Teaching with Intention

Wander often, Wonder always

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Posting with Intention

I’m very nervous about this post. I am a pretty private person when it comes to my personal life and growth, especially online, but this week I have been faced with some challenging questions. Why am I so quiet on social media?  Why do I resist putting myself out there? In order to reflect on these questions, I am going to review the week of classes for EDCI 515 and 568 chronologically, as my progression of thinking has been guided by our daily discussions and guest speakers.

The assigned reading for Monday included Twitter Use and its Effects on Student Perception of Instructor Credibility, by DeGroot, Young & VanSlette (2015).   This article brought out all the insecurities I have when it comes to social media. Will I sound simple or uneducated? Will I make a spelling mistake? Will peers that are reading it judge me? Will some peers judge me on the fact that I am trying to further my practice (yes, I know this would be driven by their own insecurities, but it still impacts my engagement on social media). Do I have significant contributions to professional discussions? At the end of it all, I am left to ask myself why am I so worried about what others think and why am I lacking the confidence to participate? I spent a fair bit of time considering these questions, and the answers are fairly personal, but I am confident that they are not unique experiences so I will risk being vulnerable and just go for it.

As far as worrying about sounding simple or uneducated, my passion drives me in all areas of my life and my passion often supercedes my abilities. I regularly find myself in arenas that I don’t feel comfortable or confident in.  When it comes to my teaching practice, I am aware that although I have been teaching for more than 20 years, I only have 10 years of full time service to draw from. I have not stayed in one subject area for very long, therefore have not become an expert in any specific discipline. I started my career in a junior high school teaching math and science for 3 years, then taught Home Economics for almost 10 years while I had our three children. I swallowed my fears and jumped back into high school math 8 years ago, and embarked on teaching senior biology and science only 5 years ago. That’s not very much time in any single area to form much expertise, and someone with more experience could easily disregard what I have to say.

When it comes to peers judging me for going back to school and diving into research, technology, and 21st century learning, I think this is a big influence that limits my use of social media. Where I work, many teachers are quite verbal when it comes to disrespecting the ‘ivory tower’, and professional development in general.  Five years ago I helped start a committee that considered collaboration time for teachers in order to help with implementing new curriculum, provide an avenue for meaningful professional development, model lifelong learning for our students, and encourage a sense of community among a divided and often isolated staff.  Four years ago, we were able to have collaboration time included in our instructional time. Since then, there has been a significant portion of the staff that has been very public in their dislike of collaboration. Out of our initial group of 4 teachers that started the committee, 3 have moved to other schools or the school board partly due to this conflict. This is where my mantra of  “Go with the goers” comes from, but it is challenging sometimes.

Why am I so worried about what other people think? This question goes back a long way to when I learned to really value my privacy. In junior high and high school my family went through some very difficult times when our family business burnt down and my dad succumbed to addiction. Our struggles were often very public, and at one point all my teachers were given photos of my dad to help keep me and my sister safe at school. I did not handle the pressures very well, and drew a lot of negative attention to myself. This negative image seemed inescapable until I moved from Vancouver to Victoria in my mid-twenties. I really valued having a new identity and the opportunity for a fresh start.  Significantly participating in an online community scares me. I have valued flying under the radar for over 20 years, and engaging in social media feels like I am willingly putting myself in a vulnerable position by opening myself up to the public.

Two subsequent readings, Public comment sentiment on educational videos: Understanding the effects of presenter gender, video farmat, threading, and moderation on YouTube TED talk comment, by Veletsianos, Kimmons, Larsen, Dousay, & Lowenthal (2018) and Women Scholars’ Experiences with Online Harassment and Abuse: Self-Protection, Resistance, Accpetance, and Self-Blame, by Veletsianos, Houlden, Hodsen and Gosse (2018) pushed me to consider my absence on social media further.  I have experienced being dismissed and ridiculed for my contributions several times in my career. I am confident it had more to do with the other individuals’ insecurities and arrogance, however it still requires courage to put myself out there. Drawing from the categories of coping presented in Women Scholars’ Experiences with Online Harassment and Abuse: Self-Protection, Resistance, Accpetance, and Self-Blame, I certainly subscribe dominantly to the strategy of self-protection by eliminating opportunities for harassment altogether. I compartmentalize my professional and personal online identities, I choose privacy options that significantly limit who can see my posts, and regularly draft a post that I delete immediately when I consider how they may be interpreted or what responses they might elicit.

