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Direct instruction and creativity/problem-solving

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A new blog post at Scientific American ties the writer's personal educational story to studies I've seen cited before and which have helped me take confidence in what I see my dd doing, and how we learn together (I seldom explicitly "teach" her). The post and the studies to which it refers may be of interest to those who are either seeking, or finding themselves unexpectedly taking, an alternative educational path. Those of us who have kids who seem to demand or to require a different approach may find it particularly encouraging.

 

http://www.scientificamerican.com/blog

 

Go to "Guest Blog." The post is from July 7th.

 

 

"We say we want children to achieve at the highest level—to be the next generation of great scientists and innovators and artists and world leaders—yet the system we’ve put in place makes it nearly impossible for each child to reach their potential. Those worst off are typically the ones whose unique skills and talents we need the most—the most creative thinkers, the natural innovators, the ones who find comfort in the discomfort of not knowing, fearless in the pursuit of their vision."

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What's interesting to me is how much that applies to ANY learning situation. His experience in hypothesis 1 certainly does. For instance, I'm sure we've all found, when helping another mom new to homeschooling, that it almost never works to spoonfeed them. We share, ask questions to get them to think, and let them figure things out for themselves. And I definitely think there are times when his experiences in hypothesis 2 would apply. I can even see, in retrospect, where some of my college classes (anthropology comes to mind) would have been MUCH better taught this way, mercy. But that doesn't mean ALL classes or categories of learning are conducive to it. If that were the case, then no one would listen to TC lectures. ;)

 

Ok, maybe you don't agree there? Maybe TC lectures all start from a provocative basis?

 

Anyways, I certainly see where you're going. Sometimes it's wearying to think how out of the box we all could be, if we just had energy, no toddlers underfoot, no soccer practice to drive to, etc. I never seem to live up to my aspirations. :)

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Honestly, I find it a false dichotomy. In my view, there is a time and a place for both, and both are worthwhile in their own way and make up an important part of the picture.

 

An education that would be exclusively creativity-oriented would be slow and largely inefficient: there is an accumulated experience of generations and excellent ways to make a synthesis of that and to move on. The world would be a pretty grim place if each generation "discovered" fire anew, so to speak. I think direct instruction, especially in the historical context and fundamentals of "content areas", does wonders...

 

... when paired up with, where applicable, problem solving approach. I am not sure this is applicable to all subjects, or at least to all extents. Ideally, the content would be organized the way that it is a gradual discovery, even if guided to a point - think AoPS approach - but at some point you have to start "calculating" and considering other parameters, such as time, what you are looking into accomplishing in the first place, and so forth.

On the other hand, I fully agree that an education which remains on the level of reproduction of facts is a D-level education, not something to strive for. The point is not to know a Physics formula, the point is to understand the relationship between parameters so darn well that you can "invent" it should you forget it. To reach that level, more doing and application is required, more looking at problems from different angles, and less direct instruction, maybe, but not each field naturally gravitates towards that - and even there you would have some direct teaching to do.

 

One of the things I try to do with my kids is to have them write about topics they want to "think" about before I expose them to, say, what the philosophical tradition has to say about it (we did very little formal philosophy for now, though, the program we adhere to does it for the three final years of high school, not before). Or, similarly, DH has always done science with them by having them consider and discuss parameters, what enters the picture and how it is organized, and then got with them to formulae as a consequence of that, not vice versa. We had them learn much Hebrew when they were little not via explicit instruction, but via figuring out, by analogies, what things mean, and so forth.

 

But then again, none of that is honestly much different than what I had at school :confused:, though it was still considered an ex cathedra, professor-heavy approach. The key still seems to be in having engaged, enthusiastic, knowledgeable teacher - i.e. in having MENTORS in the process, especially for the things you are interested in, somebody able of thinking things through with you - more than in a particular approach.

 

Personally, I think that much of the function of school is to serve as a "glue", as it is expected (in my eyes) that kids will dabble in all sorts of directions and need a firm basis to round it all and provide broader context. So, in that regard, I definitely think there is a need for lectures, syntheses of available scholarship, ex cathedra approach and bringing a sort of mental order into a mess that kids naturally gravitate to by switching interests or leaving parts of the picture from their sight. Creativity and discovery-based learning is needed in some other contexts, especially for areas of greater interest for kids.

 

Maybe I just have enormously "versatile" kids, but I find that they can do both, as well as switch approaches to a topic rather easily, as needed and desired. They seem to respond well to a combination of that, rather than one OR the other.

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On the other hand, I fully agree that an education which remains on the level of reproduction of facts is a D-level education, not something to strive for. The point is not to know a Physics formula, the point is to understand the relationship between parameters so darn well that you can "invent" it should you forget it. To reach that level, more doing and application is required, more looking at problems from different angles, and less direct instruction, maybe, but not each field naturally gravitates towards that - and even there you would have some direct teaching to do.

 

 

A good example that follows through on Ester Maria's point is that of trigonometry. All one ever needs to "memorize" (in reality one works with it so much one just "knows" it) can be written on a small index card. Every thing else comes from understanding the relationships.

 

But we start it all by working with established definitions. These are not revealed by discovery as much as by statement. The sine of an angle is defined in this manner. The cosine is that.

 

Once we have those preliminaries established, a good trig course does allow a student to test the relationships and establish an understanding via discovery. One problem that I have found though is that not all students are interested in learning mathematics by discovery. Some want what I call a vender approach, a user's manual. But perhaps that same student will be interested in discovery in biology or history.

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The post and the studies to which it refers may be of interest to those who are either seeking, or finding themselves unexpectedly taking, an alternative educational path. Those of us who have kids who seem to demand or to require a different approach may find it particularly encouraging.

 

I'm confused about the reason you are posting this here - alternative to what? This high school board is already a pretty specialized alternative, even in the small alternative world of home education (In other words, I don't think many homeschoolers continue through high school). I've seen many Moms here talk over the years about how they are tailoring to each of their high schoolers, precisely so they can do what the author is proposing (teaching them how to think for themselves so that they can approach the world creatively).

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I'm confused about the reason you are posting this here - alternative to what?

 

:confused:

 

This seems like a decent place to post something like this. I'm pretty sure there are quite a few families on this high school board who have kids who tend to need a more 'creative' approach to learning, and would be interested (and as the OP stated 'encouraged') to read this article.

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An education that would be exclusively creativity-oriented would be slow and largely inefficient: there is an accumulated experience of generations and excellent ways to make a synthesis of that and to move on. The world would be a pretty grim place if each generation "discovered" fire anew, so to speak.

 

Well, this is very interesting to me.

 

I don't see him arguing for an exclusively creativity-oriented education: he's neither arguing for exclusivity of a single approach, nor is he arguing that "everything" should be discovery-based and creative. Rather, he is arguing for active student engagement, for kids being able to ask questions and rather than being dismissed or simply given "the right answer," being helped to immerse themselves in the complexities of the issue. The institutional academic world is deeply immersed in the top-down, teacher-directed, explicit instruction model AT THE EXPENSE of investigative, engaged, more open-ended learning. He is not seeking to end all direct instruction, but bring balance to an unbalanced model that represses curiosity and exploration, and particularly, as he says a number of times, represses or punishes kids who question correct answers, who want to find things out for themselves, who require engagement (not necessarily pre-existing "interest" or "fun" learning) to access and make sense of concepts and ideas.

 

And yes, that's slower. The author specifically makes reference to how the world "slowed down" as he devoted himself to this approach to science.

 

But -- and this is a very big but -- slower does necessarily not equal inefficient. On the contrary: the studies he quotes show that teacher-directed, student-passive learning (student as receptacle into which knowledge is poured) is inefficient, because it is INEFFECTIVE for many kids -- they don't remember what they are taught, they don't apply their knowledge to new situations, they don't understand the complexities and don't see what they don't know, because they are taught to consider questions as having a single correct answer. The group of kids taught in alternative classrooms with more hands-on experiences and more opportunity to engage actively with what they were learning , remember, outscored the conventionally taught students on the same standard test.

 

Is it the magic bullet for every kid, in every subject, all the time, at every stage of development? Nowhere do I see him making that argument. I see him making a powerful case for the surprising effectiveness of a different approach to the dominant model, which needs to be brought into an overly rule-based, efficiency-oriented school system in order to help ALL kids learn more effectively, but even more particularly, to engage those who are otherwise repressed and disenchanted under a more conventional style of schooling/teaching.

