Intrapersonal Intelligence

Which themes and skills reflected in the national and state standards do you consider to be the most vital to teach? Explain why. In which discipline areas does this occur?
Given the list of Ten Themes of Social Studies (National Council for the Social Studies [NCSS], n.d.), I would pick “Individual Development and Identity” as my highest priority.

My goal as a teacher is to both create relevance in the material to enhance learning and to concentrate my time with my students on material that will be of use in their lives.  While everything on the NCSS list is important, nothing will be as valuable as personal identity.  It is impossible to have stable, resilient self-efficacy in the absence of a clear sense of self.  Likewise, it is terribly hard to interact with other humans in community absent comfort with one’s own identity.  Finally, knowing what we do not know is central to both self-knowledge and effective learning.  By giving my students the tools to understand themselves, I am giving them the ability to withstand more easily many of the traumas of youth.  For example, it is not enough to know that Howard Gardner identified multiple intelligences.  The power of that construct is in understanding that we are all differently gifted and appropriately so.  Knowing our own capacities and proclivities with regard to these intelligences is a wonderful gift that will buffer adolescent angst and clear the way for focus and optimal proficiency in life.

In addition, “Individual Development and Identity” is a wonderful place to begin learning the other nine Themes.  This theme’s description directly references two other themes (“Culture” and “Individuals, Groups, and Institutions”).  It also must cover “People, Places, and Environments” and “Time, Continuity, and Change” by way of creating perspective and context for self.  That is half the list right there.  If I only cover that, I feel like I have given my students an enormous advantage as they move forward with their lives.  If one of the main themes of my teaching is personal power, power to build a mindful, joyful, satisfying life, a strong sense of self and a strong sense of one’s relationship to time, space, people, and change is crucial and nearly sufficient to that goal.

References

National Council for the Social Studies. (n.d.). National curriculum standards for social studies: Chapter 2—the themes of social studies. Retrieved January 21, 2011, from http://www.socialstudies.org/standards/strands

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Excitement then Peace

Discuss some problems within your individual team members’ work settings that could be addressed in a research project. Analyze various methods of data collection that might be appropriate. Discuss issues related to validity and reliability. Write a 300 to 400 word summary paper stating the problem and explaining your data collection plan.

The problem is the children in my kindergarten class don’t settle down quickly enough after music is playing during station rotations. The music is played to refresh their concentration between stations but the cost in increased difficulty in settling in is daunting. I want to try various methods or transitioning out of music or into stations to reduce the lost settling in time. Here are some things I want to try:

  1. Discuss the problem with the students and ask them to settle in faster or risk losing the music between stations.
  2. Deep breathing at the end of the music, then move to stations.
  3. Move to stations after music, then do deep breathing to begin the station.

There is no simple way in a unified class to create different test groups and/or a control group. So my only choice is to run the experiments sequentially, using both the summative assessment for the previous experiment and the pre-test to track success. In terms of tracking success, I see no easy way to quantify the results under real classroom pressures. My solution is for all the adults in the class to journal the experiment and do a qualitative assessment at the end. This wouldn’t be publishable in a Journal but, with any luck, it will give me the information to decided on a solution to my problem.

Other notes: I would run the experiments in the numerical order because my hypothesis is that that is the order of effectiveness, which would make the differences easier to track. Also, a fourth experiment would be cutting music out completely. I am disinclined to do that because I believe that is a positive contribution to the children. However, should I wish to test that hypothesis, I would need a whole different Action Research study, comparing learning w/ and w/o music during rotations.

Arguments!

What elements make a statement arguable? Why is this relevant to action research?

Hmmm. Well to begin with, our books says, “postmodernists argue that truth is relative, conditional, and situational, and that knowledge is always an outgrowth of prior experience.” So, if you’re a postmodernist (or arguing with one) everything is arguable. To some extent, this is universally true. There is nothing in science beyond questioning, beyond argument – at least in principal.

The only things that aren’t arguable are factual statements. I can tell you how many people clicked which answer in my survey. That number in response to that question is not arguable. That is why the famous “hanging chads,” from the 2000 Presidential election were so significant. People’s intentions in voting suddenly became relevant. The convention is a vote is a vote. Nobody says “Well, they voted that way but they didn’t mean to…”

This is also why observable and valid become so very important in research. Researchers desperately need an unassailable factual basis from which to build their argument. The data need to be observable and measurable to be “facts.” They need to be valid (to measure what they proport to measure) to be relevant.

One side note, in qualitative research, the “facts” are the varying stories of experience. The constraint of “fact,” of what is “true,” is relaxed to include conflicting data from which a subjective pattern is woven. This is not dissimilar to me proceeding on the results of my survey, knowing the “science” is weak, the arguability is high, but also believing valid information exists in the data that was collected.