For a long time, it was easy to refrain from social media as my husband is a police officer and worked undercover for many years.  Jesse Miller’s presentation on Safety, Privacy, and Professionalism on Tuesday afternoon reinforced all my reasons for minimizing my engagement with social media. For our safety and anonymity, my husband and I both delayed becoming engaged in any social media at all until a reunion brought me to facebook only 6 years ago, and my husband signed up for facebook only 3 years ago. When I recently discussed privacy setting choices with my husband for this progrem, Trevor surprised me and said there was no reason to limit myself to posting with regards to my professional growth. It has been easy to remain silent and disengaged on social media so far, however now I have some choices to make for myself.  I would like to get to a place of resistance and acceptance (coping strategies outlined in Women Scholars’ Experiences with Online Harassment and Abuse: Self-Protection, Resistance, Acceptance, and Self-Blame), however, I am sensitive and admit to sometimes being emotional. The time it takes to rebound from negative interactions is time that I don’t wish to donate. Will the benefits of putting myself out there outweigh the time and energy it will take to digest potential negative responses?

The assigned reading for Thursday was Scholars Before Researchersby Boote & Beile (2005). This article reminded me of the richness of research and information available that can inform my teaching practice, and I had to admit that social media is a valuable tool for sharing relevant, interesting, and applicable scholarly writing and educational practices.  I was reminded that I am embarking on my masters degree to improve my teaching practice, and to enable me to facilitate a richer and more engaging learning environment for my students. Although sitting on the sidelines might feel safe, it is neither fulfilling, inspiring, nor of much personal benefit.

In conclusion, I realize that fear is driving my resistance to engaging in social media for professional development.  I have not let fear stop me from doing anything of value in my life thus far, and now that I have identified my obstacle I intend to conquer it. The benefits associated with connecting with a larger community of professionals and the conversations that could result appear to far outweigh the cons of disengaging and remaining a consumer of online content rather than a contributor.  I would love to hear about the benefits of social media that you have experienced in the comments! Thanks for listening, and I look forward to our online conversations.

 

 

Assessing the Reliability of Data Concerning Educational Blogging

Assessing the Quality of Mixed Methods Research: Toward a Comprehensive Framework (O’Cathain, 2010)  provides valuable insight and information on qualitative and quantitative research methods separately, in order to introduce and describe the leading framework for analyzing mixed method research.  The article closes with an invitation for researchers to apply the outlined model to their own work, in hopes of further developing the framework and understanding of how to assess the quality of mixed methods research.

It is important to note that a potential limitation of the mixed method framework presented is that the author, Alicia O’Cathain, builds upon the framework of Tashakkori & Teddlie (2003) and states that they have “what is still the most comprehensive approach to assessing the quality of mixed methods research” (O’Cathain, 2010).  The fact that Tashakkori and Teddlie are the editors of O’Cathain’s paper raises the concern that if there were oversights, mistakes, or bias in the original framework presented by Tashakkori & Teddlie, they would not likely be objective editors of the study and able to reveal such problems.

The discipline of research methodology is new to me, and although I take time to scrutinize procedure, bias and context of research, I have been limited in my approach to analyzing research.  As a high school science teacher, I am further limited in my experience as my focus is often on quantitative research, hence I have chosen a research article that uses qualitative methodology.  In the article, Using a Project Blog to Promote Student Learning and Reflection (Worthington, Reniers, Lackeyram, Dawson, 2018) the role of blogging in student learning and reflection is analyzed.  I am keenly interested as this is a practice I plan on implementing in my Environmental Science 11 class in next school year.