 

A number of us on the boards have such children, who resist top-down instruction and are adamantly determined to forge their own paths to knowledge. I thought the article would be both reassuring and enlightening for those people.

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I'm confused about the reason you are posting this here - alternative to what?

 

Gee Colleen. No need to parse her words so closely! I don't think it was meant as an alternative to what you or I or anyone else here does. I found the blog post interesting and appreciate what the author is endeavoring to say, that active learning can be so much better than simply passively receiving instruction.

 

I also didn't feel this author as advocating the one extreme. EsterMaria -- she wasn't advocating each generation discover fire!! But there have been educational fads that have almost taken it to that extreme. I can remember back when I was in 6th grade (in the dark ages, like 1971) my elementary school decided to tear down classroom walls, replace desks with bean bag chairs and fill the large spaces with "learning centers". It was unschooling on a grand scale. Of course it didn't last -- it was a ridiculous extreme.

 

But it is food for thought, an alternative to scripted curricula and high stakes testing. Clearly the most active members on this board are not on either extreme, but we are all education junkies and enjoy discussing these theories!

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KarenAnne thank you so much for posting this article - fascinating! Something I think think I've always known, but have lost sight of in recent years. For me, what happens is the time restraints become so obvious in high school. There's material which must be learned by a certain time in order for "the" test to be taken which will demonstrate to others how much learning took place during the year. It would be great to have more exploration, even beyond the usual labs, but I'm at a loss for when this would happen. For now, this creative approach is happening during the summer, but it used to happen more throughout the year. Thank you for giving me something more to think about as we plan the next year. :)

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:confused:

 

This seems like a decent place to post something like this. I'm pretty sure there are quite a few families on this high school board who have kids who tend to need a more 'creative' approach to learning, and would be interested (and as the OP stated 'encouraged') to read this article.

 

I wasn't questioning the place it was posted - just the reason stated. That's why I bolded parts of KarenAnne's post that I quoted. Maybe I also should have italicized the word reason. I thought most homeschooled high school students and parents were seeking alternative paths to education, by the very nature of homeschooling high school. So I was wondering if she had an even more specific audience in mind.

 

Gee Colleen. No need to parse her words so closely! I don't think it was meant as an alternative to what you or I or anyone else here does.

 

Well, that's why I'm asking! I can't figure out if she means alternative to what already seems alternate to me (homeschooling high school, many examples of which I've read about here) or not. As to the "parsing" comment - I read her whole post and the article to get the big picture, and then figured out what was confusing me, so I quoted it - I'm not sure why that seems to be a problem. Maybe my statement/question came across as terse, when I meant it to be brief? I am not eloquent. Maybe I should have put it as a question: "What alternative educational path are you talking about? Do you mean alternative to what people generally talk about on these high school boards?"

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The institutional academic world is deeply immersed in the top-down, teacher-directed, explicit instruction model AT THE EXPENSE of investigative, engaged, more open-ended learning. He is not seeking to end all direct instruction, but bring balance to an unbalanced model that represses curiosity and exploration, and particularly, as he says a number of times, represses or punishes kids who question correct answers, who want to find things out for themselves, who require engagement (not necessarily pre-existing "interest" or "fun" learning) to access and make sense of concepts and ideas.

The institutional learning is based on a certain net of parameters which, when combined, should bring about an "optimal" outcome - and here the "optimal" does not mean GOOD... more like, LEAST BAD.

 

So you have a parameter of time allotted for a specific subject in the first place. You have a parameter of money / resources / texts / the ability to work with something other than texts. You have a parameter of (in an inclusive system) highly oscillating intelligences and learning styles in a classroom.

Goals and purposes? Dual, mostly: you have an imperative to expose children to a particular (very often rather defined) content and have them learn it because that is what makes a well-educated citizen (:rolleyes:, but there is someting to it, when you think about it), but on the other hand, you have an imperative to focus on skills, learning that is meaningful to a particular student rather than an abstract one.

 

All of these things pull teachers in very different and often very conflicting directions. What most of them opt for is a sort of "greatest common denominator" approach - teaching to what works best for the majority, within the limits of efficiency that you are also bound by, realizing that it will not work for all. No matter how you set up the system and the approach, it will never work for all kids - not in an inclusive environment of so many different brains, backgrounds, interests. I have pretty much accepted that as a fact and abandoned idealistic hopes that it can be considerably much better than it is. The system is deeply flawed, as any system. But it may still be the optimal system, the least bad system we have, at least in some places.

 

There will always be "victims" of the system, so to speak - in and of itself, that is BAD, but it is a reality of any system. If you were to set it up the way that is perfect for your kid, millions of other kids who learn differently would be handicapped. The system is always going to favor somebody more and somebody less. And you just cannot prevent it - the logistics of it, when you consider all those parameters, is pretty much impossible. Another reason NOT to base your education on your formal schooling, but only use that schooling as a "glue", as a cohesive moment, and not take it too seriously.

 

A lot of teachers are doing the best they can, with what they have, and with the kids they get, and it is still not good. What you are looking for is a particular set of combinations that rarely, if ever, fully happens - kids who are more or less on the same wave length, from the more or less same background, responsive to more or less same way of teaching, with comparable academic preparations, enthusiastic professors who can work with a lot bigger common denominator than usual, etc. One of the reasons why my high school education was such a success, I think, was exactly due to that - lack of diversity and so big oscillations. It was one of those excellent combinations, and it was an exceptional, rather than a standard situation. Such is life. Except for highly selective schools which can "fabricate" such a combination they wish, the reality is that in your typical schools there is a mess of different brains, backgrounds, tempers, people, possible approaches and not all can be satisfied. It may even be said that not the majority will be fully satisfied, but that the "optimal" approach will actually cater to minority to full satisfaction... but while doing so, it will be within the limits of all those parameters we spoke about before. It is just the way it is.

 

Finding problems like this in chaotic systems are is easy. Solutions? So far none, other than extreme stratification of the system. And then there are moral repercussions to that. People are aware of that, Karen, they are very well aware of that. But sometimes, you just choose the least of evils, even if you know it is in and of itself bad. Sometimes there are no good choices. There is no way in which the educational system could be reformed to satisfy all in an inclusive environment.

 

Many kids do well with hands-on. Many do great with theory and find hands-on a complete waste of time and energy, because they had already calculated everything in their mind. I was that type of kid. Even other kids' questions vexed me at times because I had already asked them AND I had already answered them in my mind by the time they started asking, so for the next five minutes I was bored out of my mind because things "clicked" for me pretty much instantly in most fields. So whom do we privilege? The kid who wants to ask or the one who is irritated by 99% of questions because she is a bit faster at thinking and drawing connections than most kids, and more than ready to take it to the private sphere, outside of school boundaries, if something really interests her?

Many kids do well with more chaotic learning, whole to parts kind of thing. Incremental thinkers are terribly at loss there, angry with the school not doing its job in providing the structure, as they can always explore more on their own if sometimes catches their attention particularly. Bridging the two? People try, they really try, I know many teachers who are going above and beyond their "requirements", professionally, to bridge those differences, but more often than not, you just... cannot. Logistics of time, resources, efficiency with regard to content coverage, efficiency with regard to minimal understanding.

 

One of the problems I have with setting things they way you (he) write is this subtle romanticized idea of a brave rebel, a really smart kid who questions authority, etc. and is then "repressed" by the system. I just have not encountered that in practice, except for angsty teens who feel that is the case (big deal, I "felt" that way too, until I grew up and realized that teaching groups is infinitely more complex than I got at the point where I was taught). What I have encountered are normally bright kids who can still question things in office hours or in their free time if they go beyond the studied content (because some limits must be drawn) on one hand and, on the other hand, the kind of unruly kids who attempt to "outsmart" professors (who have to draw things down to the kids' level many times, again because of all of those parameters) and question for the sake of questioning and diverting from what is studied. And then there are those who do not question. Who take a certain class for general culture information, fulfilling their duty of what a citizen is familiar with, e basta. Perfectly normal. Most kids are a combination too, depending on the class they exhibit more of one and less of the other approach.

