How Equipped Are We in Teaching the Attention-deficit Generation?

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Three girls playing with tablet and smart phone.

There are many things I learned in this course, but I would have to say the most important concept I learned was about attention. Taking a moment in thinking about attention and how crucial it is to the educational process, I came up with a few questions I asked myself as I get started.

  1. Can a person truly learn without the ability to pay attention?
  2. Are students able to finish homework correctly without attention?
  3. Is there anything more important than “attention” when it comes to learning?

What I’m trying to prove is how important attention is to the learning process. One could even argue that “attention” is the most important factor in how well a person learns something. John Anderson from Carnegie – Mellon University believes that all knowledge begins as declarative information and when an individual makes inferences from already existing knowledge they will naturally acquire procedural knowledge. I completely agree with his theory, but his theory only works if a person actually paid attention to knowledge in the first place. Perhaps a few geniuses out there could still absorb knowledge without paying much attention to the information around them, but their knowledge base would drastically decrease.

There are four different ways in which attention is allocated to human beings, selective, divided, sustained, and executive. Here’s a brief reminder of what they mean…

  1. Selective- the ability to select from many different factors and focus on what you want
  2. Sustained- the ability to focus on one thing for an extended amount of time without getting distracted
  3. Divided- is the ability to process or react 2 or more responses simultaneously
  4. Executive- is the ability to block potentially distracting information from the focus of attention

If any one of these is absent or undeveloped then a person’s educational growth will be severely in jeopardy. I’m currently a mother, a teacher, a wife, and a student all at the same time and it takes an enormous amount of focus and attention to make it all work. I have to use all 4 types of attention in my daily life, but the one I certainly could never live without is executive attention. This, I believe, is the most useful type of attention because it helps us pay attention to the most important things and not get distracted during the process. The main concept here “don’t get distracted,” and isn’t that everyone’s problem? We all have distractions in our lives; especially today in the 21st century the distractions are even greater.

When I was a teenager nobody had a cell phone, a computer, or quick access to social media. Teenagers now have all of those things and more, and not only that they use those things at school. There are more distractions than ever before and it’s our job as educators to know how to deal with it. We should be asking ourselves the following questions:

  1. How much time and effort is put into developing a child’s attention span?
  2. How often do students get in trouble for using and abusing electronic devices and social media?
  3. How much time and effort is put into restructuring or designing classes to adapt to the ever changing generation of students?
  4. How often do schools teach students how to manage their busy lives properly?
  5. Are students being punished for having devices and social media accounts, or are they being taught how to use them to learn lifelong skills?

We need to reshape our focus, not just on our own studies, but on education as a whole. Our approach to developing the minds of students needs to completely change and it needs to change now. Do we teach our students how to manage their time, understand their learning style, and be prepared for real life situations? With the new generation of students (also known as the Generation Z) being addicted to technology, difficulty in staying focused and wanting to receive quick feedback and praise, we, current and future educators should also learn how to adapt and start coming up with effective ways in connecting with them and helping them how to become successful learners.

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Looking at Human Learning Through a New Lens

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Wow! I still can’t believe that I finished my Final output before the deadline! But while typing this, I’m also thinking of the other things such as blogs that I haven’t done. I’m also second guessing myself if what I wrote was actually correct or if it really reflected the totality of my understanding of this subject.

For a week, I was racking my brain thinking about what to write, how to start and what to focus on. It was not easy to explain everything that I want to explain in a 2-page essay and also make it meaningful and impactful. On the other hand, it’s a relief that it wasn’t such a big of a task as I felt like I’m going to experience disequilibrium in any moment. There are so many tasks and yet so little time but I kept telling myself, “self-efficacy, Rowena, self-efficacy…”

I’m totally happy about the learning that I had and relieved that I got this huge task off my to-do list and yet still feel overwhelmed. Weeks have gone by so fast and I feel like I haven’t gotten the chance to digest everything. There are so many important readings and articles that I felt I just skimmed through and didn’t get the opportunity to ponder on well.

On the brighter side, this subject has definitely made an impact on my own beliefs as an educator and as a learner. I plan to learn more how I could design my lessons using the concepts and principles that I learned. It made me also realized that our pre-made lessons in my school were designed with the primacy-recency effect in mind. So, it was amazing to actually know the term for it.

After all the readings, ponderings, learning of the fundamental theories of learning and analyzing its epistemological assumptions, I am now looking at human learning through a new lens. Me, that is more informed and aware of how humans learn and the current condition of our education. It is empowering, eye-opening and at the same time heartbreaking.