My teaching philosophy and practice is evolving from that of traditional direct instruction to an inquiry based model.  My experience in school was during the 80’s and 90’s when conventional teaching methods dominated.  During my undergrad I began to experience a more authentic learning environment, and throughout my 20 year teaching career have thoroughly enjoyed experiencing the opportunities and enthusiasm inquiry based teaching and learning affords.  My intention for teaching Environmental Science 11 is to:

  • inspire students to participate in caring for the natural world through passion projects mentored by local environmental groups;
  • instill confidence in their abilities to contribute to a larger community of environmentally responsible individuals;
  • use the inquiry based teaching model to promote critical thinking;
  • encourage students to motivate others to be environmentally aware through social media and community interactions.

My goals for this class are not conducive to traditional teaching practices, hence students will be assessed on reflections and projects rather than traditional tests.  My optional article to review and consider in light of Assessing the Quality of Mixed Methods of Research: Toward A Comprehensive Framework, is Using a Project Blog to Promote Student Learning and Reflection.  My purpose for choosing this article for reflection is to further my understanding of qualitative methods and research, and consider the effectiveness of using blogs to promote student learning in senior Environmental Science classrooms.

The three research questions focused on in Using a Project Blog to Promote Student Learning and Reflection (Worthington, et al. 2018) are:

  1. How frequently did students write blog posts?
  2. What content did students write about?
  3. What functions did the students’ blog posts serve?

The qualitative research undertaken in Using a Project Blog to Promote Student Learning and Reflection is designed to inform instructor practices (Worthington, et al. 2018).  Three undergraduate students were instructed to use blogging to reflect, communicate, brainstorm, evaluate literature and document team creations throughout a curriculum mapping project as a co-op work placement.  Little direction as to how to use the blogs was given to the three students, however several weeks into the project they were requested to add a task list describing their weekly activities in their blogs.

Worthington, et al. (2018) give evidence from previous studies that suggest blogging increases connectedness among students (Miceli, Murray, Kennedy, 2010), improves knowledge integration outside of class (Halic, Lee, Paulus, & Spence, 2010), and encourages cognitive, meta-cognitive, and affective learning (Chu et al., 2012).  The author also refers to research that highlights the benefits of grading blogs (Chu et al., 2012) and providing structure for blog engagement (Divitini, Haugalokken, and Morken, 2005).

The results of this study suggest that the use of blogs helps guide projects and promotes learning.  Using the comprehensive teaching of O’Cathain, I will investigate the research methods of a qualitative analysis of blog posts undergone in the study by Worthington, et al. (2018) and suggest how a subsequent study might address any shortcomings.

Summary of Findings

     Research Question 1: Frequency of Blog Posts.

The frequency of blog posts were analyzed by counting the number of blog posts, and using Microsoft Word’s word count to determine the length of the post.  The average post length was 568 words, and an average of seven posts per student per month were written.

     Research Question 2: Content of Blog Posts.

The content of blog posts included curriculum-related issues such as pedagogy and Bloom’s taxonomy, and personal reflection.

     Research Question 3: Function of Blog Posts.

The functions of blog posts included organization, communication with their faculty supervisor and one another, summarizing learning outcomes, share links to resources and upload documents for future reference.

Analysis of Qualitative Methods for This Case Study Using the Quality Framework for Mixed Methods Research (O’Cathain, 2010)

     Planning Quality.

Care was given to be transparent in situating the study and shaping the research questions, methods, analysis, and reporting.  The feasibility of the study was good.

     Design Quality.

The design was appropriate for addressing the research questions.  Strengths and weaknesses were not considered in depth, and weaknesses were not addressed in the design.  Specifically, the primary author, P. Worthington, was one of the participants in the study and also developed the codebook used to analyze the results.  At the time of the co-op, the participants were not aware that the blogs would be analyzed retrospectively, but it does bring in to question whether the participant/author may have had an idea for future research during her participation of the co-op.  Also, the time that each student participated in the co-op varied greatly in duration and time of year.  Overall, I would rate the design strength of this study as poor as the sample size is too small to infer reliable conclusions and the controls of the design were inadequate.

     Data Quality.