 

To sum it up, homeschooling is ideal because we can tailor it to kids as individuals :D, but while I can appreciate the ideas expressed in the article (I do not even disagree, mind you, this is all thinking out loud more than disagreeing with somebody :), as we both think the balanced approach is what is needed... the tricky thing would be, though, how do you define balance :tongue_smilie:), I do think they have a sort of double edged sword potential in the context of institutional schooling. Sorry for the length, I always try to limit myself, but then end up rambling.

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Something I think think I've always known' date=' but have lost sight of in recent years. For me, what happens is the time restraints become so obvious in high school. There's material which must be learned by a certain time in order for "the" test to be taken which will demonstrate to others how much learning took place during the year. [/quote']

 

Yes, this is the Great Dilemma for a number of us, I suspect; it is also a dilemma for my dd, who feels the constraints of high school requirements acutely and resists them with all her power. Like the blog post author, I see very legitimate academic and intellectual reasons for her to do so. But that doesn't mean this is easy to do, that I'm not constantly feeling uncertain.

 

I'd love to be able to have an open discussion about the difficulties of breaking away from such huge cultural pressures toward efficiency and performance when some of us perceive a need for it and can see such clear advantages of doing so, in the cases of our particular children.

 

I don't know that this kind of conversation would be possible on this board at the moment, though.

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Yes, this is the Great Dilemma for a number of us, I suspect; it is also a dilemma for my dd, who feels the constraints of high school requirements acutely and resists them with all her power. Like the blog post author, I see very legitimate academic and intellectual reasons for her to do so. But that doesn't mean this is easy to do, that I'm not constantly feeling uncertain.

 

I'd love to be able to have an open discussion about the difficulties of breaking away from such huge cultural pressures toward efficiency and performance when some of us perceive a need for it and can see such clear advantages of doing so, in the cases of our particular children.

 

I don't know that this kind of conversation would be possible on this board at the moment, though.

 

On the contrary, I think we are having that discussion.

 

One of the issues that plagued me with regard to my son's high school education was course content. Perhaps this was driven by my years in academia, teaching sequential courses. When one is hired to teach Calc II, one must cover a certain amount of material otherwise those students who register for Calc III will have serious gaps. I translated this to Algebra, Geometry, Latin, French. AP courses were clear in their content. TWTM reading lists allowed for far greater flexibility.

 

Is it the nature of certain disciplines which allows us to walk away from standard content? Or is this also tied with the parental comfort zone. My son and I learned French together. I could not create a list of reasonable goals for a French I class without turning to standard syllabi and a standard text. (Perhaps the ideal would have been to send my son to Paris or Quebec for immersion but this did not happen.)

 

I am a firm believer in experiential learning, particularly in middle school. But it is unclear to me how many parents can lead a student (or several since many parents on this board have more than one child) through a variety of high school subjects experientially. There are limited hours in the day for preparation, let alone the experience.

 

Of course, all of this assumes that the student himself is headed toward a traditional post-secondary education. There have been so many threads questioning the validity of college so perhaps this is presumptuous on my part as well.

 

So KarenAnne--let's discuss. What is preventing it?

 

Jane

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love to be able to have an open discussion about the difficulties of breaking away from such huge cultural pressures toward efficiency and performance when some of us perceive a need for it and can see such clear advantages of doing so, in the cases of our particular children.

I am fairly convinced that, if you have advanced kids (from what I understand, you do), you can still do both - satisfy the cultural expectations of "the box" AND explore things your students are specifically interested in, in the way they want, without bothering about efficiency, testing, coverage of a specific material, etc. ;)

 

If you cannot do both, then I agree it is a tough call, the choice between a "comparable" educational experience to what is "expected" and an educational experience that is inherently more meaningful for the student... But in many cases, I still find the possibility of a compromise of a kind, a bit of both, or even fully both, depending on the kid and the situation.

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One of the problems I have with setting things they way you (he) write is this subtle romanticized idea of a brave rebel, a really smart kid who questions authority, etc. and is then "repressed" by the system. I just have not encountered that in practice, except for angsty teens who feel that is the case (big deal, I "felt" that way too, until I grew up and realized that teaching groups is infinitely more complex than I got at the point where I was taught).

 

I do not have a kid who is a brave rebel. I have an anxious child who is in many other areas of life a compulsive, helpless rule-follower and a person who quails in the presence of any authority figure, but whose mind simply WILL NOT ALLOW HER to accept teaching done in a way that does not work for her. It's a horrific dilemma for her to be in. She doesn't WANT to question authority; she doesn't look to do it. But she has to do it, or she would break down, mentally and physically, which is basically what happened when she tried very hard to conform at private school a few years ago. I had one very sick child on my hands.

 

It wasn't fake, it wasn't romantic rebellion, it wasn't anything but a tragic discontinuity between her mind and the way that formal, institutional learning was structured. She got sick because she DIDN'T want to rebel, didn't want to be different in any way from the other kids.

 

BUT SHE WAS.

 

I believe very well you have not met kids like this; I don't think they are terribly common. It's not easy to be that kid, and it's not easy to be her parent or her teacher. As I have said any number of times before on these forums, unless you yourself have a child like this, you will not be able to understand -- you'll think people like me exaggerate, or have problems with discipline and structure, or romanticize their child's rebellion. That is not the case.

 

As the blog article writer said, once he had found his own way of thinking and learning, it was something he COULD NOT give up, could not return to the passive learner model.

 

This is the foundation of the misunderstandings that continually crop up between you and me on the boards. You do not understand, you CANNOT understand, what it's like to work with a kid like my dd. This isn't a flaw in you or anything I'm criticizing. It's simply a fact; it's something you have to experience to even begin to imagine. I can say this until I'm blue in the face, but until you have a child like mine, or like Nan's, or Jackie's, or any number of others, you will not be able to understand and you'll always find serious problems with what I'm talking about.

 

As the author's experience in the blog demonstrates, dd is not alone, she is not learning disabled (although she did have dysgraphia for a number of years when she was younger), she isn't mentally unstable, she isn't undisciplined. She learns in a way that is profoundly incompatible with an institutional educational system or even homeschooling programs that replicate or rely on such systems. I know that a number of women on these boards have faced similar dilemmas with their kids, have felt similarly alone, doubted themselves and their decisions, spent anguished hours trying to figure out how to best help their particular children.

 

I'm not trying to reform the educational world, believe it or not, nor to convince anyone who finds that conventional methods, or classical methods, or Montessori, or Charlotte Mason, or whatever methods, work beautifully for their child. I'm talking to those for whom these things are NOT the answer, because we need all the encouragement from outside sources, and from each other, that we can get.

 

And I think there are also some people out there who may not have kids quite as resistant to direct instruction or what the author of the blog piece calls passive learning as dd is, but who nonetheless might:

-- desire to think about education, even hypothetically, in different ways;

--have an interest in current cognitive research about learning;

--miss the eager enthusiasm their kids may have had in younger years;

--feel the demands of college entrance admissions competition putting a mental straightjacket on their kids.

 

It is perfectly possible to want to explore other ways of thinking about and carrying out the homeschooling of an individual without romanticizing rebellion or wanting to overthrow all conventional education everywhere.

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On the contrary, I think we are having that discussion.

 

So KarenAnne--let's discuss. What is preventing it?

 

 

Gee, perhaps the same kinds of dynamics that have cropped up in multiple times in past threads like this, and definitely not worth discussing one more time.

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For me' date=' what happens is the time restraints become so obvious in high school. There's material which must be learned by a certain time in order for "the" test to be taken which will demonstrate to others how much learning took place during the year. It would be great to have more exploration, even beyond the usual labs, but I'm at a loss for when this would happen. [/quote']

The part of the article that was particularly interesting to me was the study that compared two different groups of physics students who were taught within the same time frame and took the same tests at the end — and yet the students who were taught by an inexperienced post-doc using hands-on, inquiry-based methods learned more and had higher test scores than the students who were taught by an experienced and highly rated professor. So, in this case, a discovery-based approach appears to have been more efficient, since it managed to transmit more information in the same amount of time. The difference in test scores was quite striking:

 

F1large.jpg

 

Equally interesting is that 90% of the inquiry-led group said they enjoyed learning in that format (1% disagreed) and 77% said they felt they would learn more if the entire intro physics class was taught that way (7% disagreed). Experience at other universities that have implemented similar changes bears this out. From the NYT:

The physics department [at MIT] has replaced the traditional large introductory lecture with smaller classes that emphasize hands-on, interactive, collaborative learning. Last fall, after years of experimentation and debate and resistance from students, who initially petitioned against it, the department made the change permanent. Already, attendance is up and the failure rate has dropped by more than 50 percent.