I suppose it should also be said that facts and arguability become particular important when group action is needed. Individuals, like classroom teachers, to a large extent, can adapt their behavior based on an intuitive belief in truth, a lower standard of proof. groups tend to want more safety and the safety comes in knowing the “facts” and acting based on inarguable knowledge. This has various good and bad implications, beyond the scope of this response. So the relevance to Action Research is less than to Academic research, but the relevance remains that the lack of arguability is critical when persuading other people to believe you is important.

Data Collection

What are some different ways you can document a problem within your setting? How will you collect data?

There are many ways to document problems in a school environment. Really, it is among the better environments for data collection. One way is with the results from summative assessments. Another, perhaps less rigorous, would be using formative assessments. Personally, I would track my disciplinary system, trying to match disciplinary actions to causal factors I could control to reduce the need for disciplinary action. Health and absences can be a subtle but powerful indicator of problems; I would track that by pupil too. One thing that is hard to track is volunteering to answer questions. It would be useful to know who is putting their hands up to be called upon and if that inclination changes by subject. In addition, given a benchmark hand raising score, ebbs and flows of attention could be tracked.

The only way I know to do this is with a SMARTboard and the little student controller thingies that look like remote controls. With that, and the right software, tracking student participation would be easy. Having those devices also allows a much better model for calling on students randomly, making sure each student gets an equal chance to talk, and even for quick formative assessments throughout the day. They really could be cool tools in the classroom; however, I hesitate to introduce that much technology into the process. I worry that the essential humanism of the classroom would be harmed. I look forward to experimenting with the technology to see whether its benefits outweigh the costs.

Are Fathers Necessary?

What are some typical errors that a researcher should look for when reviewing journals?

One error I encountered recently was in a magazine article, “Are Fathers Necessary?” in Atlantic Magazine.  (http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2010/07/are-fathers-necessary/8136/)

The article appears to be about an idea that is gaining more widespread acceptance: that a having a male present while raising children is statistically linked to better outcomes for those children.  I will not rehash the arguments.  Obviously, there is some inherent appeal to those of us who believe that the average male and the average female learn and, to a surprising extent, think and behave differently.  Not better or worse, but differently.  This idea that fathers are necessary is very important because fewer and fewer homes with children actually have fathers or adult males present.  Of course, it is simply not possible in many cases to have males present, but that is not the discussion.  Like so many difficult questions in science, the “problem statement” is about what happens when fathers are not present, for better or worse.

Anyway, this is very threatening for a lot of people, particularly some single mothers who feel this disrespects the herculean effort they make every day to be the best parent to their child they possibly can be.  Apparently, it also bothers some radical feminists and lesbians who believe in the old Wellesley College motto: “A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle” and do not like to see themselves contradicted.

Therefore, this brings us back to the Atlantic article.  It purports to question whether the absence of fathers does statistically lead to poorer expected results for children, but what it actually argues is mostly that two lesbians can raise a baby successfully.  That is great info, but largely independent of the question the article claimed to address and claimed to debunk.  Unfortunately, in spite of the logical argument that one cannot be true if the other one is, in real life the two questions are largely independent from each other.  Proving one does not disprove the body of evidence in support of the other.

Therefore, one error to look for is articles that purport to disprove something but which instead simply prove a different point, leaving the inference but not the proof that the initial argument is wrong.

Quo Vadimus?

When you begin to burn out on your research topic, where do you think you will move on to?

My focus is on gender and education. I am specifically focused on advocacy for boys in education because it seems to me that is where the biggest damage is being done now. However, of course, I work on gender-based issues and strategies for both sexes. I don’t think I’ll burn out on this until more attention gets focused on this subject or until it becomes clear that I’ve done all I can do. There are some very committed and capable leaders in this area and I do hope we can effect some change.

My second area of interest is expanding the acceptance of John Ratey’s research (see Spark) on exercise and learning. He has some fascinating things to say about the influence of exercise on brain functioning and some very specific suggestions and practical examples on how it can strongly influence educational outcomes. That might be my next focus.

Another subject that hovers in my peripheral vision is SES and education. This is such a very big topic. SES itself is a huge topic and one where open discussion is not very common or safe. However, it seems probable from the reading I have done that much of educational failure is actually and unavoidably caused by SES-related factors beyond the power of any educational system to fix. There is so much to this topic and it is so important because by not addressing it we are condemning millions of people to an unnecessarily difficult life. This would be a sad, dangerous, and challenging subject to pursue. However, honestly, until we stop think of poverty as something to be “prevented,” I think our society will continue to “create” poverty in the name of preventing it.

