Research

Click on any one of the following topics to read more:

Learner-Centered Schools

Teaching Our Children to Read & Write

Freedom To Learn

Divergent Thinking

Challenges in the Learning Environment

South Bay/LA Drop-Out Rates

School Leadership

A Child’s Space To Explore

Humane Education

Education Cuts

US Rankings

Nature Based Learning

John Taylor Gatto

 

What is a Learner-Centered School?

Jerome G. Delaney
Faculty of Education/Memorial University of Newfoundland
Winter 1999

  • as educators would like to think that all schools are and should be learner-centered, but upon further reflection we may come to realize that schools do have some distance to go before they become truly learner-centered
  • John Dewey’s Democracy and Education (1916), a lab school is described as a plan for education with no discrete grades and much emphasis on “co-operative social organization”. The Dewey lab school focused on the students’ needs rather than on covering a well-defined scope and sequence of curriculum.
  • Students become a part of the learning team, empowered to make choices and to move at their own pace. This learner-centered type of education prevailed throughout the early schools, until the onset of the industrial revolution changed America’s vision of education
  • This “progressive” notion of what schooling should be was not without its critics and schools eventually embraced the industrial or factory model of education introduced to the United States by Horace Mann.
  • In the “factory” school, all students were grouped chronologically, were taught the same material from the same textbook, and were expected to function in an obedient, non-questioning manner (Schrenko, 1994). This system was designed to prepare all students in the same way so they would be ready to work on an assembly line.
  • Today’s students must be able to think, make decisions, transfer knowledge, acquire new skills, and work together in teams (Schrenko, 1994).
  • By the 1990s, the call for this “second-order” or systemic change led people to question the basic principles and practices of the traditional “factory” model of education (Schrenko, 1994). There now seemed to be a renewed interest in the learner-centered concept but, according to Alexander and Murphy (1993), it was not until the American Psychological Association (APA) produced a concise, research-based summary of the basic principles of learner-centered schooling that a concise framework for defining the nature of the learner-centered school emerged.
  • Learner-Centered Principles. The following is a list of those principles as developed by the APA (cited in McCombs & Whisler, 1997, p. 5-6): Metacognitive and Cognitive Factors
  • Principle 1: The nature of the learning process. Learning is a natural process of pursuing personally meaningful goals, and it is active, volitional, and internally mediated; it is a process of discovering and constructing meaning from information and experience, filtered through the learner’s unique perceptions, thoughts, and feelings.
  • Principle 2: Goals of the learning process. The learner seeks to create meaningful, coherent representations of knowledge regardless of the quantity and quality of data available.
  • Principle 3: The construction of knowledge. The learner links new information with existing and future-oriented knowledge in uniquely meaningful ways.
  • Principle 4: Higher-order thinking. Higher-order strategies for “thinking about thinking” – for overseeing and monitoring mental operations – facilitate creative and critical thinking and the development of expertise.
  • Affective Factors, Principle 5: Motivational influences on learning. The depth and breadth of information processed, and what and how much is learned and remembered, are influenced by (a) self-awareness and beliefs about personal control, competence, and ability; (b) clarity and saliency of personal values, interests, goals; (c) personal expectations for success or failure; (d) affect, emotion, and general states of mind; and (e) the resulting motivation to learn.
  • Principle 6: Intrinsic motivation to learn. Individuals are naturally curious and enjoy learning, but intense negative cognitions and emotions (e.g. feeling insecure, worrying about failure, being self-conscious or shy, and fearing corporal punishment, ridicule, or stigmatizing labels) thwart this enthusiasm.