 

M.I.T. is not alone. Other universities are changing their ways, among them Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, North Carolina State University, the University of Maryland, the University of Colorado at Boulder and Harvard. In these institutions, physicists have been pioneering teaching methods drawn from research showing that most students learn fundamental concepts more successfully, and are better able to apply them, through interactive, collaborative, student-centered learning.

 

The number of hours students spend in class has not increased, and yet the students are learning more and testing better due to the change in methodology.

 

Jackie

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This is the foundation of the misunderstandings that continually crop up between you and me on the boards. You do not understand, you CANNOT understand, what it's like to work with a kid like my dd. This isn't a flaw in you or anything I'm criticizing. It's simply a fact; it's something you have to experience to even begin to imagine. I can say this until I'm blue in the face, but until you have a child like mine, or like Nan's, or Jackie's, or any number of others, you will not be able to understand and you'll always find serious problems with what I'm talking about.

Is there a hope for me, though? Or will I just never be able to see it the way you see it? (This is a serious question, I hope you do not read it as though I am being snarky - I am not.)

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The number of hours students spend in class has not increased, and yet the students are learning more and testing better due to the change in methodology.

Keep in mind, though, the parameter of smaller class size - something which is not applicable, cost-wise, for many schools, and of more regular attendance. The class size is a huge issue, the less people you have, the greater the quality of work no matter what is your approach.

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This is the foundation of the misunderstandings that continually crop up between you and me on the boards. You do not understand, you CANNOT understand, what it's like to work with a kid like my dd. This isn't a flaw in you or anything I'm criticizing. It's simply a fact; it's something you have to experience to even begin to imagine. I can say this until I'm blue in the face, but until you have a child like mine, or like Nan's, or Jackie's, or any number of others, you will not be able to understand and you'll always find serious problems with what I'm talking about.

 

 

And I think there are also some people out there who may not have kids quite as resistant to direct instruction or what the author of the blog piece calls passive learning as dd is, but who nonetheless might:

-- desire to think about education, even hypothetically, in different ways;

--have an interest in current cognitive research about learning;

--miss the eager enthusiasm their kids may have had in younger years;

--feel the demands of college entrance admissions competition putting a mental straightjacket on their kids.

 

It is perfectly possible to want to explore other ways of thinking about and carrying out the homeschooling of an individual without romanticizing rebellion or wanting to overthrow all conventional education everywhere.

 

Many of us will not understand your child. Perhaps you do not understand my child. But I believe almost all of us on this board "feel the demands of college entrance admissions competition putting on a mental straightjacket on (our) kids".

 

Are we that different in our quest to educate our unique children to the best of our ability and personal philosophies? Are we that different in seeking the best of all futures for them?

 

If I may say so, it appears that an interesting discussion is taking place within this thread.

 

Best regards to all,

Jane

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...who are either seeking, or finding themselves unexpectedly taking, an alternative educational path. Those of us who have kids who seem to demand or to require a different approach may find it particularly encouraging.

 

A number of us on the boards have such children, who resist top-down instruction and are adamantly determined to forge their own paths to knowledge.

 

I'd love to be able to have an open discussion about the difficulties of breaking away from such huge cultural pressures toward efficiency and performance when some of us perceive a need for it and can see such clear advantages of doing so, in the cases of our particular children.

 

I don't know that this kind of conversation would be possible on this board at the moment, though.

 

She got sick because she DIDN'T want to rebel, didn't want to be different in any way from the other kids.

 

BUT SHE WAS.

 

I believe very well you have not met kids like this; I don't think they are terribly common. It's not easy to be that kid, and it's not easy to be her parent or her teacher. As I have said any number of times before on these forums, unless you yourself have a child like this, you will not be able to understand -- you'll think people like me exaggerate, or have problems with discipline and structure, or romanticize their child's rebellion. That is not the case.

 

...

 

This is the foundation of the misunderstandings that continually crop up between you and me on the boards. You do not understand, you CANNOT understand, what it's like to work with a kid like my dd. This isn't a flaw in you or anything I'm criticizing. It's simply a fact; it's something you have to experience to even begin to imagine. I can say this until I'm blue in the face, but until you have a child like mine, or like Nan's, or Jackie's, or any number of others, you will not be able to understand and you'll always find serious problems with what I'm talking about.

 

As the author's experience in the blog demonstrates, dd is not alone, she is not learning disabled (although she did have dysgraphia for a number of years when she was younger), she isn't mentally unstable, she isn't undisciplined. She learns in a way that is profoundly incompatible with an institutional educational system or even homeschooling programs that replicate or rely on such systems. I know that a number of women on these boards have faced similar dilemmas with their kids, have felt similarly alone, doubted themselves and their decisions, spent anguished hours trying to figure out how to best help their particular children.

 

I'm not trying to reform the educational world, believe it or not, nor to convince anyone who finds that conventional methods, or classical methods, or Montessori, or Charlotte Mason, or whatever methods, work beautifully for their child. I'm talking to those for whom these things are NOT the answer, because we need all the encouragement from outside sources, and from each other, that we can get.

 

Gee, perhaps the same kinds of dynamics that have cropped up in multiple times in past threads like this, and definitely not worth discussing one more time.

 

KarenAnne, this is a sincere question - if this type of questioning/discussion continually frustrates you here on the high school board, or even on the logic stage board; is there any reason why you cannot bring up these issues on the special needs board? Or the accelerated board, if that applies in certain areas? Wouldn't those be the boards where you'd find Moms in similar boats? Don't they talk about these things on those boards? I don't frequent them, so I don't know, but I assume they would...

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Is there a hope for me, though? Or will I just never be able to see it the way you see it? (This is a serious question, I hope you do not read it as though I am being snarky - I am not.)

 

That is a very nice question, Ester Maria. I know KarenAnne here in the real world, and know her daughter. I have educated and launched into the real world my own far-outside-of -the box Asperger's kid. And yet Karen's situation with her daughter is still breathtaking to me. The daughter is absolutely brilliant, is quite lovely and funny, and yet she doesn't fit any box. Won't fit. Can't fit.

 

Raising a kid like this requires all kinds of extra work. And it is a lonely and sad journey because none of the conventional educational or parenting wisdom seems to work and someone is always critical. Perhaps being a mom of a "different learner" is like being an immigrant who is trying to navigate language and cultural differences. We have no clues, no context to follow and when we try to discuss our challenges we are completely misunderstood. And it is terrifying because at some point these kids are going to have to function on their own in the world -- how to you teach them to be street smart? To cook? To drive? To handle the constraints and rules of college and career?

 

I'm rambling here, and answering the question you directed to Karen, when she is likely typing at the same time 10 miles from my house. But does that help, Ester Maria?

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The part of the article that was particularly interesting to me was the study that compared two different groups of physics students who were taught within the same time frame and took the same tests at the end — and yet the students who were taught by an inexperienced post-doc using hands-on, inquiry-based methods learned more and had higher test scores than the students who were taught by an experienced and highly rated professor. So, in this case, a discovery-based approach appears to have been more efficient, since it managed to transmit more information in the same amount of time. The difference in test scores was quite striking:

 

F1large.jpg

 

Equally interesting is that 90% of the inquiry-led group said they enjoyed learning in that format (1% disagreed) and 77% said they felt they would learn more if the entire intro physics class was taught that way (7% disagreed). Experience at other universities that have implemented similar changes bears this out. From the NYT:

 

 

The number of hours students spend in class has not increased, and yet the students are learning more and testing better due to the change in methodology.

 

Jackie

 

 

To me, this is the best way to learn something like physics. But how do you replicate that in homeschooling? For example you highlighted:

 

research showing that most students learn fundamental concepts more successfully, and are better able to apply them, through interactive, collaborative, student-centered learning.

