Cognitive Science of Teaching and Learning

Brain

This latest discussion is meant to be a reflection of my personal learning experience in this class. The topics spanned Artificial Intelligence to Playing the Whole Game to applications to real-life experience.

I had limited knowledge of Artificial Intelligence (AI) when we began. I remembered the robots of my childhood, such as WALL-E, Johnny 5 (Short Circuit), C3PO (Star Wars), and Rosie the Maid (The Jetsons). These examples of AI showed intelligence, compassion, and emotion. Computers can process millions of bits of information very quickly and perform tasks or answer questions. They can even converse. In reality, however, they are not able to feel emotion.

We’ve discovered emotion, or feelings, are necessary for true thinking. “Feelings can be seen as responses to facts and sensations that exist beyond the tight horizon of awareness. They can also be thought of as messages from the unconscious, as conclusions it has reached after considering a wide range of information — they are the necessary foundation of thought” (Lehrer, 2007).

The next steps in our journey brought us to how to understand how we think – cognition.

Cognition

There were some key concepts in this and include:

Rules – Rules are the guidelines for behavior. They are learned and keep life from deteriorating into chaos.

Logic – Logic is a name for the general family of formal proof systems with inference rules. It’s reasonable and based on connections between facts and observations.

Concepts – Concepts are the big picture ideas and are the representations of our mental images wherein groups of similar features are grouped together.

A perfect example of this is the class. We were given certain rules regarding assignments, due dates, participation, etc. The readings and research provided the logic to back up our ideas. This all comes together to form concepts of what we have learned and understand.

So how does this apply? In the workplace, we also have rules although the logic sometimes escapes us. The general concept for most business is to make money by providing some type of service. In teaching ESL, we will use grammar rules to help students understand and be able to speak English. Logic will come into play as we apply reasons for the rules and bring it all together to categorize similar concepts.

Making Learning Whole

After learning the basics of how we think, it was time to Play the Whole Game (Perkins, 2009). Perkins presented us with seven principles, using analogies, to learning how teachers can transform education.

Play the Whole Game – Start simple but teach the overall lesson. Explain the rules, and make the experience meaningful. This is especially important when teaching adults. Carl Rogers believed adult learners need their learning to be practical and applicable to their lives.

Make the Game Worth Playing – Help the students understand the why of learning. Is it applicable to their lives? Is it meaningful? What motivates the student, or even the teacher? My favorite quote on student engagement and motivation was by Wlodkowski (1999, p. 7) “Historically, motivation and sex share a similar fate: both promise extraordinary rewards but when actually realized they continue to mystify and confuse. At the core of each is desire”.

Work on the Hard Parts – Practice the difficult things. If multiplication is tough, work on it until the student ‘gets it’. Golfers work on their swing, quarterbacks work on their throw.

Play Out of Town – Transfer learning from one concept to another. Help the student see connections so every lesson is not learned in a vacuum. This is valuable outside the classroom as well. When children learn to walk, they no longer think about it when running to catch a ball. Math learning will be applied to handling a budget and shopping.

Uncover the Hidden Game – Dig deep and understand what is going on beneath the surface. The hidden games include:
• Strategy – break it down to the basics
• Causal Thinking – what is the relationship between cause and effect? Is it always the same?
• Inquiry – “What do you notice? What do you see? Why?” (p. 151)
• Power – sometimes exhibits of “power, privilege, and presumption” are not obvious. One size does NOT fit all

Learn from the Team – Learn from others. Social learning and a great ESL learning tool which is “Pair Problem Solving” (p. 175). Communities of Practice defined by Etienne Wenger (n.d.) “are groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly”. They share a craft or profession and there usually are experts.

Learn the Game of Learning – Help the students learn how to learn. Empower students. This is where the rubber meets the road. As Perkins says, “explicit principles are likely to serve learners well…as objects of reflection and plans of action…” (p. 210). School gives us the tools to continue our education.

Other Important Concepts

We explored our personal learning styles and how this may affect our teaching styles. While I had no big surprises, it was helpful to see the different styles for each of my classmates. In a previous class I learned that most adults are visual learners. As Felder and Solomon (n.d.) point out most college instructors present material either in written or lecture format. When I teach ESL I plan to emphasize visual learning for the adult students, but incorporate other learning styles too.