  • Principle 7: Characteristics of motivation-enhancing learning tasks. Curiosity, creativity, and higher-order thinking are stimulated by relevant, authentic learning tasks of optimal difficulty and novelty for each student.
  • Developmental Factors Principle 8: Developmental constraints and opportunities. Individuals progress through stages of physical, intellectual, emotional, and social development that are a function of unique genetic and environmental factors.
  • Personal and Social Factors Principle 9: Social and cultural diversity. Learning is facilitated by social interactions and communication with others in flexible, diverse (in age, culture, family background, etc.), and adaptive instructional settings.
  • Principle 10: Social acceptance, self-esteem, and learning. Learning and self-esteem are heightened when individuals are in respectful and caring relationships with others who see their potential, genuinely appreciate their unique talents, and accept them as individuals.
  • Individual Differences Principle 11: Individual differences in learning. Although basic principles of learning, motivation, and effective instruction apply to all learners (regardless of ethnicity, race, gender, physical ability, religion, or socioeconomic status), learners have different capabilities and preferences for learning mode and strategies. These differences are a function of environment (what is learned and communicated in different cultures or other social groups) and heredity (what occurs naturally as a function of genes).
  • Principle 12: Cognitive filters. Personal beliefs, thoughts, and understandings resulting from prior learning and interpretations become the individual’s basis for constructing reality and interpreting life experiences
  • Theory into Practice: Transferring the theory of learner-centered schools into actual practice is the challenge faced by classroom teachers and educational administrators. Such transfer begins with practitioners having a clear understanding of the various underpinnings of the concept – the principles that form the prerequisite foundation.
  • From those principles we are able, according to Schrenko (1994), “[to] build an underlying belief system about how schools and teachers can best stimulate learning” (p. 4). She puts forth the following premises for our consideration: 1. All children come to school willing and able to learn., 2. All intelligence is modifiable.
  • Teachers enable learning by creating conditions for learning by all: 1. Using mindful approaches, learner-centered teachers mediate learning by all., 2. Learning best occurs when individuals construct their own meaning., 3. Students must learn to work in teams., 4. Teachers facilitate learning by using different pacing and by recognizing multiple pathways to learning., 5. Learning occurs best when the school supports learner-centered instruction (pp. 4-12).
  • The literature contains a number of other characteristics of learner-centered schools. Schrenko (1994) offers the following: 1. Unlike the “factory” model of schooling, the learner-centered school centers on thoughtful expectations and high standards. School is defined in terms of the performance desired by the local community and the results obtained by the students.,2. The learner-centered school or classroom focuses on the success of all students. In the traditional classroom, children at six years of age are expected to know and do the same things. In a learner-centered classroom, developmentally appropriate activities are designed to help students use the thinking and learning strategies they will need to succeed both in school and in life. In a learner-centered system, standards are established, and each child is expected to achieve those standards. The time required to master skills may vary, but the standards do not., 3. Learner-centered classrooms focus on meaningful experiences. earner-centered teachers know that a “being there” experience is the best type of teaching so they provide as many real life experiences as possible., 4. Scheduling in the learner-centered classroom also differs from the traditional classrooms. Students do not change subjects every forty or fifty minutes but rather follow flexible schedules that integrate subjects enabling depth of study as well as breadth (pp. 28-29).