 

How do you arrange for a situation like this when you are homeschooling just one student? Honestly, I don't think it's possible without joining with others. I'm not a physics teacher myself, so I rely on the textbooks teaching my dd directly. She does labs and experiments, but it's still not the same as getting together with a small group of students and being provided the materials and structure for group exploration. It's that group dynamic that is missing in our homeschool during the year. And just joining a co-op wouldn't really be much different than what we're doing. CC classes are available, but I imagine that the majority of those are based on textbook learning through lectures, reading and some lab work. Kwim?

 

But I did find it very encouraging that MIT took the results seriously and actually revised the way they're teaching. Awesome!!!

 

KarenAnne I don't think that looking outside the box is only appropriate for those students who resist the "usual" methods. My dd learns very well by reading texts, but that's not to say that there isn't a better method, especially for some subjects. I would love to hear your and others' ideas on how the findings from the study above could be used to change, or improve, how we teach at home.

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Keep in mind, though, the parameter of smaller class size - something which is not applicable, cost-wise, for many schools, and of more regular attendance. The class size is a huge issue, the less people you have, the greater the quality of work no matter what is your approach.

The study quoted in the Scientific American article utilized two groups of comparable size — in fact the "control" group taught by the experienced professor was slightly smaller (171 students) than the inquiry-based class led by a post doc (211 students). The two groups covered the exact same topics during the same period of time and the test was designed jointly by the professor and the post-doc. The average test scores were 41% for the professor-taught group and 74% for the inquiry-led group — that is a HUGE difference.

 

Also, I recently posted about a charter public school (with apparently normal class sizes and a normal level of staff) that had implemented project-based learning, and their test scores were among the highest in the district despite the fact that they covered the state standards in an unconventional way and did not "teach to the test." Even cash-strapped state universities with huge intro classes could implement a similar system, since they already employ grad student TAs to teach part of the classes.

 

For homeschoolers, of course, class size is a non-issue. I also thought the fact that the inquiry-led students with the inexperienced teacher learned more than those with an experienced professor was quite encouraging for homeschoolers. It also demonstrates that it's not only possible to cover "standard" college-prep material in an inquiry-based way, but it can actually be more productive.

 

Jackie

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...is there any reason why you cannot bring up these issues on the special needs board? Or the accelerated board, if that applies in certain areas? Wouldn't those be the boards where you'd find Moms in similar boats? Don't they talk about these things on those boards? I don't frequent them, so I don't know, but I assume they would...

The special needs board tends to focus on diagnostic/therapeutic issues, and most of the discussion on the accelerated board is about much younger kids. Also, the article Karen posted is just as applicable to "normal" kids as it is to gifted kids and those with LDs. The students who took part in the study quoted in the article are, one assumes, mostly "normal" college students. And there are certainly members of this board with "normal" kids who choose to pursue more student-led approaches, as Teachin'Mine indicated:

KarenAnne I don't think that looking outside the box is only appropriate for those students who resist the "usual" methods. My dd learns very well by reading texts' date=' but that's not to say that there isn't a better method, especially for some subjects. I would love to hear your and others' ideas on how the findings from the study above could be used to change, or improve, how we teach at home.[/quote']

 

Jackie

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Is there a hope for me, though? Or will I just never be able to see it the way you see it? (This is a serious question, I hope you do not read it as though I am being snarky - I am not.)

 

I do not think you are being at all snarky and I do appreciate the question, as I know my dd will eventually be living in a world where few people are like her and few people are going to "get" her.

 

I just know that until I faced daily life with this particular dd, I would never have begun to imagine the extent of the differences between her mind and any other mind I'd ever encountered (although now that I know her, I've met any number of other kids who are different in similar or related ways) in over a dozen years of teaching everything from junior high co-ops to graduate classes. I too would have thought anyone who told stories like mine or spoke about the way her child needed, absolutely needed, to work and learn were exaggerated, or misguided. And I have to say that it was the absolute dire need to understand her that drove me, still drives me, rather than any kind of inherent open-mindedness or radicalness.

 

That's why I think an acceptance that indeed things are as I say, WITH HER, and with any number of other kids of parents on the boards and out in the wider real world, is absolutely necessary before conversation of these types of articles or philosophies can really get past the circularity, defensiveness, and/or criticisms of past threads (and believe me, I'd so very much like to get past that).

 

You don't have to understand it -- and as I've been saying, it's virtually impossible to do so without experiencing it -- but you do have to ACCEPT and try to believe that cognitive behavior researchers, neuropsychologists, and parents of such kids are indeed describing exactly what is in front of them and what they know, at a fundamental level, about these children.

 

You also have to accept that what some of us are talking about isn't going to necessarily be applicable to or true of a range of other kids you may know, and that, conversely, what is applicable to and true of this range of other kids isn't going to work for our kids.

 

And perhaps most importantly from my point of view as a mother, it would help if you could accept that what we are talking about is not a learning disability nor profound giftedness -- dd is very bright but not in the realm of PG -- but on one extreme end on the spectrum of how people are wired to learn. It's a huge difference, a complicated difference, one that will continue to cause her great pain because she is in many ways an outlier; but it's not a disability or a neurological flaw. She's not broken. I know you haven't said this, but I suspect many people reading about quite how different she is would think so.

 

Because I'm her mother, I do not and cannot accept that she -- or any other child -- can be considered inevitable collateral damage in a institutional educational system that is founded on one type of thinking/learning at the expense of any number of others. That's why I seek continually to enhance, enrich, inform, question, and reform my own homeschooling philosophy and practice.

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is there any reason why you cannot bring up these issues on the special needs board? Or the accelerated board, if that applies in certain areas? Wouldn't those be the boards where you'd find Moms in similar boats?

 

Because my dd and kids like Jackie's and Nan's and a number of others don't fit into these convenient labels or boxes. And also, because I don't consider the blog post I originally linked an "issue" or a problem best addressed from inside those boxes.

 

Jackie and I have tried to convey a number of times that our kids are not learning disabled, although a number of years ago dd has had physical treatment for vision issues and fine motor skills. They have learning differences which are ONLY "abnormal" if you accept as the absolute norm and gold standard one particular neurological model (usually referred to as neurotypical).

 

And I don't accept that. Dd is very different, but she's not disabled. There is a huge variety of perfectly normal neurological processing styles and needs. Dd may lie on one end of the spectrum, but that does not make her "special needs" (although her anxiety might), nor do her particular gifts make her fit tidily into the "gifted box."

 

And as others have noted, many on the boards with perfectly typical children are interested in thinking about, discussing, and perhaps even employing, non-standard educational philosophies and methods.

 

I try to post and write with ALL these different kinds of people in mind.

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Because my dd and kids like Jackie's and Nan's and a number of others don't fit into these convenient labels or boxes.

 

Thanks for answering. I'm also going to assume that you agree with Jackie's explanation about the other boards, unless you correct me. Her explanation gave me info. that I did not know about those boards.

 

And also, because I don't consider the blog post I originally linked an "issue" or a problem best addressed from inside those boxes.

 

I never said (or thought) it was! I understood that you put it up for encouragement for people. I just plain old didn't understand who your intended audience was! You posted on the high school/self-ed board (pretty specialized to me), yet your OP comments seem to specialize your post even more....thus my :confused: I am guessing, from a comment you made to someone else, at who your audience is. If I'm correct (and I won't know unless you answer my original question), I probably shouldn't partake in a discussion of this article. Which is what I was wondering in the first place.

 

Jackie and I have tried to convey a number of times that our kids are not learning disabled...

 

Dd is very different, but she's not disabled. There is a huge variety of perfectly normal neurological processing styles and needs. Dd may lie on one end of the spectrum, but that does not make her "special needs" (although her anxiety might), nor do her particular gifts make her fit tidily into the "gifted box."

 

I've not said I think she's "special needs" or "gifted." Again, I asked about the other boards because of my perception that you get frustrated.

 

ETA: As an aside, isn't autism somewhat/somehow related to Asperger's (and doesn't that word describe your daughter? It seems to me you've mentioned it before about her, but I could be wrong)? A friend of mine will begin homeschooling her 13 year old autistic boy this fall, and she has been asking me about materials to use for various skills-teaching. I told her about the WTM book, and she enjoyed reading it. She also went to a curric. fair with me, where I showed her the skills materials I knew about, and some that I didn't. I kept telling her, "I don't know anything about what you'll be dealing with, you'll also need to ask questions of the vendors here" and she kept dragging me around, asking me more questions about the materials I did know something about, and getting me to help her compare other materials. Anyway, my point is, I also told her about these forums, and in particular that there was a "Special Needs" forum, and "does that interest you?" It did. I don't know if she signed up, but my suggestion about the SN board didn't seem to be a problem for her. I really don't think I was out of line to ask you what I asked, based on my perception of you being frustrated.