We also discussed dynamic learning systems. The definition of dynamic is, “always active or changing”, (Merriam-Webster). So learning systems should be changing constantly. Since beginning this program, I’ve seen many changes in how we teach. We started with one-room schoolhouses and have evolved to online programs such as this. Adult education in particular, has changed drastically over the years with the emergence, and proliferation, of online education. The number of online students, with at least one course, surpassed 6.7 million in 2012 (Babson Study, 2012). WOW!

Another important concept was that of Cognitive Illusions. World Mysteries talks about the four kinds of cognitive illusions:
1. Ambiguous – offer significant changes in appearance
2. Paradox – impossible
3. Distorting – distortions of size, length, or curvature
4. Fiction – genuinely not there to all but a single observer
Illusions can be called departures from the truth. They are not logical and break the rules. We have circled back. A great video from Beau Otto (2009) gives great examples of what the eye sees may not be real.

http://www.ted.com/talks/beau_lotto_optical_illusions_show_how_we_see

How does this impact and influence my present or future professional learning environment? I’ve been lucky to have a training mentor in my current job. Without knowing the rules, logic, or even concepts I’ve learned by playing on her team. Now I have tools! As my goal is to teach English to adult speakers of other languages, I would like to develop a lesson plan using both formal and informal learning. I will apply the lessons of Playing the Game to these learners. I’m much more cognizant of learning styles and will incorporate different ways of imparting the same information. Mostly, I hope to motivate and engage the students by giving them guidance so they can be in control of their own learning.

How does this impact and influence the world of education and training? Knowledge is power and we can change one classroom at a time. As many new teachers are, I am excited and ready to make a difference. Is this an illusion? The reality may be that time, budgets, and apathy will take a toll. However, I believe we are forming our own Community of Practice and will work together to be better teachers.

How does this impact and influence my personal learning journey? As a student, I’ve gained deeper understanding into my own personal motivation for going back to school at 60 years of age. I can’t help but compare this experience with prior learning environments. I’m fully playing the game and applying concepts to my own reading and research. I’m reminded of Perkins discussion of the “hearts & minds” theory. Every school, every class, every teacher, and most parents do this at some time. “Take it to heart, keep it in mind, and do better next time” (p. 80). I will demand and give constructive feedback.

Questions for the future? Since I haven’t taught in a classroom yet, I wonder how I will recognize the hidden games. Will the lesson plans be effective? Will I be a good teacher?

Finally, I’d like to leave you with a quote from Beau Otto (2009), “There is no inherent meaning to information. It’s what we do with that information that matters”.

References

Babson Study, http://www.sloanconsortium.org/publications/survey/changing_course_2012

Felder, R., & Soloman, B. (n.d.). Index of learning styles questionnaire. Retrieved from http://www.engr.ncsu.edu/learningstyles/ilsweb.html

Lehrer, J. (2007, April 29). Hearts and minds. Boston Globe. Retrieved from http://www.boston.com/news/education/higher/articles/2007/04/29/hearts__minds/

Merriam-Webster Dictionary (n.d.) Retrieved from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/dynamic

Otto, B. (2009). Optical Illusions show how we see [Video File]. Retrieved from
http://www.ted.com/talks/beau_lotto_optical_illusions_show_how_we_see

Perkins, D. (2009). Making Learning Whole: How Seven Principles of Teaching Can Transform Education. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Rogers, C.R. (1961) On becoming a person. Boston: Houghton Mifflin

Webster’s Dictionary (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.merriam-webster.com/

Wenger, E. (n.d.). Communities of practice: A brief introduction. [Website]. Retrieved from http://wenger-trayner.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/06-Brieft-introduction-to-communities-of-practice.pdf

Wlodkowski, R. J. (1999). Motivation and diversity: A framework for teaching. New Directions for Teaching & Learning (78), 7.

World Mysteries. (2011). Cognitive illusions. [Website]. Retrieved from http://www.world-mysteries.com/illusions/sci_illusions3.htm

Exploring “The Game” and Emotions – The “Hard Parts” – Attention, Memory and Transfer

I’m a Seahawks fan. Seahawks

I have been since the inception of the franchise in 1974 and their first game played August 1, 1976. This is a team that knows how to “Play the Game” as Perkins discusses in his book Making Learning Whole. I make the comparison between the football team and learning because each involves emotion, hard parts, attention, memory, and transfer. These are the topics we covered in the last two weeks.