When Should We Teach Reading & Writing


From Lilipoh, Fall 2007 by Susan Johnson, M.D.

  • Children only should be taught to write, read, and spell when their neurological pathways for writing, reading, and spelling have fully formed
  • There is a widely-held belief that if we just start teaching children to write, read, and spell in preschool, they will become better writers, readers, and spellers by the time they reach the first and second grades.
  • pushing “academics” in preschool and kindergarten will result in even greater increases in the number of children, particularly boys, diagnosed with attentional problems and visual processing types of learning disabilities
  • The proprioceptive system is strengthened by physical movements, like sweeping with a broom, pushing a wheelbarrow, carrying groceries, emptying the trash, pulling weeds, or hanging from monkey bars. When children do these types of activities they stimulate pressure receptors within their muscles, tendons, and joints, thereby allowing their minds to make a map of the location of these various pressure receptors within the body.  In this way children develop a sense of where their body is in space (proprioception), and even if their eyes are closed, the children will be able to feel or sense the location of muscles, joints and tendons within their trunk, arms, legs, fingers, and toes.
  • Our current educational system is teaching children to read in a way that doesn’t make sense developmentally. Children in preschool and kindergarten are expected to memorize letters and words before their minds have developed the necessary pathways to identify letters, easily read words, and comprehend what they are reading. We are asking these young children to read, when the only part of their brain that is developed and available for reading words is the right hemisphere.
  • The right hemisphere first develops for reading, usually around four to seven years of age. This right part of the brain allows children to recognize words by sight.
  • In contrast, the reading center in the left brain and the connecting bridge-like pathway between the left and the right brain don’t start developing until seven to nine years of age (girls may develop these pathways a little earlier, while some boys won’t develop these pathways until ten or 11 years of age). It is this reading center in the left brain that allows children to match sounds to letters and enables them to sound out words phonetically. Now they can remember more accurately how words are spelled.
  • children need to have developed the “bridge” pathway that connects the two reading centers together. When children have developed this connection between the right and left cerebral hemispheres (bilateral integration), they can access both the right and left reading centers of their brain at the same time, and therefore can decide at any given moment whether to read a word by sight, if the word is short (a right hemisphere activity), or sound out the word phonetically if the word is long (a left hemisphere activity).
  • we also ask them to hold a pencil and write before they are developmentally ready…being asked to write with one hand while they still have overflow movements occurring in the fingers of the opposite hand. Before six or seven years of age, the vertical midline of the child is not fully integrated. When a child moves the fingers of one hand, the fingers on the other hand will also move, often without the child’s conscious awareness.  Printing of the lower case letters is a more abstract and advanced developmental task that requires the left hemisphere, which often isn’t developed enough for this task until seven to nine years of age. Girls may be ready to do this task by age six while boys often can’t do this task until after nine years of age.
  • In addition, children can’t learn and neurological pathways can’t form as easily when children’s nervous systems are experiencing stress. Forcing children to write, read, and spell, and giving them “standardized” tests before they are developmentally ready, will stress their nervous systems.
  • It is time to remove the desks from kindergartens and preschools.

Freedom to Learn, from Psychology Today

The roles of play and curiosity as foundations for learning
by Peter Gray

  • Our schools work against children’s instincts, not with them.
  • the means by which children became educated in hunter-gatherer cultures were the opposite of the means by which we try to educate children in our schools today
  • One of the most cherished values of all band hunter-gatherer societies that have ever been studied by anthropologists is freedom.
  • The hunting and gathering life required great personal initiative and creativity, and it required trust that people would share and cooperate because they wanted to.
  • Throughout our immense hunter-gatherer period, children were free to play and explore all day, day after day, and in that way to educate themselves. Education was always self-directed.  In fact, the reason children are naturally so playful, curious, and social is because those traits were the motivating powers behind children’s abilities to educate themselves.Those “childish” traits were promoted and shaped, by natural selection, precisely to serve the function of education, in conditions of childhood freedom.
  • when we force children to sit in their seats and listen to a teacher and do just what they are told, every bone in their body, and every neuron and muscle, resists.  Their body tells them, “This is wrong. I need to control my own actions; I need to play at the skills that seem to be important to me; I need to explore the questions that I’m curious about, not ones that bore me; I need to pay attention to what people in the real world are doing, not to what this teacher, who doesn’t even seem to be part of the world outside of school, is telling me. If I don’t do these things that I need to do, I will not grow up to be a competent, dignified human being.”
  • In hunter-gatherer times, a child who did not feel so strongly driven to run his or her own life and education would have grown up to be a misfit.
  • our children have instincts that drive them to educate themselves through their free play, exploration, and socializing. But we have schools that insist that they give up that freedom and do what they are told to do
  • The schools have never worked well, and even in theory can’t work well, because they always pit the school against the child and thereby evoke resistance
  • …we have two choices. We can continue stumbling along with our coercive system of schooling and continue to fight our children’s instincts, using drugs or whatever other means we must to dampen their cries for freedom.  Or, we can adopt what to most people today seems like a radical, even crazy approach to education, but which to hunter-gatherers seemed like common sense.  This radical approach is to let our children educate themselves, while we provide the conditions that make that possible
  • The idea that children can direct their own education, and can do it well, seems absurd to most people today; we are so conditioned to the idea that education requires top-down direction and coercion. But, for those who are willing to take a look at it, the evidence is overwhelming that the hunter-gatherer approach to education can work beautifully in our society today.