 

I try to post and write with ALL these different kinds of people in mind.

 

But that's not how your OP came across to me, which is why I asked where you were coming from in the first place! Circularity is right. When you don't directly answer questions, I have a hard time following your train of thought.

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The special needs board tends to focus on diagnostic/therapeutic issues, and most of the discussion on the accelerated board is about much younger kids.

 

Thanks. I didn't know these things about those boards. I've read their board descriptions, but I only peek in on them every few months or so; and so I don't get a "feel" for them.

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KarenAnne, this is a sincere question - if this type of questioning/discussion continually frustrates you here on the high school board, or even on the logic stage board; is there any reason why you cannot bring up these issues on the special needs board? Or the accelerated board, if that applies in certain areas? Wouldn't those be the boards where you'd find Moms in similar boats? Don't they talk about these things on those boards? I don't frequent them, so I don't know, but I assume they would...

 

I just wanted to pop in with this. There ISN'T a neat and tidy place to put these kids. No, the SN board won't do. Head over there and see. I hang out there too. We're talking about how to fix your eyes and ADHD and things like that. It has nothing to do with the serious challenges of giving a rigorous education to a shockingly capable but shockingly different kind of student.

 

Seems to me there's plenty of bandwidth on the board for everyone to be here. Karen has read WTM (unlike some who frequent the boards), adheres to some of the ideas, and translates things into what works for her dd. I don't see the issue. Personally, I love the diversity. I always get this breath of fresh air when I go back and read WTM and realize 80% of what I read about being done on the LM and HS boards *isn't* in the book. ;)

 

That isn't an exact %; I'm speaking in hyperbole. But you get my point. No where in WTM does it lay down the kind of accomplishments and unbelievable rigor that some people on the boards achieve. And having MET SWB and talked with her about how she modifies to fit her kids (reluctant writer, need to get out of the box kid), I feel a LOT more secure in saying I or anyone else can do our modifications and still be in the spirit of WTM.

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I don't see the issue.

 

There's no issue about my "other boards" question. I saw frustration. I asked "what about this board or that board - would they be helpful". Jackie explained why not. No issue. Read my last two posts. We're good.

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KarenAnne I don't think that looking outside the box is only appropriate for those students who resist the "usual" methods. My dd learns very well by reading texts' date=' but that's not to say that there isn't a better method, especially for some subjects. I would love to hear your and others' ideas on how the findings from the study above could be used to change, or improve, how we teach at home.[/quote']

 

I'm about to fall asleep sitting up, but I'm quoting and posting this to remind me to come back to it tomorrow, because it's a really excellent question. Maybe others will get to it before I do.

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I'm about to fall asleep sitting up, but I'm quoting and posting this to remind me to come back to it tomorrow, because it's a really excellent question. Maybe others will get to it before I do.

 

My son is not yet in high school. But then, there are so many times when I am explaining something to him and I see his eyes glaze over, that I feel I need more tools in my arsenal to not just help him understand but also to get him enthusiastically engaged in his learning.

So yes, I am watching this thread and really looking forward to the answers to this question as well.

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I'm about to fall asleep sitting up, but I'm quoting and posting this to remind me to come back to it tomorrow, because it's a really excellent question. Maybe others will get to it before I do.

 

:toetap05: Okay are you up yet??? Inquiring minds want to know. :D

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But does that help, Ester Maria?

Thank you for your response, Jenn.

 

I suppose that part of the problem I have with wrapping my mind about this lies in the fact that the things we are talking about here are still so intangible for me, as a reader with presumably no direct experience of what we are talking about. I think what would really help me would be concrete examples which demonstrate it in more detail - for example, if a child cannot learn a certain way, what happens if they try? What happens in their head (if they can articulate it)? Is the response consistent or dependent on some other parameters, and if so, on which ones? Does the child instinctively know what is a better way to learn for them? Do they learn well exclusively their own way, making connections they need, or do they still respond well to a combination of that and more standard approaches? If so, can we rule out some more subtle benefits of applying standard approaches too? Are those preferences stable?

 

Or, for example, you talk about brilliance. But what exactly is that, how exactly does it manifest? Are we talking about savant-like skills? Or more typical academic brilliance? Or both? What are the concrete accomplishments of those children that are unusual? How unusual are those accomplishments in the first place? Are they really nature-based or we cannot rule out a particular nurture?

 

Or, say, if we talked about the specifics of home education - what exactly is different in the way you school(ed) your children? The focus? The intensity? The whole program which ended up not being comparable to the mainstream? The method, and how? Can you put your finger on what is it that you think you are doing differently and why?

 

I think answering some of those questions would be that which would really help those of us who are struggling with understanding what order of magnitude of differences we are talking about and how does it differ from our children (of course, I also fully understand why one would not feel inclined to answer them, just saying what types of questions arise from my perspective). :001_smile:

And perhaps most importantly from my point of view as a mother, it would help if you could accept that what we are talking about is not a learning disability nor profound giftedness -- dd is very bright but not in the realm of PG -- but on one extreme end on the spectrum of how people are wired to learn. It's a huge difference, a complicated difference, one that will continue to cause her great pain because she is in many ways an outlier; but it's not a disability or a neurological flaw.

Thank you for your response, Karen.

 

I am trying to wrap my mind about it because I am constantly insecure whether we are talking, essentially, about a comparable experience (no 'more' different than any two children are inherently different), only emphasizing different points, or whether we really have such removed experiences. If we really are facing so different realities, then I do suppose pretty much nothing we say will be applicable to the other one's situations.

 

From what I understand, you are talking about perceptible differences (with MRI, for example) in the physical structure of the brain, which then of course generates a different mind? Is there a way I can read about it in scientific discourse, but not too specialist?

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:toetap05: Okay are you up yet??? Inquiring minds want to know. :D

 

Up but perhaps not entirely functional...

 

A couple of thoughts to begin with. First, I don't think it's necessary to have a group, as in the experimental study, to do the more hands-on, investigative learning -- although it is definitely harder in high school for a number of reasons, primarily the pressure for coverage of material and the need for high test scores if one's child is college-bound. You have to think as widely as possible to create a list of alternative ways to get there.

 

For physics, for instance: Jenn's younger son has apprenticed with a neighbor who assembles circuit boards, and is currently an intern at the city science museum. Regentrude has said her kids will be assembling a computer. My dd has a more theoretical bent, but I'm asking dh to look among the current crop of undergrads and grad students in the labs where he works to find someone who will spend a couple of hours a week with dd, taking things apart and figuring out how they work, doing some programming and robotics, and guiding her on a project of their choice. The whole point will be to move away from typical labs and allow dd time and space to follow her own curiosity. Then, their projects will guide dd's reading rather than the other way around.

 

For literature: dd loves drama. I try to think in terms of extending the experience of a play (whether read or seen -- mostly we see performances, then read) in other ways than analyzing the plot and language, although we do that informally through lots of discussion. We have attended lectures by the artistic director of our Shakespeare theater, gone to meet-the-actors chats after performances, and this year hope to go to a program in which the audience is invited to first "live" readings of plays in the final drafting stages, and to give their reactions and suggestions. Jenn has kindly offered to let us watch her older son at work; he does theater lighting design. A museum near us had a special exhibit last year which was really interesting: theater costume design following the evolution of designs and clothing for a few of the Shakespeare plays in recent years. This is all in addition to dd's own internet and book-based research on things about theater she finds especially compelling, which I do not determine or control.

 

Off to find more caffeine. Is this sort of thing useful at all? I have more -- stories not about us but from other books I've read, which I'll try to put together later today.

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Thank you for your response, Jenn.

 

I suppose that part of the problem I have with wrapping my mind about this lies in the fact that the things we are talking about here are still so intangible for me, as a reader with presumably no direct experience of what we are talking about. I think what would really help me would be concrete examples which demonstrate it in more detail - for example, if a child cannot learn a certain way, what happens if they try?