Demetriou and Wilson (2008) say “From early on our emotional development is inextricably intertwined with our acquisition of knowledge. Psychological research has revealed similarities between human cognitive and emotional processes”. As teachers, and students, it’s important to recognize the impact emotion will have on our acceptance of the learning. In 1975, I had just moved to Washington (state). I knew very few people and didn’t even have a job waiting! But, like most people in the Evergreen State, I was caught up in the emotions of having a new team EXCITEMENT, FUN, RECOGNITION, and PRIDE were just a few of the emotions we all felt.

In a learning environment, we need the same emotions in order to have motivated and connected students. Perkins refers to how needs and affect come together to motivate learning.

These needs include:

1. Physiological – hunger, thirst, bodily comforts
2. Safety/security – out of danger, no threats
3. Belongingness/Love – acceptance & affection
4. Esteem – achievement, competency, and affiliation
5. Cognitive – to know, understand, and explore
6. Aesthetic – symmetry, order, and beauty
7. Self-actualization – potential, self-fulfillment (Huitt, 2001).

Some of those needs are emotional and they all can be reasons for attaining education. Wlodkowski (1999) points out the “engagement in learning is the visible outcome of motivation. Our emotions are a part of and significantly influence our motivation”. Dr. Luis Pessoa (2009) discusses how “cognition and emotion are effectively integrated in the brain”. Dr. Ruby Parker (2014) states “emotion colors every learning experience” and that “every lesson we are to produce must take into account both rational and emotional appeal, because both the cognitive and the emotional sections of the brain are in play whenever learning is involved”.

Emotions can also be affected by our motivations. For the team, extrinsic motivation is money, prestige, winning. For the student, it may be grades, a better job, money (notice how that has a part in almost everything). There are also intrinsic motivations. My all-time favorite player, Steve Largent became the “player who best exemplifies the spirit, dedication and integrity of the Seahawks”. (Booth, 2008). Students are also motivated intrinsically by the joy of learning, dedication, integrity. Yes, it’s a theme.

Teaching English to non-native speakers will be a study in emotion. There are cultural differences to understand and address. While some cultures are more demonstrative about their emotions, others are not. As the instructor, it’s important to recognize the impact emotion will have on acceptance of the learning. We have all experienced teachers whose affect was charming, grumpy, or deadpan. Walking into a classroom and seeing the emotion, or lack of it, on a teacher’s face will affect how the student begins the lesson.

Oh, there were hard parts to starting a new football team. Some of the challenges faced by the new owners included finding the right coaches, getting good players, and building a stadium. Each of these was a singular concept, built of other – smaller concepts, which would come together for the whole. In learning, there are also hard parts. Students use both cognitive and metacognitive strategies to work on the hard parts. While they are consciously thinking about the subject, they are using cognitive strategies which can be general or specific. Like the Seahawks, they will have a plan. Stephen Luke (2006) says, “When it comes to teaching and learning, having a plan—or strategy— is definitely the way to go”.

In football, goals are achieved one yard at a time. In learning, instructors will assess students and set a baseline. From that point on, learning will be added in incremental bits. From Sheckley and Bell (2006):

Strategies for learning:

1. Begin with the Baseline of Prior Experience
2. Extend Learners’ Consciousness – Our job as instructors, then, is to expand the layers of their consciousness—remove areas of blindness—so their consciousness of adult learning has a
broader and richer texture. In doing so, we also help learners make connections between these new perspectives and their prior experiences. Without this connection, the new idea would
not have life.
3. Enrich Consciousness – real life problems

Thank goodness instructional designers have already developed a game plan for teaching English to adult learners. Luke (2006) tells us about Self-Regulated Strategy Development (SRSD). Students are introduced to a range of learning strategies designed to develop literacy skills across an entire curriculum.
Key points include:

1. Develop and activate background knowledge (Class)
2. Discuss the strategy, including benefits and expectations (Class)
3. Model the strategy (Teacher)
4. Memorize the strategy (Student)
5. Support the strategy collaboratively (Teacher & Class)
6. Use the strategy by yourself, independently (Student)

And the fundamental features of SRSD include:

1. Explicit and extensive strategy instruction on writing, self-regulation, and content knowledge
2. Interactive learning and active collaboration
3. Individualized instructional support and feedback tailored to student needs and abilities
4. Self-paced learning, with proficiency demonstrations required in order to progress from one stage of instruction to the next

In addition to having a plan, I regularly refer to Dave’s ESL Café for ideas from other teachers.