A safer subject but closer to the “darkside” is the pursuit of computer-driven learning strategies/tools. In a standards-based, standardized testing-based world, it is probably possible to largely replace teachers with very well programmed computers that drill the “essential” information in a fraction of the time. There are interesting questions about whether computers can even create the open-ended learning promoted by art and research and general inquiry. They probably can. Anyway, I am certain there are dark forces moving out there to automate our classrooms. I would be tempted to follow that fascinating train of inquiry, if only to bring “light” to the process.

To conclude, I am always drawn to areas that have big problems that have relatively simple solutions. These “80/20 Rule” situations are among the very few where, I believe, major improvement can be made in the human condition. Until very recently, I wasn’t too concerned about the human condition. Now, however, I’m very much looking forward to seeing what I can do if I put my full effort into making the world just a little bit better in areas where I have some wherewithal.

Qualitative Research, Part III

What are some strengths and weaknesses of qualitative research?

The primary strength and weakness of qualitative research is its unbounded nature.  From a positive point of view, this allows quantitative research much great flexibility to investigate and illuminate areas, subjects, and situations impenetrable to other research methods.  Qualitative research can tell the reader how people feel, really feel. Quantitative research can record which feeling they checked off in a box on a survey.  However, qualitative research can tell us in their own words, with their own pauses and hesitations, what is passing through their minds at a particular time. It can use these single observations to weave an experiential tapestry, capturing the collective experiences of a time, a group, or an event.  It is modern in the sense that it values the individual and includes our collective humanity, even that of the authors, into the process and results.  It is more sensitive, both in the colloquial meaning and in the sense that it can follow the authors’ instincts to a conclusion or portrayal of life that might elude the more rigorous and arbitrary limits of conventional research.  Done correctly, it borders on great literature, capturing the unique human experiences and holding them still full of life and energy for the reader to see and appreciate.

That all sounds terribly good, and it is in the same way that the best form of government is a benevolent dictatorship.  The problem with all this open-endedness and flexibility is that there are few rules to constrain how they are used, to what purpose, or even where the borders of legitimate science lie.  Worse still, the recent trend is to polarize, politicize, and to turn to deliberate advocacy under the guise of research, “research” which still travels under the concept of science.  I am not prepared to make that leap.  It is one thing for me when a human follows his or her heart to a story of an event supported by the gathered words of the participants.  The Pearl may not be the only way to view La Paz, Mexico but it changes each of us in important ways by evoking facets our shared humanity and human experiences in the lives of the people it portrays.  However, Steinbeck was a writer of fiction and even as such, he cared more for the story than the advocacy.  My main problem with qualitative research is that not only does it have little by way of structures to make sure it follows the scientific demand of impartiality, it is increasingly denying any need or expectation of impartiality.

Quantitative Research

What are some strengths and weaknesses of quantitative research?

Quantitative research is a fantastic tool for expanding human understanding.  By using the time-honored tenets of scientific inquiry, it pushes back the dark curtains of ignorance in our lives.  It is “systematic and purposeful.”  It “is conducted and reported in such a way that the argument can be examined painstakingly.  The report does not depend for its appeal on the eloquence of the writer or any surface plausibility.” It usually “assumes there are stable, social facts with a single reality, separated from the feelings and beliefs of individuals.” In quantitative research, “there is an established set of procedures and steps that guide the researcher.”  The researcher must remain “detached from the study to avoid bias.”  By doing all these things, quantitative research sheds informational light on the subject under study, allowing improved predictability and suggesting how changes in process could result in changes in outcomes.  It specific, practical, and observable.  By “observable,” I mean that the process by which a conclusion is reached and the facts upon which that conclusion is made are exposed to the reader and subject to independent scrutiny.  The conclusions can be judged in the context of the process, the facts, the methodology, and the solidity of the statistical outcomes.  It can also be replicated, checked against differing situations, places, people, and times for verification of universality.  It is an incredibly powerful tool to refine and improve outcomes.

The famous quote “there are lies, damn lies, and statistics” captures the flavor of the weakness of quantitative research.  It is possible to design studies such that essential causal factors are missed.  It is very easy to confuse correlation for causation in such studies (though after many years of use, I would like to think this is not such an easy mistake to sell anymore).  It is not hard to “data mine” samples for facts which support the desired argument while ignoring facts which do not. Finally, there are subjects, which are inaccessible to statistical methods, or are anyway better portrayed in a holistic representation of the words and experiences of the participants.  I think Mark Twain compared humor to dissecting frogs, claiming “both suffer from the experience.”  Likewise, many aspects of human existence lose a great measure of “truth” when broken into constituent parts.  Certainly, it takes a particular sensitivity to run the wheels of the quantitative research machine along the grain of life such that the reductionist techniques leave the reality of life intact.