 

When my son was in first grade he was able to do amazing mathematical things and yet fell apart with standard algorithms. He would multiply three digit numbers by six by multiplying by two and then by three. For sevens he would multiply by two and multiply by 5 and add them together. He figured this out on his own. And yet he was unable to memorize times tables or deal with the carrying algorithm.

 

Essentially he has zero ability to memorize anything unless he understands it completely first. This said he has an almost perfect auditory memory of things he does understand so he has a pretty encyclopedic memory of history etc.

 

My son's issues are pretty classic gifted dyslexic issues. There is a great movie online somewhere called "The Mathematician Who Can't Add" about an astrophysicist/ mathematician and the paradox between what her brain can and can't do.

 

The thing though is when you are talking about "out of the box" kids, I would think that you'd get wild variation. I imagine that there are a million other different types of kids for whom traditional education would be a disaster.

 

A more recent example was during star testing this year (we HS through a charter). During the test my son was turning all colors of red almost on the verge of tears. I later found out it was a probability problem where they gave the problem and then proceeded to give you the formula to solve it. He was irate. They had taken every last bit of joy out of math. No excitement of solving a puzzle just "here's the formula and plug in the numbers". It bruised his soul. Most kids wouldn't have noticed, or cared. Or perhaps would have agreed with him but taken it with a grain of salt. My son was devastated.

 

In a way this is one of the reason's a participate in the charade of STAR testing. You wind up dealing with this kind of frustration throughout life. I figure my son should have some experience with it before I send him out into the world on his own.

 

So sure. Many smart kids can think outside of the box and still be able to function inside of the box but I think for some it takes an enormous amount of effort to do so. It's not always easy, and sometimes not even possible. Or it might take years of practice.

 

Parenting a kid like this is a great balancing act. On the one hand you work hard to find ways to nurture your child's ability and to allow them opportunities to pursue their natural path. On the other hand even out of the box kids eventually have to deal with day to day life. I find it important to help my child manage. But the balance between these two is critical.

 

In the second grade I told an educator about my son and his learning style. She essentially told me that if I didn't teach my son the standard mathematical algorithm that i would find him "dead on the side of the road" one day. Really, she said that.

 

So, I understand how a parent of an oddball kid might be a bit on edge and wary of saying too much. You learn to kind of keep things to your self, smile and nod.

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Off to find more caffeine. Is this sort of thing useful at all? I have more -- stories not about us but from other books I've read, which I'll try to put together later today.

 

Yes, it's useful. Enjoying the conversation.

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I have gotten a number of ideas for project-based learning from the website for High Tech High, which is in my city:

http://www.hightechhigh.org

 

This is a charter school with admissions by zip-code lottery; it's highly sought after, and they have a stellar record in sending kids off to places like Stanford and MIT and University of Chicago. A couple of hours messing about on the "Projects" section of their website will give you lots of photos and descriptions of projects, some sample syllabi, and newsletter articles in which teachers relate how they came up with and developed their ideas.

 

Jackie and I have both spent quite a bit of time looking through the web sites of schools like Andover, Exeter, Deerfield, and Crossways, looking at how they organize their classes, what they require of high school students, and how theme-based classes are built. Most of these very expensive, fancy prep schools are moving away from AP-type classes towards intensive, investigative, theme-based learning, much of it responsive to the questions and interests of any given group of kids.

 

The kind of hands-on learning and analytical thinking we are discussing doesn't have to be connected to a conventional academic subject to be effective, either. Roger Schank, a computer scientists and specialist on memory and cognition, wrote a book called Coloring Outside the Lines. It's a few years old now, but it has some great stuff about what his research has discovered to be effective (note: not necessarily efficient) ways of learning.

 

He talks, for instance, about analytical thinking, which is a staple of the classical curriculum and many, many other educational philosophies. Only he defines what he is talking about as something that isn't learned from doing math problems or paper-based logic. Rather, he says, it comes from "putting your kid into a complex situation and asking him to figure his way out." Repeatedly.

 

The main example he offers concerns his son, who from a young age was absolutely obsessed with subway systems. On one of his trips he took his son with him to Paris, where he handed him a Metro map and sent him off, saying, "Figure it out." (The son's reaction: "Why have you been keeping this from me?") When this same son was of college age, the problem was whether and how he could turn his fascination into something resembling traditional academics. He asked his father what he should major in. "Subways," said Roger Schank. How would he do that, the kid asked? "Figure it out." The son ended up majoring in urban development and transportation, and when the book was written, was doing graduate work in -- subway systems.

 

However, I think the point Schank is making with this story is not that "Your child's fascination can get him into grad school like it did mine," but rather, that it is perfectly possible, as well as absolutely thrilling for many kids, to acquire and practice analytical thinking in contexts which may seem on the surface to have nothing to do with academia. Nan's kids do this, in spades, with their peace-walking and sailing. But as she has found, and Roger Schank's child found, the analytical skills learned in this hands-on way are flexible and cross-disciplinary, for the reasons outlined in the blog article I originally referred to: the learning is deep, profound; it sticks; it is also not separated into a category in the brain connected with a particular subject or subjects, but woven into all manner of activities and experiences. As a cognitive scientist specializing in learning and memory, Schank describes this a whole lot better than I can.

 

There is no doubt that this type of learning is at odds with the coverage aims of many, perhaps most, curricula. It's a trade-off, one I've chosen to embrace because my dd certainly learns best when she is an engaged and equal partner, taking a large role in shaping and choosing the course of her own education. But it is a frightening step to take, away from the security of formal curricula, and that's why the results of the studies, which Jackie did such a great job of expounding upon, are so reassuring and so necessary for me.

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Thank you for your response, Jenn.

 

I suppose that part of the problem I have with wrapping my mind about this lies in the fact that the things we are talking about here are still so intangible for me, as a reader with presumably no direct experience of what we are talking about. I think what would really help me would be concrete examples which demonstrate it in more detail - for example, if a child cannot learn a certain way, what happens if they try? What happens in their head (if they can articulate it)? Is the response consistent or dependent on some other parameters, and if so, on which ones? Does the child instinctively know what is a better way to learn for them? Do they learn well exclusively their own way, making connections they need, or do they still respond well to a combination of that and more standard approaches? If so, can we rule out some more subtle benefits of applying standard approaches too? Are those preferences stable?

 

 

 

 

Let me take a stab at this and I may come back later when I have more time to think and better order my thoughts.

 

A concrete example of what I'm talking about would be the kind of scores my ds has when evaluated by educational psychologists (he's had this done on 3 separate occasions). He tests as gifted. For instance his scores top out especially in English, but tests of his processing speed are in the 5th percentile, and his ability to plan and anticipate, or executive processing as they call it in psychology lingo, is severely impaired. Add to that some ADHD and you've got yourself an educational challenge.

 

I hadn't planned to homeschool, so he started in the local Montessori which tended to feed students into the top area private school. Early on his teachers were flummoxed because they could tell he is a bright kid but he was failing. They kept saying to me "it is clear you do so much with him because he knows so very much, but why is he struggling here?" He is slow in executing tasks, easily distracted. The most simple school task of knowing what to do first on a worksheet, and staying on task until it is done, was impossible for him. Yes many kids wiggle and don't stay on task, it is an age appropriate issue, but he was in a league of his own.

 

My choice was to introduce medication, therapies and tutors in order to mold him into the box of the school system, or find an education that would fit him as he is. I opted for the latter as it seemed a much healthier alternative -- the poor kid was only 7 years old and convinced he was stupid.

 

The trick over the years has been to keep applying standard approaches especially as his brain matured. And I'll have to write about that later as I have to head out the door. The short answer is that this kid, well, this young man now, is not following a traditional route at all, but he is a happy, functional and successful young man who is so very thankful I chose to homeschool him in with a non-traditional approach.

 

Oh, and totally off subject, but EsterMaria -- did your daughter ever start the violin??!!

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In the second grade I told an educator about my son and his learning style. She essentially told me that if I didn't teach my son the standard mathematical algorithm that i would find him "dead on the side of the road" one day. Really, she said that.

 

So, I understand how a parent of an oddball kid might be a bit on edge and wary of saying too much. You learn to kind of keep things to your self, smile and nod.

 

I wish with all my heart you were joking. I cannot BELIEVE someone said that to you! How absolutely unforgivable.