Pay attention in class! We’ve all heard that at some point or told our own children the same thing. Can you imagine a football coach telling a room full of 250+ pound men to pay attention while he goes over a game plan? Sure. It has to happen or each player will hit the field without the game-winning strategy. Students must do the same. And our job, as instructors, is to make it possible. Recognizing, and appealing to different learning styles is one way. We want the players/students to be engaged. Let’s provide valuable feedback. Perkins talks about the importance of communicative feedback as opposed to the “hearts and minds theory”. Instead of glossing over what needs improvement in hopes the player/student will do better next time, let’s work on those areas that need improvement. Football teams run drills. Teachers also run drills and one purpose is for the students to have those skills in their memory. We will focus on learning grammar and vocabulary one piece at a time. We will build on existing knowledge. McGinty says “Applying conceptual understanding from one setting to the next requires students to utilize the brain’s capacity to build new neural networks”. This is also true for instructors. Although we recognize our preferred learning styles, we can encourage ourselves and our students to stretch and learn in other ways.

Fougnie (2008) says memory is the “mental workspace where important information is kept in a highly active state, available for a variety of other cognitive processes”. We’ve learned however, that when instructors create activities that are too complex, it hinders the students’ ability to hold onto working memory and access stored information. There is a limited capacity for how much can be held in working memory (Gazzaley, 2011). In football, the quarterback isn’t expected to memorize every play. He has a playbook (notes for a student), and coaching from the sideline. When something changes on the field, he has to be able to access the correct play. Students have a similar problem and often rely on the teachers in the same way as a coach. We will also use Active Learning methods. With Active Learning, the students are involved in the process and developing their problem solving and critical thinking skills. Memorization will play a key part in learning English. However, we want to make it easy by using visual aids, audio tracks, and practice. http://www.ted.com/talks/peter_doolittle_how_your_working_memory_makes_sense_of_the_world

Throw a pass! Transfer that knowledge! Paul Anderson mentions that will all the learning he did in his field, he began to truly understand the subject when he began to teach others. We all are in the process of transferring our bits and pieces of the puzzle into a picture that will make sense. Research shows “adult learners need their learning to be practical and applicable to their lives” (Rogers, 1961). This is especially true for English Language Learners (ELL’s). There is a reason they are learning a second, or higher, language. The learning must have relevance to real-life tasks, and should be organized around life/work situations rather than subject matter. Eventually, the ELL’s will begin to think in English rather than translate everything in their minds first. When that happens, the puzzle will be complete and the game worth playing.

Current Cognitive & Affective State

References:
Anderson, P. (2009). Metacognition: Learning about learning [Video File]. Retrieved from

Booth, T. (2008, December 19). Holmgren given Largent Award by players. KomoNews.com. Retrieved
from http://www.komonews.com/sports/seahawks/36481564.html

Dave’s ESL Café. Retrieved from http://www.eslcafe.com/

Doolittle, P. (2013, June). How your working memory makes sense of the world. [Video File]. Retrieved from
http://www.ted.com/talks/peter_doolittle_how_your_working_memory_makes_sense_of_the_world

Fougnie, D. (2008). The relationship between attention and working memory. Retrieved from
http://visionlab.harvard.edu/Members/darylfougnie/Daryl_Fougnie_(Academic)/Home_files/Fougnie-
in press-chap 1.pdf

Gazzaley, A. (2011). Brain: Memory and Multi-tasking. [Youtube video]. Retrieved from

Instructional Design. (n.d.) Adult learning (K.P. Cross). Retrieved from
http://www.instructionaldesign.org/theories/experiental-learning.html

Luke, S. D. (2006). The power of strategy instruction. Evidence for Education, 1(1), 1-12

McGinty, J., Radin, J., & Kaminski, K. (2013). Brain-Friendly teaching supports learning transfer. New
Directions For Adult & Continuing Education, (137), 49-59. doi:10.1002/ace.20044

Merlot Pedagogy. (1997-2014). Teaching strategies. Retrieved from
http://pedagogy.merlot.org/TeachingStrategies.html

Nordgren, L.F. & Dijksterhuis (2011). IntroductIon: StIll thInkIng dIfferent. Social Cognition, 29 (6), 625–628.

Perkins, D. (2009). Making Learning Whole: How Seven Principles of Teaching can Transform Education.
San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Sheckley, B. G., & Bell, S. (2006). Experience, consciousness, and learning: Implications for instruction.
New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, 110, 43-52.

Wlodkowski, R. J. (1999). Motivation and diversity: A framework for teaching. New Directions for Teaching & Learning(78), 7.