I have realized how much our education has become an agency for developing the cognitive abilities of our learners. Yet, that’s just one dimension of our overall being. It makes me feel sad that we seem to have lost our way with what our aim is for being educated.

Although constructivism is learner-centered, its approach in teaching human qualities such as being a risk-taker, imaginative, being an inquirer, caring, reflective, principled, or balanced are being taught implicitly. There is a need for a holistic approach in teaching, the need to know and teach students as human beings. It’s scary and ironic to think that because we are advancing in technology and communication, we’re going backwards with connecting with people.

Should a study of developmental psychology be part of the prequisite of being a teacher so that we become experts on children and on our field? Maybe or maybe not…What I know is that we keep asking for educational reforms and we’re always making new ones. It’s already a waste of our time. The change starts with us and it starts now.

Constructivism

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I learned many valuable things in this module but one of the best things I learned is that every individual is responsible for constructing their own knowledge. Students, including myself, can’t just sit in a chair and absorb knowledge; we have to be given freedom and guidance to actively construct our own knowledge. As a teacher I use the same approach with my students and I try very hard to give them meaningful experiences which will challenge them to think. If students aren’t challenged, they won’t grow but this only works with proper guidance and encouragement. If students are challenged with no guidance and encouragement they will eventually get discouraged and give up.
The goal for teachers is to help students become “expert learners” who will keep questioning the world around them to understand it better. Teachers are there to help students develop knowledge rather than have the students reproduced it. The only way to do this is by providing problem-solving and inquiry-based learning activities for the students to engage in. Even though accommodation can certainly foster more significant learning, it can only do so with the help of assimilation.

Aside from that, there is a concept called “Cognitive Disequilibrium” which describes a person becoming confused because a new experience is jarring and incomprehensible. They might choose to adapt to this new experience through the process assimilation or accommodation, but they might not either. Typical signs of cognitive disequilibrium might include feeling confused, dazed, unsettled, off balance and frustrated. The only way that cognitive disequilibrium can inhibit learning is if teachers don’t help their students “fit” newly learned information into their knowledge base. I think it’s up to the teachers to help students get their equilibrium back by providing challenging and useful experiences. If students are having difficulties or are hitting road blocks, this should help guide them through it.

We all go through difficulties, regardless of our backgrounds, experiences, and skill levels. At some point in our lives most of us will be skilled enough in something called an MKO, or “more knowledgeable others.” I’m talking about the “zone of proximal development,” which basically identifies individuals who are in need of help on a given task, and strongly suggesting they seek help from more skilled individuals.

I believe every teacher has a duty to encourage and foster the use of MKO’s in class, and to also scaffold their lessons to meet the needs of each of their students. I believe differentiation must happen in order for real learning to occur and teachers should be using scaffolding as a regular strategy to improve learning as well. Teachers should create groups where members are at different levels so students can receive help from advanced peers or give help to less experienced ones. Scaffolding isn’t just something that can be thrown together overnight, it must be carefully planned and it can only work by breaking it down into 3 parts…..such as

  1. General encouragement
  2. Specific instruction
  3. Direction demonstration

Lastly, I was forced to think about other cultures as well and figure out how my own culture affects my learning. Growing up in the Philippines not many students take education as seriously as they should, this is proven by the fact we are never “high” on the list for the best performing country in terms of education. Other countries such as Hong Kong, South Korea, Singapore and many others are listed are much higher than the Philippines based on how students perform in school, namely math and science. Filipino culture on the other hand is quite experienced and skilled in PE and Art, such as sports, music and dance. Our culture is more laid back and focused on having a good time, and don’t take our education seriously enough. I’m sure we would take things more seriously if our education system improved. I hope that the leaders of our country would invest on our younger generation by allotting better budget for education. This way, public schools could start purchasing resources that are up-to-date and relevant to students and they could start re-training all teachers of contemporary pedagogy to teach our children essential skills needed for the 21st century.

My Take on Contemporary Approaches to Learning

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The only way I wish I was like a computer is purely for memory storage. There are so many things I want to remember and so much information out there to absorb; I just can’t take it all in. Computers on the other hand computers have seemingly unlimited amounts of storage and it would be awesome to store all the information I’ve ever wanted. In terms of my ability to learn, I prefer to use my own abilities rather than a computer because I like the way I process and control my own mind. If I could simply upload all the information I need like a computer and use it the way I normally I know I could become a genius.

