Saturday, July 19, 2008

Learning Styles and Teaching Styles

Today I saw the need for different learning styles and teaching styles in action. I thought it was interesting how they voiced a need for a different style out of me, and I was able to do what I could to accomodate it.

In the world of MCAS, No Child Left Behind and centralized testing of curriculum outcomes, the learning objectives come from the top and get delivered to the people below, whether the people below are teachers or students.

What I am seeing with Learn 2 Teach, Teach 2 Learn, there is little of the top/bottom hierarchy in the structure. "We want to learn it by doing it, not by hearing it". That works for me, but it does make for a tricky situation of making sure that "everybody gets It" Who defines the 'It' that they are getting?

If people demand not to have hardly any lecture based delivery of information and then start side conversations and other off topic activities, then it is probably not about learning styles and teaching styles, its probably more about control of the situation and other behavior issues. If a goal is framed, but not worked towards effectively, then what is the problem? Is the search for information not being treated seriously, or is there a problem with learning tools and techniques? Is it not okay for participants to ask the questions they need to get the results they have framed as goals?

In a lot of public school learning situations, the emphasis has really become 'results based learning'. Some call it teaching to the test. Students should know this that and the other thing, and here is how they will get there. In the l2t/t2l environment, the learners are framing a lot of the goals. This can be a messy, exciting business. With everybody heading to the goal in their own direction, they all can learn creatively and come up with novel solutions to the problems they face.

In this technique and process, some people can fall or slip through the cracks. They may not understand the goals (fall), or they may not agree with them (slip). In either case, it is possible for them to quietly (or sometimes not so quietly) dodge the goal and not get it done, or get it done poorly, or let their groupmates do it for them.

I would be very interested in getting your feedback on this. I am also looking for the right place to park this type of written work online. I would rather have a community of writers than a solo effort. Care to join me?

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Idea Capture with Writing

One of the things that I do is to reflect on the things that I do and write them up. As I write, I get more questions, and more clarity. I consider you to be my collaborators in education at this point, and value your opinion. It may be that I raise questions and observations that you share as well. If that is the case, then it would be very helpful to have a dialogue.

In reading the grants that funded the program this year, I did see several references to growth of the program to other programs and other cities. If that is to happen, we must make a trail of information for future program leaders and participants to follow. If we are to recruit teachers and organizers into the fold, then we need to have something to point to so we can show them the way we think about teaching, learning, organizational structure and the topics we cover in the program. We cannot rely on oral history to spread the word of how the program works. At some point, there must be a manual of sorts written so that others can emulate the policies, techniques and community building that has gone on at SETC for so many years.

While it is very important for the youth leaders and participants to write about their techniques and experiences, it is also important and essential that the adult leaders find ways of writing accessibly about their beliefs and techniques of how these programs and systems work and don't. There really should be a place for the adult leaders and mentors to share their ideas, theories experiences and dreams about the programs. It could be a great benefit in ways that we can't quite see at this time. The writing does not have to be extensive, and can be pointers to the important work of others.

It is my belief that the more that is written, the better. The reasons for writing are several:

Writing helps you remember
If you write something in a trusted place where you know you can access it again, you can stop trying to remember it. Your system remembers it for you. You can use email conversations, which can be archived. You can put it online in a blog or wiki, and make sure that the account stays active for as long as you need it. You can write it in a notebook and hang on to the notebook for as long as you need it. You can use loose pieces of paper to write it on, and keep the paper as long as the information is valuable. Using the writing, you can come back to an idea hours, days months or even years later when you need the idea again.

Writing helps you think
As you write, new ideas and questions come to mind. These will give you a better understanding of the issues you face. It may be that the solution comes to you as you write, or you get a clearer view as you write about it. It may be that you come up with other parts of the issue show up in the form of questions to ask and find out about.

Writing saves you time
In the learning style we are advocating, participants get what they need when they need it. If somebody comes to you with a question and you have ten minutes, a half hour or an afternoon to answer it, then you do it right then. But what if people keep coming to you with the same question? It is better in that case for you to write it up and make it accessible. Then when people get in the habit of reading and researching in addition to speaking and using conversation to gather information, then they will come to you with better and more informed questions.

Writing can evolve as the ideas evolve
As people's beliefs, opinions and experience evolve with time, it is possible and advisable to go back and refine the written body of work. As ideas change, then they can be updated. If an idea becomes outdated, then it can be ignored and not read, or it can be rewritten to reflect the new thinking. Where the writing resides can make a difference to. It is possible to place greater or lesser prominence on it by showcasing it in various ways, like printing it out, putting it on the front page, quoting it in a blog entry and more.

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