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Tuesday, December 28, 2010
The first revelation Willingham revealed is that our brains are not naturally good at thinking and that curiosity is the way in which we turn our minds on to thinking about something new. For me, this means that I need to find a way to spark my students’ natural curiosities in order to get them thinking about the concepts and skills I want to teach them. However, later in the book, the author points out that if teachers use a ‘shock and awe’ demonstration to introduce a new idea; students will often only remember the demonstration and may forget all the meaning behind it. This is something that I believe to be true due to my own experiences as a student and that I will keep in mind as a teacher. Students need us to show them the connections between what they are working on and what they can learn from it; I think this is truly one of the hardest tasks a teacher faces – and yet the most important.
This book also reaffirmed in me the importance of making a personal connection with my students. Willingham states that emotion plays an important role in memory. If my students feel like I truly care about them, and if they see me as a person and not just a teacher, they will feel more connected to what I am trying to teach.
Another idea from the book that surprised me was that Willingham makes a great case for a teaching practice that has become unpopular; drilling. I found that his comments, however, make sense and make a strong case for the use of some drilling (practicing) in school. I agree that students need a strong foundation of knowledge in order to be able to learn more complex ideas later in their education. In order to achieve this, they need repeated practice. Especially in the mathematics area, this is something that I plan to implement. I feel strongly that drilling or repeated practice exercises cannot be my only curriculum, but I now see that it has a place in the classroom.
Overall, I greatly enjoyed this book and found several principles that will help me to be a better teacher.
Sunday, December 19, 2010
Tuesday, December 14, 2010
Sunday, December 12, 2010
This is not a new argument or question. However, the author’s point of view led me to do further reading and research. My comments that follow are a combination of the author’s book and my own reading.
All through history, people have been intrigued by intelligence thus leading to attempts to measure human intelligence. The ancient Chinese used a form of testing to select candidates for civil service positions. Scholars such as Plato searched for clues into human intellect. William Duff, 18th century, investigated the creative and cognitive capabilities of genius and speculated that imagination was an important part of intelligence. During the 19th century, major schools of psychology in Europe began to develop more invasive techniques to measure intelligence. By the nineteen hundreds, Alfred Binet had helped develop the first successful intelligence test using the concept of mental age. This was followed by the work of David Wechsler who introduced his own test, Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scales. This test included verbal and performance subtests and was designed to look at real life situations. It also began the comparison of an individual’s mental ability with others of that same age.
The book’s author discussed nine principles of the mind. His eighth principle, intelligence can be changed through sustained hard work, was discussed in chapter 8. Willingham believes that genetic inheritance impacts intelligence but mostly through environment. It was interesting to note that he thought the percent that genetics plays on general intelligence changes being somewhere around 20% for young children and up to 50% for adults.
Willingham as well as others quote a lot of data from studies of identical twins (those who lived in the same household and those who were separated at birth), fraternal twins, siblings, and adopted children. I think it would be safe to say that all research points to intelligence being influenced by both nature and nurture, but there was certainly wasn’t consensus on exactly what percent genes play and what percent environment plays. Perhaps the influences that we also need to also focus on include prenatal care, socio-economic status, nutrition, and continued health care.
As an educator, I believe and support Willingham’s principle – intelligence can be changed through sustained hard work. However, higher intelligence tends to lead to prolonged schooling and longer schooling leads to higher IQ. Also, students who believe intelligence can be improved with hard work get better grades than those who believe intelligence is an immutable trait.
Thursday, December 9, 2010
In this chapter, the author switches focus from student to teacher; throughout the book he has noted strategies that correlate with mind research and how to assist the student in using what we know about the mind and turning into "action" through specific methods. In this chapter he highlights and reviews the strategies of earlier chapters but relates them to how they can be utilized by the teacher, for the teacher. After reading and thinking on it, it boils down to two common adages "practice makes perfect" and "it takes work to make or create change".
Reflecting on the first adage: practice makes perfect, he points out that although factual knowledge is necessary to be an effective teacher, “pedagogical content knowledge” is also required. The two areas are entwined to create effective practices for successful teacher. I think the reader would be able to reflect back on an experience that he or she may have had in which they may have had a very knowledgeable teacher, but the teaching practices they employed may have been ineffective in sharing that knowledge with his or her students. His statement on page 191 summarizes this component well by stating: “It is virtually impossible to become proficient at a mental task without extended practices.”
Willingham goes further to define practice in relation to teaching, as not just showing up, but trying to improve. An interesting visual he described was that teachers, during the first 5 years, show steady improvement in their teaching based on student learning, yet after the years of growth, the curve plateaus indicating very little change between a teacher of 10 years compared to a teacher of 20 years in regard to student learning. As we often find, setting goals and claiming desire are one aspect of change, but often these attributes are short lived because of various factors. Willingham goes into a more specific “how-to” approach when challenging ones’ self to improve teaching skills including informative feedback, focused activities directed at improvement and making conscience effort to improve teaching skills. Possibly, more realistically, he briefly recognizes other less time consuming approaches to teaching improvement; commitment to keeping a teaching diary, organizing or joining a discussion group (very similar to a book club) and a forced effort to observe and study comparable youth in alternative settings.
As outlined by Willingham, “teaching, like any complex cognitive skill, must be practiced to be improved.” p 189
Wednesday, December 1, 2010
Many studies have been performed to determine whether nature or nurture has the most impact on intelligence. Most studies that focused on comparing twins who were separated and raised differently, found that genetics (or nature) must be the dominant influence. The studies found that twins who were separated still had similar intelligences. However, in recent studies, it has been determined that "genetic effects can make you seek out or select different environments." This means that nature doesn't necessarily account for intelligence. Rather, it influences what we are likely to seek in terms of nurturing. At the end of the day, this means that our genetics and environment both shape our intelligence; but intelligence can be influenced through nurturing, therefore it can be changed.
This has several implications for our classrooms. If we as teachers believe that intelligence can be improved and we model and promote this in our classrooms; our students will adopt this attitude as well. The best way to communicate this with students is to praise their efforts, not their abilities. Such praise needs to be genuine and truly earned. We also need to create a classroom environment in which risk-taking and failure are a normal part of learning. Students need to feel that making a mistake isn't necessarily a bad thing; it is actually an opportunity to learn something new. Students also need to be shown exactly what hard work means. They need explicit instruction in study skills and they need to understand that in order to catch up, they may have to work harder than other students. Managing a classroom in such a way communicates directly to the students that their intelligence is under their control. Teachers need to show students that just being naturally intelligent is a myth; most students who do well in school have to work very hard.