My first teacher, I can’t remember her name but she was a very nice lady, but not exactly a great teacher. She was friendly and fun, but I didn’t really learn much from her. The classroom was like most typical Elementary classrooms, colorful, posters everywhere, stuffed animals, but with a black board and chalk, not a smart board and computer. My most remote childhood memory was climbing trees with my friends and singing songs until the sun set. These memories only took a few seconds to retrieve, which suggests that long term memory is extremely organized.

The best strategy for me to memorize things is to first simplify what I’ve learned and then repeat it over and over again. I can’t just see something once or twice, I need to look at multiple times and then read and write it down over and over until it sticks in my mind. I’m a kinesthetic learner and I need to simply have time to practice learning on my own. Plus, I tend to work better when I’m under pressure, I can’t get started right away, it’s too stressful… I usually think about it, relax, and wait for a while. I don’t consider myself a complete “crammer” but I do wait longer than most. If I am not given clear instructions and a deadline, I simply forget about and don’t learn much, I don’t feel the pressure, so I lose interest.

After I cram I actually remember the majority of what I learned, because I don’t wait until the last second, I give myself enough time to still learn and absorb the material. After 3-5 days from taking an exam I will remember 80% of what I learned, but if I took an exam 5 years after I got an A on it, I could only get a C on it. Getting a C on a test, after not studying for it is actually quite good in my opinion because getting a C means someone has the basic idea of what they learned and after many years, if people can remember the basic, that’s enough. Granted, I admit I could change my learning goals to study for exams in such a way so I can use that information my entire life.

My learning strategies have only improved because I’ve forced myself to teach my students differently. The mistakes of my past teachers and the mistakes I’ve made personally have helped me realize what needs to be done to provide long lasting educational experiences for my students. In the past I was mostly concerned with getting a high grade, and less concerned with learning the material…but now as I’ve matured I pay closer attention to retaining what I learn as opposed to simply getting a high grade. My learning experiences are shaped now by what I learn, and not just what grade the teacher gives me. I still work very hard to get high marks, but not at the cost of just getting the mark. I want to get high marks and still remember and more importantly apply what I learned to my life.

I make sure my students don’t just do “busy work,” I give them meaningful assignments, group projects, and learning experiences in class to help them become critical thinkers, communicators, collaborators, and creative. I want them to be challenged in school, but in a fun, interesting, and exciting way. I collaborate with my colleagues to create alignment across the Elementary School to make sure all students receive a similar education. I teach my students the skills, and give them opportunities to practice them right away. I try my best to help my students figure out what interests them and provide numerous experiences for them to teach their classmates about class related material. As a teacher, I’m working very hard to help my school in ensuring our units and lessons are data-driven and with students’ needs in mind. I know that I need a lot of growing and learning myself for me to reach my fullest potential as an educator.

How to Succeed in Distance Learning

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The assumption that distance learning is easy and less rigorous compare to being confined in the four walls of the classroom and face-to-face with the teachers and other learners is absolutely incorrect. Using the lens of my autobiography as a teacher and now a learner, I have experienced many challenges that I thought I wouldn’t be able to overcome. I was pushed beyond my limits and was forced to make necessary changes in my lifestyle and learning habits to be able to get through this journey successfully.

I believe that self-directedness is the most important behavior a student must have in this kind of a learning environment. As a practicing teacher, I assumed that self-directedness is innate to all adult learners. My assumption had made me believe that if only my students were smart, motivated and mature enough then they could easily be self-directed. However, being the learner myself, I realized that it takes a lot from me to be self-directed. My personal experience proved my assumption wrong.

Using theoretical literatures as lenses, it is claimed that there are several things are known about self-directed learning:

(a) individual learners can become empowered to

take increasingly more responsibility for various decisions associated with the learning endeavor;

(b) self-direction is best viewed as a continuum or characteristic that exists to some degree in every person and learning situation;

(c) self-direction does not necessarily mean all learning will take place in isolation from others;

(d) self-directed learners appear able to transfer learning, in terms of both knowledge and study skill, from one situation to another;

(e) self-directed study can involve various activities and resources, such as self-guided reading, participation in study groups, internships, electronic dialogues, and reflective writing activities; (f) effective roles for teachers in self-directed learning are possible, such as dialogue with learners, securing resources, evaluating outcomes, and promoting critical thinking; (g) some educational institutions are finding ways to support self-directed study through open-learning programs, individualized study options, non-traditional course offerings, and other innovative programs.

The faculty in UPOU had done a great job in facilitating our learning. The learning tasks given were carefully chosen to achieve necessary skills to be developed by learners. Being in a distance learning environment has taught me in developing a different set of learning skills that made me grow as a learner. I started setting goals for myself, I do my best to engage in discussion and learn from others. I also learned to acquire strategies in problem solving things and finding out ways of effectively dealing with the learning tasks given by my teachers. I was also encouraged to learn with others through small groups or peer work.

