Standard 2 Meta-Reflection: Learning Environment

Standard 2 Learning Environment: Creates and maintains school-wide and classroom environments that are safe, stable, and empowering.

The course, Human Development & Principles of Learning, has opened my eyes to the world of neuroscience and how it impacts my instructional decisions in the classroom. Prior to this course, I was very susceptible to neuromyths and relied on my own common sense and perspectives. For example, I now know that it is a myth that people are “right-brained” or “left brained”. Wolfe (2001) states, “Rather than approaching teaching strategies that are geared towards the right or the left brain, it is important to put an emphasis on both halves since they always work together” (p. 48). As an educator, I know I need to view instructional strategies with a critical eye in order to provide students with brain-compatible instruction. My goal is to continue to design instruction that supports the learning processes of the brain.

I know students learning processes strengthen when they are able to make connections and apply new learning across contexts. Wolfe (2010) states,“Brain-compatible instruction emphasizes concepts over individual facts.  Concepts that generalize from one era to the next might be called enduring knowledge. Only when we teach information within the context of larger concepts does it become enduring knowledge that can be used throughout the course of our students’ lives” (p. 222). Our math curriculum is designed to develop conceptual frameworks that will endure as they progress to higher mathematics. For example, students develop an understanding of place value prior to learning operations. In my own classroom, students are reviewing and building on concepts they learned previously until they can apply what they learned to a new concept or strategy. Wolfe states, “One of the most effective ways to make information meaningful is to associate or compare the new concept with a known concept, to hook the unfamiliar with something familiar” (p.104).

Another way my students actively participate in the learning is through peer teaching. Wolfe (2010) states,“Teaching a concept or a skill to someone else requires a fairly high level of understanding. Peer teaching allows the students an opportunity to rehearse what they have learned, thus strengthening their neural pathways. Students are likely to give more attention to the lesson knowing they’ll be required to share the information” (p. 185-186). I use think-pair-share activities to provide a safe structure for students to share strategies, understandings and questions. Students have many opportunities to rehearse the information and explain their thinking. Students are also provided with concrete experience through the use of manipulatives and non-linguistic representations that help them develop conceptual understanding.  Wolfe (2001) states, “Sensory abilities are powerful components of brain functioning and we can use them in the classroom to enhance our students’ understanding and retention of information” (p. 151). In my classroom, I want to improve students’ ability to process information by giving meaning by providing students with non-linguistic representations to help develop conceptual understanding.  Wolfe (2001) states, “Not only are visuals powerful retention aids, but they also serve to increase understanding” (p. 153). In my classroom, I use images to help students develop meaning of vocabulary words. Students develop conceptual understanding of math concepts through non-linguistic representations such as place value mats, blocks, hundreds charts, counters, and fraction circles.

As I move forward, I want to continue to focus on establishing a safe and positive learning environment. Wolfe (2010) states, “Brain-compatible instruction should also take place in a safe psychological environment. Lessons should be rigorous but nonthreatening to obtain the best effort and thinking of all students” (p. 223). It is important that students are not only engaged in the learning but also developing social skills that will help them feel successful and make positive choices. “The relationship between learning, emotion, and body state runs much deeper than many educators realize and is interwoven with the notion of learning itself” (Immordino-Yang & Demasio, 2007, p. 184). Time spent in the classroom building positive relationships, developing problem-solving skills, and establishing expectations for collaboration is a valuable piece of the curriculum. This is the learning that students will need to extend beyond the classroom. My goal is to implement role playing in my classroom. “Role playing is a model of teaching that facilitates social problem solving. Role playing has been shown to be effective in helping students learn positive ways of handling interpersonal conflict wherever it occurs” (Del’Ollio & Donk, 2007, p 282). I think this type of learning helps students understand that the teacher values a safe learning environment where everyone is treated with respect. In addition to role playing, I will continue to establish expectations and model for students what it looks like and sounds like to be a role model. The goal is that this will contribute to a safe psychological environment where students are encouraged to give their best effort and thinking.

Teachers can also use students’ strengths to establish a community-centered environment. Williams (2013) defines community-centered as how learners work together towards all of their goals. Community-centered includes utilizing norms for people learning from one another and continually attempting to improve. It is crucial not only at the beginning of the year to involve students in establishing norms that support a safe and respectful learning environment but to continue to improve this process each day. Students should be a part of the decision making process by helping establish expectations. For example, in my classroom student voice is used to establish the rules and procedures for learning activities in the classroom and throughout the school that follow the school promises. Students complete weekly self-assessments that allow them to take ownership of their learning and behavior. The self-assessment helps the student feel good about what he or she is doing well while giving him or her an area to improve on that will positively impact student learning.

Students also complete a peer and self-assessment after participating in cooperative learning activities. Cooperative learning techniques help students develop social skills, promote student self-esteem and help to provide positive race relations. According to Dean, Hubble, Pitler & Stone (2012), “An underlying purpose of cooperative learning is to make each group member a stronger individual in his her own right” (p.35). Cooperative learning provides a structure for students to learn from one another. Students are not only engaged in learning the content but are developing social skills and positive relationships with their peers. As a class we brainstorm what group work should look like and sound like based on the five components of cooperative learning: positive interdependence, face-to-face interaction, individual accountability, social skills development, and group processing opportunities (Dell’Olio & Donk, 2007). This helps student learning because students are held accountable for group expectations they agreed would contribute to a productive learning environment. The reflection allows them to reflect on areas of strength and improvement. Students reflect on one positive thing about their partner that they didn’t know before. This allows students to build relationships with students they may not usually interact with and learn positive things about them. Students also explain how they felt working in a group setting. This allows me to focus on specific skills students are struggling with to help them develop their ability to collaborate, problem solve, and learn from their classmates.

Establishing classroom management, routines, and a safe learning environment prepares students to work productively and engage in the learning process. If students are involved in establishing expectations, they can take ownership of their learning and behavior. Students also feel safe when they are welcomed into an environment that respects all students’ beliefs and cultures. Designing instruction that meets the needs of all students and providing community-based experiences helps to establish a safe, stable, and empowering learning environment.

Artifacts:

Course objective for EDU 6655: Human Development and Principles of Learning- to develop a basis for theory of action that compares current and past research as a way of informing practice in school settings.

Artifact 1: LearningTheoryStandard2 This artifact demonstrates my understanding and research on the Behaviorist Theory both in the past and present. It describes the theory’s implications for the learning and classroom environment.

Artifact 2: Review of Curriculum This artifact demonstrates my ability to analyze a curriculum to determine if it connects with current research.

Artifact 3: Brain Rule This presentation describes a brain rule that helps teachers understand the implications it has on students’ learning.

References

Dean., C., Hubbell, E.R., Pitler, H., & Stone, B. (2012). Classroom Instruction that Works: Research-Based Strategies for Increasing Student Achievement (2nd ed.). Denver: Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning.

Dell’Olio, J., & Donk, T. (2007). Models of Teaching: Connection Student Learning With Standards. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, Inc.

Immordino-Yang, M., & Damasio, A. (2008). We Feel, Therefore We Learn. The Jossey-Bass Reader on the Brain and Learning. San Francisco: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Wolfe, P. (2001). Brain Matters: Translating Research into Classroom Practice. Alexandria: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

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