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Elementary Teacher meets Adult Learning Theory

February 21, 2013

Okay.  I love my classes.  The classes where I am a student.  They are a definite time suck and I totally wish that I didn’t have that pesky J-O-B getting in the way of my studying, but alas, I have to actually, you know, TEACH between reading and writing about how adults learn best.

I am in many states of disequilibrium right now.  I wish I could invite my professors out to dinner, or maybe just over to my house so we could sit down on the living room floor and sift through everything…my entire course.  I sort of don’t know where to start.

This week’s assignment for one of my classes is all about learning theory.  I read the Stages of Reading Development by Jeanne Chall and oh!  I was so happy.  This progression begins at BIRTH, which, YAY!  I read through all of her early childhood and emergent reading stuff and vigorously nodded throughout.  THEN!  I started reading through the high school and adult stuff!  And!  I finally know where I am going.  And end result.  FINALLY.   I have been missing this.  Kind of blindly trying to get my students to read for meaning, and understand what they are reading and to know what to do when they don’t understand.  Trying out some analysis here and there.  Guessing at what to focus on, relying on the textbook that is really skill and drill.  It was like opening the shudders and letting the sun shine in.

Our next assignment was sort of review.  I read about the three major psychological theories of learning:  Behavioral (Skinner, Watson, Thorndike, Gagne).  You know.  Stimulus and Response.  Positive and negative reinforcement.  Learning is reinforced and anything not reinforced falls away to extinction. Cognitive (Brain based Learning).  You know.  Piaget and his cognitive stages.  Metacognition, connections, short-term and long-term memory, motivation.  Bloom’s Taxonomy, Learning Styles, and Multiple Intelligences.  And then there is Constructivism.  This is newer, but was the thrust of my graduate courses for my master’s degree.  Learning is social.  You construct your own understanding of reality.  Discovery Learning, simulations, problem based learning.

My feeling is that I use all three intermingled together.  I still use some stimulus and response.  GRADES, for example.  Feedback on papers, and verbal ‘good jobs’ during class.  I am still firmly in the Cognitive theory.  I have my students figure out their learning styles, and I love the brain based stuff.  A major part of my class is Metacognition, but I need to be better about teaching it.  Bloom’s Taxonomy is prevalent everywhere, but really the application, analysis, synthesis, evaluation stuff belong with Constructivism.  This is all the higher-level thinking.  Taking in information and then coming up with your own theory.  Kind of what I am doing RIGHT NOW.  This is the big goal.  And, I don’t know if I am requiring my students to do it.  Do I ever require that they do THIS?  No.  I don’t think so.  Gah!  BUT I WANT TO!

Finally I read an article called “Position Statement on Rights of Adult Readers and Learners.”  One of my instructors co-wrote it, but it was the other instructor for the other “theory” class that assigned it.  It made me stop.  I have so much work to do.  I feel like I have to revamp my entire way of thinking.  And? I have about a million questions.  This is where I need my instructors to come over.  Do I have anything in my courses that are in compliance with these “rights”?

But my biggest question is more about my students.  All of these articles assume that the adults are motivated and want to learn.  This is not the case for the majority of my students.  I am unsure that if I changed everything my students would be able to keep themselves engaged and WANT to do the work.  They need to be taught how to get excited about learning.  How to read and evaluate and construct their own opinions and methods of dealing with a variety of topics.  What makes them work–intrinsically?  I have been reading these three articles since Sunday.  I annotated and re-read several parts as I read them.  After each section, I wrote a quick reflection.  Now I am here further writing about it, but in very generic terms because I already know that there are exactly two readers that I have who give two hoots in hell about this.  But, see?  I am MOTIVATED.  I wish I could sit down and hash this out with someone!  How do I get my students to be where I am?  As adult learners?  How?

I am so glad I am in this program.  I haven’t felt this excited for a long time!

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4 Comments
  1. February 22, 2013 5:08 pm

    It’s so nice to see your enthusiasm! I’m enthused vicariously :)

  2. February 27, 2013 10:19 pm

    I think I’m probably one of those two readers who’s interested in this stuff. It’s so cool to see how much you’re learning and to feel your excitement!

    I think your question about how what you’re reading fits your students is super important. Oftentimes adult learners have lots of competing demands on their time (kids, work) and so they just don’t have that much energy left over for school. Getting them excited about learning can seem so daunting. But my thought would be that the more your time in the class itself is a learning experience students are excited about, the more possibilities there are that that love of learning might turn into more beyond the class.

    My other thought: That your enthusiasm for learning yourself, and for your students, is probably doing a whole lot more than you can see.

    Love hearing about your program! (I know, I’m a nerd too…)

  3. March 7, 2013 7:57 pm

    oh Megsie!!! so so so glad to know your vibration is singing! xoox, e

  4. March 20, 2013 3:31 pm

    Thinking about you. Have a post half-composed for my blog, hoping to put up today. Hope you’re keeping your head above water this semester with work and your program!

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