complex issue such as the causes of WWI and my student gives an answer I either didn't teach or discuss, but I see that they really thought it out and it's based on facts, of course, they wouldn't be wrong. I know they're still learning because they're thinking and analyzing the material. Regarding writing tasks, the prompts that I give will always inspire higher thinking and reasoning based on the material they've learned. For example, at the end of the French Revolution unit, I would assign a writing assignment with the prompt: "why do you think the French Revolution failed? Explain." I'm challenging them to think critically and I will be assessing their answers to see if they learned, based on their thinking and reasoning for the answers they give. The key assessment here is that I want to see them make a point based on their reasoning and be able to defend it based on facts. Regarding worksheets, my assessment with these will be simply based on the correctness of answer as these will be vital study guides and reviews for tests at the end of the year. Finally, regarding technology with activities such as Kahoot and WebQuest's, these will again simply be assessed by the correctness of the answers. For example, with a Kahoot game if I see many of my students get a particular question incorrect, then I would know to review that particular area more in-depth.
I believe one of the biggest issues facing education today is testing. Testing in our school systems has gotten out of control, as according to the Washington Post, students take about 112 mandated standardized tests between Pre-K and 12th grade (Layton). These tests are supposed to be making sure our students hit national standards and benchmarks. However, as we learned this semester, we know these tests are made by companies who do not care if students are learning and only want more tests to be sold. Teachers today feel very pressured to strictly teach to the test due to a large percentage of their evaluations being based on how well their students do on tests (Layton). They're teaching their students how to pass and do well on the tests instead of focusing on the bigger picture of making sure their students are learning. Additionally, if students in a school don't meet the national standards, they receive consequences such as less funding (Layton). According to the Washington Post, to counteract this, many schools are adding more tests throughout the school year to ensure that they're students are ready for the national test at the end of the year (Layton). Students are taking a test to help them get ready for a test. Testing needs a monumental change in our school system. Firstly, the tests need to not be made by textbook companies but by well-educated teachers who know students best. Secondly, there needs to be a lot less testing in general as it simply just overwhelms students and teachers. Thirdly, each student is different in their strengths, weaknesses, etc. and it's an oxymoron to set a national standard with this in mind. A benchmark for one student may be entirely different for another because each student is diverse and different as everyone develops differently in terms of cognitive ability. In my future classroom, I will strive to not make tests the center of the classroom and grades, but rather incorporate many other signs of learning such as participation, papers, homework, etc. Testing needs to change in our day and age as we need to put much less emphasis on it and make learning student-centered.
- Layton, Lyndsey. “Study Says Standardized Testing Is Overwhelming Nation's Public Schools.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 24 Oct. 2015, www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/study-says-standardized-testing-is-overwhelming-nations-public-schools/2015/10/24/8a22092c-79ae-11e5-a958-d889faf561dc_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.32905778bbe5.
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