Admittedly, I struggle to give an informed opinion on analytic adequacy and analytic integration rigor as I am unfamiliar with data analysis techniques for qualitative research.  That being said, the analytic adequacy seems to be compromised due to the author’s participation in the study.  As noted above, the participants were not aware that the blogs would be analyzed retrospectively, however, the author may have personally experienced opportunities for reflection and learning due to blogging, and thereby developed the study to verify her conclusions.  If this were the case, she could not have been objective in her analysis.  Furthermore, there are many quotes in the article to evidence higher level thinking, communication, organization, and reflection, and now that I know that one of the authors is a participant it brings in to question the motivation for the article.  Was it an opportunity to bring attention to the quality of the author’s own use of blogging?  I don’t believe it completely negates the data, the research, or it’s implications but it definitely raises concerns and my stance is that the conclusions warrant further investigation.  The data transparency and rigor appears to be sufficient, and sampling adequacy was poor.

     Interpretive Rigor.

Interpretive transparency and consistency were weak, and theoretical consistency was good as the inferences of the study were consistent with current knowledge.  Interpretive agreement was weak as the sample size was too small and the objectivity of the author is questionable.

     Inference Transferability.

From the findings of the study I have sufficient reason to believe that  blogging will assist with student organization, learning, and reflecting in senior secondary environmental science classes.  However, I am not confident these findings will be consistent across all my students as not all participants will be highly motivated, as they were in the study, therefore ecological transferability is good and population transferability is poor.

     Reporting Quality.

Reporting availability was good as the study was successfully completed within time,money and staffing constraints. The reporting transparency was also sufficient as many key aspects of the study were described thoroughly.  The yield of the study was good as the conclusions could have far reaching implications.

     Synthesizability.

The study has poor design (due to small sample size) and data quality which limits the reliable application of this study.

     Utilitity.

Utility of this study was good as prior research supports the research conclusion that blogging promotes student learning and reflection.

 

Conclusion

In conclusion, the research conducted in the study Using a Project Blog to Promote Student Learning and Reflection is important for informing the teaching practices of educators.  I believe the implications of this study can extend beyond the Post Secondary environment in which it took place and has value for teachers, students, software companies, education researchers, ministries, and school districts. These stakeholders would benefit from further research involving a larger pool of more diverse students to warrant widespread support of  blogging to enhance student learning and reflection practices.  The authors of the article would have benefited from reading O’Cathain’s work, supported by Tashakkori and Teddlie, as their work could have contributed to the planning, design quality and data quality of the study, hence improving the validity and reliability of the findings.

 

Author Biographies

Paisley Worthington is currently an undergraduate science student at the University of Guelph.

Jennifer Reniers (PhD) is the Educational Analyst in the Office of Teaching and Learning at the University of Guelph

Dale Lackeyram (PhD) is the Manager of Educational Development, Centre for Open Learning and Educational Support at the University of Guelph

John Dawson is a Professor and Director in the CBS Office of Education Scholarship and Practice (COESP).

 

References

Chu, S. K. W., Chan, C. K. K., & Tiwari, A. F. Y. (2012). Using blogs to support learning during internship. Computers and Education, 58(3), 989-1000. http://doi.org.ezproxy.library.uvic.ca/10.1016/j. Compedu.2011.08.027

Divitini, M., Haugaløkken, O., & Morken, E. M. (2005). Blog to support learning in the field: lessons learned from a fiasco. Proceedings of the 5th IEEE International Conference on Advanced Learning Technologies (ICALT 2005), 219-221. http://doi.org.ezproxy.library.uvic.ca/10.1109/ ICALT.2005.74

Halic, O., Lee, D., Paulus, T., & Spence, M. (2010). To blog or not to blog: Student perceptions of blog effectiveness for learning in a college-level course. Internet and Higher Education, 13, 206-213. http://doi.org.ezproxy.library.uvic.ca/10.1016/j.iheduc.2010.04.001

O’Cathain, A. (n.d.). Assessing the Quality of Mixed Methods Research: Toward a Comprehensive Framework. Sage Handbook of Mixed Methods in Social & Behavioral Research, 531-556. doi:10.4135/9781506335193.n21

Miceli, T., Murray, S. V., & Kennedy, C. (2010). Using an L2 blog to enhance learners’ participation and sense of community. Computer Assisted Language Learning, 23(4), 321-341. http://d0i.0rg/10.1080/09588221.2010.495321

TashakkoriA., & TeddlieC. (2003). The past and future of mixed methods research: From data triangulation to mixed model designs.