For distant learners like us, it’s imperative that we model being self-directed to other learners by doing the following tips.

  1. Always take initiative- Whenever you are given opportunities to collaborate, take initiative in doing some of the tasks instead of waiting for your team mate to tell you what to do.
  2. Show that you’re comfortable with independence- Even in groups, model to your peers that you are self-reliant.
  3. Be persistent-
  4. Look at problems as challenges
  5. Be disciplined-
  6. Always be curious- don’t hesitate to ask further questions to classmates and teachers
  7. Be self- confident- always believe that every task can be achieved
  8. Manage your time- know how to set little goals and deadline for you to achieve a task successfully and on time. In a group, you could suggest creating a timeline for all of you to have a solid idea when you should be finishing the task.

Self-directedness can be learned. It helps to look at student models when trying to understand difficult tasks. The examples, explanations and other resources provided by peers will help you comprehend a certain concept better. Through observation, you would also notice that several learners are active in engaging in class discussions. They set a good example that tasks can be done because they did it. These students are self-directed and as a result have high self-efficacy. It helps them in tackling difficult tasks. Learn from these students by working or collaborating with them. You could also ask for some tips on how to develop this ability.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Self-efficacy

http://umsl.edu/~wilmarthp/modla-links2011/Merriam_pillars%20of%20anrdagogy.pdf

 

Should Knowledge Bases Be a Prerequisite in Hiring Teachers?

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I started teaching here in China without an ounce of knowledge on how or what to teach. I was employed for the sole reason that I can speak the English language and that was all they wanted from me. On my first day, I was supplied with a set of flashcards and without any planning or preparation I started to teach. As someone who had not taken any education courses nor undergone any training, I still had the confidence to get in the field. Most of the batch mates I grew up with chose the route of teaching. They didn’t belong in the smartest section where I was in, so my assumption was that teaching was a no brainer kind of profession. It reminds me of the adage, “Those who can’t, teach.” Honestly, it was egotistical of me to even think that. I assumed that everybody can teach. Looking through the lens of my autobiography as a learner helped me to realize that I was wrong.

Another assumption I had was that as a teacher all I needed was a bag of tricks that I can pull out from when I needed to. Using theoretical literature as a lens, I recognized that there are such things as knowledge bases. As claimed by the advocates,  knowledge bases of teaching exist- a codified or codifiable aggregation of knowledge, skill, understanding, and technology, f ethics and disposition, of collective responsibility—as well as a means for representing and communicating it Homes Group (1986) and the Carnegie Task Force (1986). They contend that it should under gird teacher education and rightly inform teaching practice. Gauging how much I know as a teacher, I realized that I was very inept at my job and had used wrongful practices. It didn’t help that many schools like the previous one that I was in are not setting high standards for the kind of teachers they are hiring.

Here in China, you could find all sorts of teacher ‘wannabes’ especially in private schools. However, administrators don’t seem to be bothered that they are hiring inept and experience teachers.  Regardless of their educational background or experience, they could still teach as long as they could speak English. Knowledge bases of teaching are far from what they were looking for in a candidate. Sadly, this custom had been happening for many years now. Although, the government is cracking down on unqualified foreign teachers by requiring them to provide certification or bachelor’s degrees before they could grant working visa, Chinese school heads still find a way to get them in. Education to some has become more of a business.

Knowledge bases of teaching has opened my eyes how much I still need to learn in able for me to become a very effective education professional.  Deprofessionalization of teaching will continue if the governments and all people involved in education all over the world will allow anybody without proper knowledge and training to be in the teaching field.

TPACK (Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge) terminology is new to me. Yet, I have been integrating technology in my teaching. The advantages are that students get easily motivated by it. It also encourages them to be creative, cooperative, collaborative and it builds the skills needed for the 21st century. Do note, however, that it takes a very supportive school administration and skillful teachers for the integration of technology, pedagogy and content to effectively work. On the other hand, the lack of support and funding could hinder in achieving this goal. I, as a teacher, as willing and as motivated as I am at practicing this, our school doesn’t prioritize the use of technology in learning. Teachers like me have found creative ways to solve this problem and it sometimes leads to using our own personal laptops for student use.

It is only fair and just for our students to be taught by qualified and competent teachers. To do this, there must be a rigorous training of education students and all teachers. Mastering all of the knowledge bases and TPACK must be given priority. Schools have to support this by creating professional learning community that continuously updates the knowledge bases to fit with the demands of the 21st century.