Instructional Strategies

What criteria would you use to determine developmentally appropriate instructional strategies?

The CalTPA handbook lists a series of developmentally appropriate instructional strategies. They are broken down into age categories: Grades K-3, Grades 4-8, and 9-12. They are included in TPE 6. Here are some examples from the CalTPA Handbook, Appendix A:

Grades K-3

  • understand how to create a structured day with opportunities for movement
  • design academic activities that suit the attention span of young learners
  • instructional activities connect with the children’s immediate world
  • draw on key content from more than one subject area
  • include hands-on experiences and manipulatives that help students learn
  • teach and model norms of social interactions (e.g., consideration, cooperation, responsibility, empathy)
  • educational experiences that help students develop more realistic expectations and understandings of their environment
  • special plans for students who require extra help in exercising self-control among their peers or who have exceptional needs or abilities

 

Grades 4-8 

  • build on students’ command of basic skills and understandings
  • provide intensive support for students who lack basic skills as defined in state-adopted academic content standards for students
  • teach from grade-level texts
  • design learning activities to extend students’ concrete thinking and foster abstract reasoning and problem-solving skills
  • help students develop learning strategies to cope with increasingly challenging academic curriculum
  • assist students, as needed, in developing and practicing strategies for managing time and completing assignments
  • develop students’ skills for working in groups to maximize learning
  • build on peer relationships and support students in trying new roles and responsibilities in the classroom
  • support students’ taking of intellectual risks such as sharing ideas that may include errors
  • distinguish between misbehavior and over-enthusiasm
  • respond appropriately to students who are testing limits and students who alternatively assume and reject responsibility

 

Grades 9-12 

  • establish intellectually challenging academic expectations
  • provide opportunities for students to develop advanced thinking and problem-solving skills
  • frequently communicate course goals, requirements, and grading criteria to students and families
  • help students to understand connections between the curriculum and life beyond high school
  • communicate the consequences of academic choices in terms of future career, school and life options
  • support students in assuming increasing responsibility for learning
  • encourage behaviors important for work such as being on time and completing assignments
  • understand adolescence as a period of intense social peer pressure to conform
  • support signs of students’ individuality while being sensitive to what being “different” means for high school students

Steping First into the Concrete

How do SDAIE strategies illustrate the need to teach from the concrete to the abstract?

When language is an issue, working in the concrete is essential.  Whether this means using pictures or student-centered demonstrations to instruct, anything that lets ELL’s demonstrate their capacity independent of language is helpful.  Success is the best scaffolding and beginning in the concrete is the best way to scaffold success for ELL’s. 

Díaz-Rico (2008) expresses it this way, “The challenge is to use concrete means to introduce abstract ideas (teaching with hands-on materials, visuals, and demonstrations to lead into those ideas that are difficult to demonstrate or that require more oral or written skills)” (p. 240).  As she says, once the foundation of the abstract concept is laid with these concrete means, it becomes easier to move towards the abstraction of higher understanding.  The challenge is to avoid the trap of talking more into the silence.  SDAIE includes many strategies for concrete, student-centered teaching.  The trick is to use them.

Expressing the same idea, Rothenberg & Fisher (2007) says, “science lends itself handily to concrete, hands-on experiences that build background knowledge, providing a foundation for abstract thinking and for reading and writing about academic topics” (p. 209).  Once again, we see that ideas tend to be best learned from concrete to abstract.  This is particularly true for learning with language challenges.  Fortunately, art, science, and math all lend themselves to working in the concrete.  The various aspects of ELA are more challenging, but pair, triad, and group-work add scaffolding and support to the process.  Techniques like storyboarding can be very helpful in any of the linguistic domains.  Regardless of subject, every effort must be made to begin in the concrete and use that foundation to move towards abstraction.

The idea that learning moves most easily from concrete to abstract is an old one.  Echevarria, Vogt, & Short (2008) remind us that Bloom’s Taxonomy “was formulated on the principle that learning proceeds from concrete knowledge to abstract values” (p. 102).  Using concrete learning strategies for ELL’s and non-ELL’s is just good teaching.

References

Díaz-Rico, L. T. (2008). A course for teaching English learners. Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon.
Echevarria, J., Vogt, M., & Short, D. (2008). Making content comprehensible for English learners: The SIOP Model (3rd ed.). Needham Heights, MA: Allyn and Bacon.
Rothenberg, C., & Fisher, D. (2007). Teaching English language learners: A differentiated approach. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Merrill Prentice Hall.