Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Responding to Different Learning Styles

As effective teachers, we need to be aware of the fact that students have different learning styles and we need to be aware of how respond to these different learning styles. This video shows that there are three different learning styles: auditory learners learn through listening, visual learners learn through seeing, and kinesthetic learners learn through doing or through activity. 
Most people have taken a learning styles inventory at some point in their school career. These are tests that ask the person taking the test a series of questions to determine their ideal learning style. Anyone who goes to Cortland remembers the VARK Learning Styles Inventory from COR 101 freshman year. VARK is just one of the most recent learning style inventories and actually breaks learning down into four different styles:

Visual-These learners learn best through visual examples (watching someone do a problem on the board, graphs, diagrams, etc.)

Aural-The same thing as auditory in the video above, these learners learn best from listening to someone else explain something. These learners may little to no notes in class

Read/Write-These learners have good reading comprehension and can remember most of what they read. They’re also good at remembering things they write down (take a lot of notes)

Kinesthetic-These learners learn through physical activity (performing a movement skill, acting out the orbit of the planets, etc.)

In order to be an effective teacher, you need to incorporate all of these learning styles into your lessons. This is why we, as pre-service physical education teachers, are taught to teach skills in a very specific way so that all learning styles are accounted for. Having relevant cues can help aural learners understand how to perform a skill. Having a poster with these cues written on it is even better because not only do you get the aural learners but you also get the reading/writing learners. If you recite your cues, as well as have them on a poster, and you have relevant pictures next to the cues on the poster, then you just took care of aural, reading/writing, and visual learners. Demonstrating the skill from different angles and at different speeds, while reciting the cues, also helps aural and visual learners. And finally, for all students, but especially kinesthetic learners, practice makes perfect.

Get a copy of the VARK Learning Styles Inventory here

The Three Domains: How Do They Impact Learning?

            In order to be effective teachers, we need to be aware of the three domains of learning and how they impact learning. The three domains of learning, which belong to Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning Domains, are psychomotor, cognitive, and affective. The psychomotor domain involves movement skills; anything that involves the student moving in some way. The cognitive domain has to do with knowledge. This can include general knowledge, tactics and strategies for sports, movement concepts, etc. The affective domain involves social and emotional skills. Any activity in which the student is interacting with other students is part of the affective domain. The affective domain also includes things such as resource management and the enjoyment of physical activity.
            So how do these three domains impact our teaching, and more importantly our students learning? Well if you’re “in the know” when it comes to teaching physical education, then you should be familiar with the NASPE Standards for Physical Education:

Standard 1: A physically educated person demonstrates competency in motor skills and movement patterns needed to perform a variety of physical activities

Standard 2: A physically educated person demonstrates understanding of movement concepts, principles, strategies, and tactics as they apply to the learning and performance of physical activities

Standard 3: A physically educated person participates regularly in physical activity

Standard 4: A physically educated person achieves and maintains a health-enhancing level of physical fitness

Standard 5: A physically educated person exhibits responsible personal and social behavior that respects self and others in physical activity settings

Standard 6: A physically educated person values physical education for health, enjoyment, challenge, self-expression, and/or social interaction

So now that we know the NASPE Standards for Physical Education, and the three domains of learning, we just need to connect the two. Standards 1, 3, and 4 all have to do with actually participating in physical activity so these three standards fall under the psychomotor domain. Standard 2 has to do with the knowledge and understanding of movement concepts, strategy, etc. so this falls under the cognitive domain. Standards 5 and 6 fall under the affective domain since they have to do with social skills and values.
When teaching, it’s important to include all three of these domains in every lesson because they all impact learning in a multitude of different ways (to keep things simple, we’ll just talk about physical education for now, but these should be included in lesson plans for every subject). The psychomotor domain is obviously the domain that is paid the most attention to in most physical education settings since we want to teach our students the skills that will allow them to live a healthy lifestyle. However, living a healthy lifestyle is more than just being able to perform the skills, and the other two domains play an equally large part in teaching students about being active and healthy. The cognitive domain helps students know why they’re doing something. Anybody can tell the students “Go run laps” but as physical educators our job is to make sure the students understand how running those laps will benefit them. If you teach students the methods behind dieting and exercise, rather than just teaching them how to perform certain exercises, it will ultimately make them more physically educated people which will allow them to take care of themselves and achieve lifelong fitness. The cognitive domain can also impact learning because once a student understands the benefits of certain physical activities, they may be more likely to actively participate in those activities. So now when the teacher says “Go run laps” the student knows that running laps will improve their cardiovascular fitness as well as help them burn more calories which will allow them to get into better shape and ultimately live a healthier lifestyle.
The affective domain impacts learning in a physical education setting because students need to be socially adept and comfortable around their peers in order to learn the psychomotor skills being taught. Everybody who’s ever gone through any PE program has seen the students who don’t participate and just kind of stand around for the entire class. These students aren’t learning any of the skills being taught and will have a hard time living a healthy lifestyle if they don’t know these skills. They’ll also probably fail the class which will only hurt them more in terms of graduating and going to college. It may seem like these students just don’t care, but coming from someone who used to be one of those students, it’s more a matter of being afraid of embarrassing themselves in front of their peers. If a student feels like they’re going to be made fun of if they try to catch a ball and fail, then it’s easier to just not try to catch the ball. And sadly, most of the time a student who messes something up in PE class will be ridiculed by the other, “more athletic” students. I mentioned in my last blog post that during my EDU 256 experience I had the chance to interview an outstanding English teacher and I received a lot of great advice from her. Perhaps some of the best advice I got from her had to do with making the learning environment safe. I observed one of her classes in which the students were acting out Shakespeare and noticed that all of the students were actively involved and enjoying themselves. I was shocked because when I was in high school, the last thing I would want to do is speak in front of a group of people. After the class I asked her how she managed to get everyone so involved and so comfortable with being in front of the class. She said that at the beginning of the year, there are always some students who are intimidated about acting in front of the class, but she makes it clear that it is 100% required and that they won’t pass without participating. She also makes sure to institute a very strict “no bullying” policy that involves being respectful of all students in the class. She said that “if you make the learning environment safe, so that the students know they won’t get made fun of for anything, then it’s amazing how quickly they all get involved and start having a good time.”
It’s extremely important to incorporate all three domains of learning into every lesson if you want you’re students to learn as much as possible. To be a truly great teacher, you need to understand how each of the three domains impacts learning and how to use each of the three domains to improve your class. This is where I think I can make the best contribution to PE. As someone who was never very good at the standard sports of basketball, baseball, soccer, etc. I can make up for it with my knowledge of sports and my knowledge of what it feels like to be that awkward, unathletic kid in class. Too many physical education teachers are ex-jocks who believe that everyone should be able to throw a football and hit a baseball as well as they can. While these skills may be important to be able to do, it’s more important that the students know how to live a healthy lifestyle and enjoy living a healthy lifestyle.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Teaching Profession and You