Tashakkori, A., & Teddlie, C. (2010). Sage handbook of mixed methods in social & behavioral research. SAGE Publications.

Worthington, P., Reniers, J., Lackeyram, D., & Dawson, J. (2018). Using a project blog to promote student learning and reflection. The Canadian Journal of Higher Education, 48(3), 125-140.

 

Mixing the Methods of Research Methodology

 

As defined by the Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries:

Research: a careful study of a subject, especially in order to discover new facts or information about it

Methodology: a set of methods and principles used to perform a particular activity

It follows that Research Methodology is the careful study of the methods and principles used to do research.

 

My teaching experience  has been that of a Science Teacher that implements the Scientific Method in order to do research with my students. In my area of study, quantitative data is often considered the only relevant data.  If you do the Scientific Method properly, your results should be reproducible and reliable over and over again. But as I sit and contemplate my research methodology in light of Ellis, Adams, and Bochner’s article: Autoethnography: An Overview and Engin’s article: Research Diary: A Tool for Scaffolding, I am confronted with the limitations of the research practiced in my classroom; for both student and teacher. Students perform the scientific method.  I rely on quantitative data for assessment. I regularly journal my thinking with respect to my teaching practice, and I encourage my students to reflect on their learning through writing, however I have failed to consider that this process will enhance the quality of research that goes on in the classroom for both teachers and learners.

I recently attended a series of workshops on Indigenous Perspective in Science.  I was humbled greatly over the course of our workshops, where my foundation of Traditional Western Science and the Scientific Method was revealed as a limiting and narrow perspective.  One example of this narrow perspective is the myth that reliable science and scientific discoveries are the result of the scientific method. Another example includes the definitions of living and non living things. Before I dive in to the consequences of this narrow view of Traditional Western Science and the Scientific Method, it is interesting to consider the definition of Science.

(As defined by the Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries)

Science: the knowledge about the structure and behaviour of the natural and physical world, based on facts that you can prove, for example by experiments

There is no doubt that science has been performed since the beginning of higher level thinking primates.  From understanding that a rock can break through a shelled organism, to identifying and synthesizing the gene that is responsible for the enzyme lactase, I am comfortable labeling the acquisition of that knowledge ‘science’.  So, science has been practiced long before the definition was put into print, and long before the scientific method became the accepted method for research in the 19th century. And yet, I was unaware that by restricting myself and my students to the scientific method I was undervaluing the contributions of those that came before me. And similarly, in the study of ecology (the study of relationships between organisms and their physical surroundings) detailing the difference between living and non living things contradicted the views and experience of indigenous peoples and their intimate understanding of interconnectedness.

It was not until I accepted that my view was narrow, and my knowledge and experiences limited, that I could work on creating an environment in my classroom that is more respectful of the individual.  Through my experience exploring Indigenous Perspectives in Science, the work of Ellis, Adams and Bochner and also of Engin,  I can confidently approach the analysis of my teaching practice qualitatively.

My reflections of the reading Autoethnography: An Overview, are limited to my experience as a science teacher with a current focus on Indigenous Perspectives. I am struck with the absence of autoethnography in the classroom, and am once again humbled at the amount of information and connections I am preventing by not engaging in this approach.

  • Scholars have acknowledged how the “facts” and “truths” scientists “found” were inextricably tied to the vocabularies and paradigms the scientists used to represent them (KUHN, 1996; RORTY, 1982) These results were that of social science inquiry, however I would like to suggest it would be valid to explore these limitations in scientific inquiry.
  • It is understood that  different  people possess different assumptions about the world. When we are learning or participating in a philosophical chairs activity, or a socratic seminar, we are limiting the conversations to those of like minded individuals and thereby limiting the learning. Just a few examples of where our learning is incomplete without a wider lens include renewable and non renewable energy, GMO’s, Genetics, space exploration, evolution and pharmaceuticals versus traditional medicine.
  • The importance of community and connection in the classroom is paramount for meaningful learning, and I am committed to the inclusion of all learners, from all experiences and backgrounds. As noted earlier, I am working to honour indigenous perspectives in my classroom and create a learning environment that values one-another’s  knowledge and experience.  This paragraph from Autoethnography: an Overview really highlighted the purpose of this approach as a research methodology is to foster mutual respect and understanding.