DIVERGENT THINKING/CRITICAL THINKING

Want to Prepare Your Kids for the Singularity? Read Jonathan Mugan’s The Curiosity Cycle

  • Children aren’t born with degrees in psychology and computer science, but their brains seem to understand those principles all the same.
  • In the future your children won’t just be competing against other children, they’ll be pitted against robots and computers too. What’s a parent to do?
  • Teach them about the best parts of being human: curiosity and creativity.
  • His book, The Curiosity Cycle helps parents find simple ways of inspiring children to have the flexible thinking and boundless interest they’ll need to stay competitive in the 21st Century marketplace.
  • It’s not about rote memorization or even developing specialized skills, it’s about raising kids who can understand the world through ever evolving models that they challenge and refine.
  • An old school child will answer questions on a test because they are told they have to. A curious child will test themselves and their environment long before a teacher ever hands out an exam.

The Learning Environment (traditional models)

A Nation of Kids on Speed (Opinion) by Pieter Cohen & Nicolas Rasmussen/Wall Street Journal – June 17, 2013

Walk into any American high school and nearly one in five boys in the hallways will have a diagnosis of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, 11% of all American children ages 4 to 17—over six million—have ADHD, a 16% increase since 2007. When you consider that in Britain roughly 3% of children have been similarly diagnosed, the figure is even more startling. Now comes worse news: In the U.S., being told that you have ADHD—and thus receiving some variety of amphetamine to treat it—has become more likely.

We still do not have a single randomized trial to help determine if starting stimulants as an adolescent or adult further increases the risk of future substance abuse, although the long and checkered history of medical stimulants would suggest it does. Certainly, the risks from recreationally using stimulants are already well-documented.

GET MORE INFORMATION…

In 2007, A Possible Dream: Retaining California Teachers So All Students Can Learn (Futernick) identified the following challenges in the learning environment:
• More and more children are coming to school without family support
• Teachers are require to do more and more in a limited period of time
• Teachers are expected to be experts in all fields
• There is too little planning time
• There is too much paperwork
• Unreliable assistance from the district
• Lack of administrative support
• Working weekends without pay
• Spending summer vacations taking college classes or preparing for the next school year
• Undue pressure from parents
• Students needing more time and attention

2010 Regional Drop-Out Statistics


Visit the Daily Breeze for complete article

  • Rates went down in every South Bay school district except one, Torrance Unified, and here the difference was insignificant, from a laudable 3.6 percent to 3.7 percent. By comparison, across California nearly one in five students in the class of 2010 – the exact rate was 18.2 percent – dropped out somewhere between ninth and 12th grade.
  • Statewide, roughly 17,000 students – or about 3.5 percent of all eighth-graders – gave up on academics before even setting foot on a high school campus, according to the California Department of Education.
  • Manhattan Beach, the most affluent and high-performing school district in the South Bay, 30 eighth-graders – or 7 percent of the class – dropped out of school during or after the 2008-09 school year, according to the state figures. That was the highest eighth-grade dropout rate of all South Bay districts except for Lawndale, where 57 eighth-graders – or 8.6 percent – quit attending school.
  • Across the state, the graduation rate was 74.4 percent, meaning nearly three-quarters of the students who started ninth-grade in 2006 graduated in 2010. Most alarming about the statewide figures was the high rate of dropouts among Latino and black students – 23 percent and 30 percent, respectively.
  • Although most schools in the South Bay witnessed an improvement in the dropout rate, there were exceptions. At Environmental Charter School in Lawndale the rate jumped to 7.4 percent from 0.6 percent
  • Lennox Math, Science and Technology Academy – a charter school well known for its stellar test scores. Here, the dropout rate jumped 10 percentage points, to 14.2 percent.
  • In general, South Bay schools that previously reported high dropout rates continue to struggle, but with significantly improved rates.