What are the advantages and disadvantages of being a teacher?
Whenever you talk to people about teaching, you hear just as many advantages to being a teacher as you hear disadvantages.
-You get to work with kids and hopefully make a difference in their lives
-Out of work by 3 or 4 everyday
-And of course, the big one: You get summers off

            -Teaching isn’t very respected by other professions
            -Teachers are always viewed under a microscope. Small mistakes could end your career
            -You have to deal with students who misbehave, and their parents who sometimes are equally as disrespectful
-Teaching is a lot more work than people think it is
-Teaching can get repetitive
-Teachers aren’t paid a lot
-Just because you feel something should be taught a certain way, doesn’t mean you’ll get to teach it that way
-Hard to find teaching jobs due to budget cuts in a lot of districts

So here’s the big question: After looking at those 2 lists, why would anyone want to be a teacher? To answer this question, you really need to ask yourself if the pros outweigh the cons. And honestly, 2 of the advantages on that list we can get rid of right now. If you’re a truly effective teacher, your job does not end at 4 o’clock in the afternoon, nor does it end in June when school lets out for summer. Great teachers are always working hard to either plan for the next day of class or plan for the next school year. So that cuts the advantages list down to 1 advantage, against 10 disadvantages. So now you have to ask yourself: “Does getting to work with kids and perhaps make a big difference in their lives outweigh my desires to go get drunk and post those pictures on my Facebook, Myspace, Xanga, Blog, etc?” If you really want to be a teacher, the answer to that question should be a resounding YES.

Another important question to ask yourself: “Am I willing to put myself in a situation where perhaps 95% of my students will be absolutely terrible, and their parents will be worse, and neither one of them will respect my profession or what I’m trying to teach them, but maybe, just maybe, if I work hard enough, I can really make a positive impact on 1 student and change their life for the better, is that worth it?” Again, this answer should be a resounding yes. I’ll admit, 95% may be a bit of an exaggeration, but too many people go into teaching expecting it to be a walk in the park only to find these things out the hard way.

What are the satisfactions—and complaints—of today's teachers?
A lot of the satisfactions and complaints about teaching are similar if not the same as the 2 lists I’ve made above. Depending on who you talk to there may be a few more advantages or a few less disadvantages but for the most part the lists are pretty similar. But ask any great teacher if the advantages outweigh the disadvantages and they’ll tell you “Absolutely.”
            During my EDU 256 experience, I had a chance to observe and interview a fantastic English teacher at the high school level. She was highly praised by everyone that I talked to as one of the best teachers in the district. During our interview, she admitted how hard teaching is and how every teacher hits a point where they wonder if it’s worth it. She went on to say that the even though all teachers get to that stage, the great ones push past it because they know that if they can make a difference in one students life, then it’s all worth it.

Can we consider teaching to be a profession?
A profession is a paid occupation that requires extensive training and formal qualifications. Based on this definition, yes teaching is absolutely a profession. Teaching requires years of schooling and training as well as real world observation and practice experience. On top of that, a profession is a career where its required to act professional. Professionalism, as defined in EDU 255, is a collection of behaviors and actions that uphold the integrity of a profession. As mentioned above, behavior that doesn’t uphold the integrity of the profession is an easy way to lose your job. Although I don’t agree with teachers losing jobs for things as small as a glass of wine in a picture, it’s important that teachers work hard and strive to be role models. Especially since, as teachers, we have a lot of contact and hopefully a lot of influence over our students and their lives.