    When researchers write autoethnographies, they seek to produce aesthetic and evocative thick descriptions of personal and interpersonal experience. They accomplish this by first discerning patterns of cultural experience evidenced by field notes, interviews, and/or artifacts, and then describing these patterns using facets of storytelling (e.g., character and plot development), showing and telling, and alterations of authorial voice. Thus, the autoethnographer not only tries to make personal experience meaningful and cultural experience engaging, but also, by producing accessible texts, she or he may be able to reach wider and more diverse mass audiences that traditional research usually disregards, a move that can make personal and social change possible for more people.

    Please note, that in the context of indigenous peoples, it would be appropriate to refer to accessible stories and knowledge rather than accessible texts.

I have not encountered autoethnography in the context of the science classroom, however I would like to explore this approach and the rich content it affords with respect to indigenous perspectives.

The reading of Research Diary: A Tool for Scaffolding is yet another approach that has been overlooked in many science classrooms.  In this article, Engin states

that in the research process, data collection should not be separated from reflection and analysis, as all process feed into each other. Reflections involve writing about the process of research.  This includes analysis of strengths and weaknesses of each stage of research, as well as personal thoughts on the research process.

I would like to suggest that a research diary would not only be useful for students to reflect on their learning, but also useful for students to critique their experimental methods and scientific discoveries, thereby uncovering potential biases.

Personal Reflections

I carefully study my teaching methods, and the efficacy of my practice, and yet I have not approached the study of my teaching from the discipline of Research Methodology. I have been limited to  quantitative research, and mostly quantitative assessment, and look forward to experiencing the significant learning that a qualitative perspective will bring to my classroom.

Reflections on the 4 R’s: the researcher, the research, the researched, and the reader

Prior to my learning, I would have responded that my role as a researcher was to research good teaching strategies, new discoveries in my discipline, and my efficacy as an educator.  I would research my efficacy by using student assignments, reflections and test scores, which would include both qualitative and quantitative data. The reader of my research (both summative and formative student assessments) would be student and parent.

Prior to my learning, I would have responded that the student role as a researcher was to perform carefully constructed or delivered scientific experiments, research the course curriculum, and research the effectiveness of their study habits. Students would research the course content, their behaviours and their thinking as learners. The reader of student research would be the teacher, and often each other.

After my learning, differences between teacher and student as researcher disappear.  The learning community becomes united in what is researched and and we all become the readers. The scientific research as curriculum may remain, however new content is introduced as we learn more about each other, ourselves, the learning process, and the deep context of who we are, where we live, and what has formed our thoughts and experiences. As individuals who feel valued, respected, and confident the reader extends beyond student, teacher and parent, to community and perhaps beyond as we take our research and learning beyond the classroom.

I am excited to implement research diaries and the approach of autoethnography in my science classroom and in my teaching practice. I expect the invitation to deepen our connections with course material and each other will provide a rich learning environment that extends beyond the classroom.

 

Resisting the Path of Least Resistance

My “fight or flight” response was alive and well when I read both articles: Why Minimal Guidance During Instruction Does Not  Work and Teaching for Meaningful Learning: A Review of Research on Inquiry-Based and Cooperative Learning.  I struggled with the black and white nature of both pieces and the perceived predetermined pathway for my thinking. I was uncomfortable with my immediate conclusion that effective teaching and learning lies somewhere in the middle. That was too simplistic, and because of its simplicity it was dismissive.  I was missing something. If I stopped there I would be robbing myself of deeper understanding, change and growth.  In my experience, that feeling of unrest and the “fight or flight” response ( rising heart rate, fidgeting, anger, and wanting to shut down and disengage) is my cue to dig in and  unearth my discomfort. I have learned that by doing this I will likely be rewarded with a change in my thinking and understanding. It is my cue that I need to dive deep into the material, and discover why the experience is unsettling to me.  In this process, I find my purpose for teaching. My purpose for teaching is to support students as they work through their discomfort and anxieties, so they can experience the liberation and satisfaction of learning.