Leadership

Five Leadership Strategies for the New Year, from Edutopia.com

Giving Your Child Space to Explore


From Time Magazine, Sept 2011

  • Parents, if you want your kids to get more exercise, you’d be wise to get out of their way
  • American Journal of Preventive Medicine, observe how kids play in parks
  • authors discovered : the single biggest barrier to children’s physical activity had less to do with park design itself and more to do with the hovering presence of a parent
  • Children whose parents hung around monitoring them closely were only about half as likely to engage in high levels of physical activity as kids whose parents granted more freedom
  •  the youngest kids (5 or younger) were more active than older ones, and boys on the whole were more active than girls
  • Other active children in the park zone increased the odds of higher physical activity levels 3.67 times,” the authors wrote
  • next time you take your kid to the park, try taking a seat on the bench and letting your child figure things out on his own.
  • It’s O.K. if he struggles or even falls down. His missteps may help keep you from making your own.

Education Cuts

from LA Times, Aug 1 2011

  • The National Assn. of State Budget Officers estimates cuts to K-12 spending could reach $2.5 billion this year (2011)
  • Nationally, they were slashed $1.8 billion in 2010
  • Schools with high numbers of minority or low-income students are often hit hardest.
  • “I’m not sure what the breaking point is, but once you get much above 25 students, providing individual attention becomes difficult…To teach each child in my classroom, I have to know each child in my classroom.”

Humane Education

On Bullying:
Read the complete story, on the Humane Connection Blog, here

  • Researchers in Virginia, including Dewey Cornell, a clinical psychologist and professor of education at the University of Virginia, discovered that schools that reported higher levels of bullying had lower passing rates on three different standardized tests
  • the survey defined bullying as “the use of one’s strength or popularity to injure, threaten or embarrass another person on purpose
  • This research underscores the importance of treating bullying as a schoolwide problem rather than just an individual problem
  • Our society does not permit harassment and abuse of adults in the workplace, and the same protections should be afforded to children in school

US Rankings (from a TIME magazine report, 2010)

  • The US currently ranks 5th in cumulative K-12 education spending per student (only Luxembourg, Switzerland, Norway and Iceland are ahead)
  • Ranks 21st in Science literacy and 25th in Math literacy.
  • In 2009, 69% of 8th Graders scored below proficient in Reading and 68% scored below proficient in Math.
  • Currently, media consumption by school aged children is on the rise and the academic pressures of testing begin as early as 3 years old. These things affect children’s language and literacy skills upon entering school which are significant predictors of their later achievement. Children with strong abilities initiate a trajectory of higher motivation, stronger external support, and greater academic success , but children who enter school with weaker language skills encounter a gap in ability that only increases with age so that by the third grade it is too large to overcome (Biemiller, 2003).

Nature Based Learning

Topics and their effects include:

Child and Adolescent Health: There are rising levels of obesity, stress, heart disease, diabetes, depression and eating disorders among children and teenagers in developed countries.

Learning: Relentless testing and competitiveness lead many students to give up, become angry and embittered. Children labeled with ‘attention deficit disorder’ and ‘hyperactivity’ find it difficult to learn effectively in a classroom environment. Even successful students may feel their achievements have been won at the cost of their authentic desire to learn.

Anti-social Behavior: There is grave concern about the levels of crime, violence, abuse of alcohol and drugs, and low levels of public civility among children and teenagers.

Intercultural Relations: Ethnic tensions are fueled by stereotyping, prejudice, lack of respect and lack of equal opportunities in many areas of life. There are not enough public spaces where people from all backgrounds feel welcome to engage in creative activities that celebrate their similarity and their diversity.

Civic Engagement: The failure to give children and youth a voice and a role in civil society risks breeding a dangerous cynicism and ignorance about democracy and community building.

Ecological Stewardship: All of the ecosystems and species of the earth, including humans, continue to be threatened in numerous ways. Our children will inherit this major challenge and will be expected to care for and heal a severely damaged biosphere. But many children will reach adulthood with no experiences of being nurtured and healed by time spent playing or relaxing in natural environments.

John Taylor Gatto

“Books that show you the best questions…hurt the mind under the guise of helping it…Real books, unlike schoolbooks, can’t be standardized. They are eccentric: no book fits everyone. How (they) say what they say is as important as the translating their words into your own.”