Kirschner, Sweller, and Clark’s article on Why Minimal Guidance During Instruction Does Not Work highlights the importance of respecting human cognitive architecture in the learning process. Studies suggest that problem solving places a huge burden on working memory (Sweller, 1988). This burden puts such limitations on our working memory, that acquiring new information becomes ineffective.  I wonder why (or even if) it has ever been suggested to teachers that they throw students in to a learning situation with minimal guidance.  At it’s very roots this seems to be shirking the responsibilities of the teacher and is not good teaching practice.  Teaching is so much more complicated than this.  A familiar teaching progression for me is:

  • Introducing the learner to the content by tapping in to previous knowledge and experience
  • using a wide range of activities and teaching methods to introduce students to the necessary first level knowledge
  • modeling and implementing processing strategies
  • problem solving, synthesizing and implementing the acquired knowledge to new situations.

Costa and Bloom have been celebrated for  their work on levels of thinking and questioning, and I have implemented this progression of learning in my teaching, but this also simplifies things greatly as it negates the importance of personal connection and the many factors that contribute to supportive learning environments.

On the other hand, Barron and Darling-Hammond’s article: Teaching for Meaningful Learning: A Review of Research on Inquiry-Based and Cooperative Learning suggests that complex projects involving problem solving and inquiry are necessary for developing the higher level skills that are required in many of today’s jobs.  I certainly agree that these skills are highly valuable, but our students need to be proficient in the process of gathering and acquiring knowledge so they can graduate to a place of thriving in the less structured environments of higher level thinking. Here is where I have to pause.  What are the conditions needed for students to thrive in the less structured environments of higher level thinking.

I want to make an analogy between learning and our autonomic nervous system.  The two branches of our autonomic nervous system involve the familiar “fight of flight” system and the “rest and digest” system. When it comes to teaching, I believe that it is imperative to change the mindset of students during times of discomfort, anger or fear (the “fight or flight” response) and encourage them to embrace these times as opportunities for learning. This is the place where meaningful learning,  innovative and creative solutions can develop.

The two complementary systems of our autonomic nervous system (the part of the nervous system responsible for unconscious body functions) are the sympathetic and the parasympathetic nervous systems.  The sympathetic system prepares the body for intense physical output, and is implemented in times of stress (the fight or flight response).  It increases heart rate to provide extra oxygen to muscles and the brain, and provides an infusion of glucose to the blood for extra energy.  In contrast, the parasympathetic system slows the heart rate and allows the body to do the primary functions of digesting, fighting infection, and growth.

I often find myself in a state of “fight or flight”, and have learned that although this may not be a comfortable place, it is here that I need to plant myself and not give in to the urge to dismiss, disengage, or resist.  It is here that I need to “rest and digest”. It is a signal that some of my assumed knowledge is being challenged, and an indicator that I have a lot to discover.  I propose that learning happens in the space in between “fight or flight” and “rest and digest”.  So back to the question of “What does effective teaching and learning look like?” Is it guided instruction? Project-based learning? The multitude of answers to this question swirl around in my mind.  It is a guided and supported progression through the levels of knowledge and questioning.  It is an environment in which my students can process information through reflecting, journaling and  discussing their learning with others. It is seeing their learning through to a place of new understanding and a meaningful application of knowledge. Personally, this excitement for learning begins with the “fight or flight” response.  I have learned that if I embrace that unnerving state, and engage with the information that challenges me, I will be rewarded with new ideas, perspectives and experiences.

It is this process of resisting the path of least resistance and embarking on the new and unfamiliar where the most learning will take place.  And yet we see in our schools that anxieties and feelings of being overwhelmed are debilitating our students. Can we change the mindset of our students to accept those feelings and proceed with confidence knowing that on the other side is meaningful learning and personal growth?

If I can engage and support my students and give them the tools and safe environment necessary to navigate the ‘fight or flight’ response, they can experience the satisfaction of  “resting and digesting” with a new level of understanding.  But now I struggle with new uncomfortable questions…” What are those tools? And how can I contribute to that safe and supportive environment?”