 

I mostly get called overprotective or coddling, which isn't nearly as devastating, but which is still immensely frustrating as the people who dish out these kinds of comments have no idea what I'm dealing with. I'm sure I'm on edge and overly defensive at times, but equally, that comes from seeing what dd is going to face in adult life, and my intense desire to advocate on her behalf. I don't always do it very well (I'm one of those people Garrison Keillor describes as being brought up in a tradition where the highest accolade that could appear on your gravestone is "We Were No Trouble"). But I keep trying.

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Up but perhaps not entirely functional...

 

A couple of thoughts to begin with. First, I don't think it's necessary to have a group, as in the experimental study, to do the more hands-on, investigative learning -- although it is definitely harder in high school for a number of reasons, primarily the pressure for coverage of material and the need for high test scores if one's child is college-bound. You have to think as widely as possible to create a list of alternative ways to get there.

 

For physics, for instance: Jenn's younger son has apprenticed with a neighbor who assembles circuit boards, and is currently an intern at the city science museum. Regentrude has said her kids will be assembling a computer. My dd has a more theoretical bent, but I'm asking dh to look among the current crop of undergrads and grad students in the labs where he works to find someone who will spend a couple of hours a week with dd, taking things apart and figuring out how they work, doing some programming and robotics, and guiding her on a project of their choice. The whole point will be to move away from typical labs and allow dd time and space to follow her own curiosity. Then, their projects will guide dd's reading rather than the other way around.

 

For literature: dd loves drama. I try to think in terms of extending the experience of a play (whether read or seen -- mostly we see performances, then read) in other ways than analyzing the plot and language, although we do that informally through lots of discussion. We have attended lectures by the artistic director of our Shakespeare theater, gone to meet-the-actors chats after performances, and this year hope to go to a program in which the audience is invited to first "live" readings of plays in the final drafting stages, and to give their reactions and suggestions. Jenn has kindly offered to let us watch her older son at work; he does theater lighting design. A museum near us had a special exhibit last year which was really interesting: theater costume design following the evolution of designs and clothing for a few of the Shakespeare plays in recent years. This is all in addition to dd's own internet and book-based research on things about theater she finds especially compelling, which I do not determine or control.

 

Off to find more caffeine. Is this sort of thing useful at all? I have more -- stories not about us but from other books I've read, which I'll try to put together later today.

 

Yes! As Paula said, this is great! :)

 

Your example for physics is a good one. And as I've said before in Regentrude's posts, her daughter is so lucky to have her as a teacher. I know she's taking the classes at the college, but her mom can show her so many cool things and has the knowledge to really enrich what she's learning in the classroom. I think apprenticeships and internships are awesome! Dd is always open to this and will do this if/when she's able. When it comes to exploring on her own, one of the obstacles is cost for the materials needed. This is where good lab equipment or a mentor with access to these things is invaluable.

 

And here's the but. All of this is absolutely awesome, but when it comes to taking the SAT II in physics, I don't see how any of this on its own would make for a decent grade. I think that a textbook would still be necessary. The revamped MIT class would do as would the class Regentrude's daughter took at college, but these other things while enriching and great experience and much learning taking place, wouldn't probably cover all that's needed to do well on such a test. So maybe for us the answer isn't so much about rewriting how dd learns something, but making sure that this book learning is well supplemented with the practical application of that knowledge.

 

I know that your daughter will be doing lots of reading after getting the experience and using that to determine what she reads - so that could definitely work. Maybe the problem is that we've been using textbooks for so long now that this type of thing isn't what my dd is inclined to do. When we first started homeschooling, she often researched and read about things that interested her - somewhere along the way the "formal" schooling took up so much time that this wasn't what she was inclined to do in the down time. Thank you - your examples were really helpful in my thinking this through. And of course this is just what's off the top of my head now, and I may get other ideas down the road.

 

Thank you for sharing about the Shakespeare theatrical experiences too! :)

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I wish with all my heart you were joking. I cannot BELIEVE someone said that to you! How absolutely unforgivable.

 

I mostly get called overprotective or coddling, which isn't nearly as devastating, but which is still immensely frustrating as the people who dish out these kinds of comments have no idea what I'm dealing with.

 

It wasn't all that bad really. I called her on it and held my ground. And after the meeting got a pleasant email telling me that everyone agreed I was a great mom (I think they were impressed at how well I kept my cool). I was pretty surprised as I was almost positive I came across as arrogant. Maybe I scared them.

 

The upside of this story is that it gave me the confidence to trust my instincts. For awhile when my son was young I wanted so much to get help. This meeting was pretty much a turning point for me. I realized that I was (and had to be) the expert on my son and that I really had no other choice than to take the "bull by it's horns" and figure things out on my own.

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And here's the but. All of this is absolutely awesome' date=' but when it comes to taking the SAT II in physics, I don't see how any of this on its own would make for a decent grade. I think that a textbook would still be necessary. The revamped MIT class would do as would the class Regentrude's daughter took at college, but these other things while enriching and great experience and much learning taking place, wouldn't probably cover all that's needed to do well on such a test.

 

So maybe for us the answer isn't so much about rewriting how dd learns something, but making sure that this book learning is well supplemented with the practical application of that knowledge. [/quote']

 

What I got from the Scientific American article wasn't so much about learning the concepts traditionally and then applying them practically, but rather about discovering the concepts through interactive, hands-on activities. Both groups of physics students in the study had access to a physics textbook, although there's no mention of whether they used them during the time period covered by the study. However, those who learned the material experientially actually had MUCH higher test scores than those who just used the text + lecture. To me this suggests the possibility of using inquiry-based learning as the "core" of the course, with the text as a supplement, rather than the other way around. And for some kids (like VSLs), this is really a necessity rather than a flip-of-the-coin sort of choice, because they simply learn so much better this way.

 

That said, I also think that making kids discover the answers themselves and then giving them the textbook or reading assignment can be extremely effective for many kids, not just VSLs. I'm very logical/linear/sequential and did well in traditional classes, but by far the best/deepest/most challenging educational experience I ever had was a series of independent study courses in philosophy I did as an undergrad. There was no syllabus, no reading list, no exams; I met with the prof several times/week and we... argued, lol. Well, it was more along the lines of Socratic debate, but basically he would back me into a corner and make me argue my way out of it, and then he would give me the relevant reading, after I'd come up with the arguments (or counterarguments) myself. IOW, instead of saying "Here, read Kant's Critique of Practical Reason and write a 5 page essay," which he would then "correct," he'd essentially play the part of Kant and make me counter the arguments (or vice versa) before he would let me read it. Over the course of three semesters he basically forced me to reinvent several hundred years of European philosophy. I worked harder and learned more in those three courses than the other 9 years of college/grad school combined. If I'd ever had a math or science teacher who taught that way, I'd probably have ended up in a STEM career. (I was gifted in math but hated it, because of the way it was taught.)

 

Jackie

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And here's the but. All of this is absolutely awesome' date=' but when it comes to taking the SAT II in physics, I don't see how any of this on its own would make for a decent grade. I think that a textbook would still be necessary. The revamped MIT class would do as would the class Regentrude's daughter took at college, but these other things while enriching and great experience and much learning taking place, wouldn't probably cover all that's needed to do well on such a test. So maybe for us the answer isn't so much about rewriting how dd learns something, but making sure that this book learning is well supplemented with the practical application of that knowledge.

[/quote']

 

There's a fascinating story in a book called Dream School, which is about one of the top-ranked private schools in the nation. One of the physics teachers decided to do an experiment with one of his classes, replacing the usual syllabus for a six to eight week period with a huge and demanding project -- having the kids experiment with Alka-Seltzer rockets which they would build and refine, then doing "launches" and coming up with the mathematical equations which would eventually enable them to determine where the rockets would land, THEN adding the complication of where they would land given a certain amount of water and Alka-Seltzer.

 

The final test was conducted in the gym. A hula hoop was placed in a random spot on the floor across from the launching pads, and kids had three tries to run their equations through their computers and/or calculators -- I forget whether the fuel amount was pre-specified or whether they had leeway on that -- and land the rocket in the hoop at least once. They also had to present their work on the design of their rocket and on their mathematics to a panel of five or six outside scientists and specialists brought in for the occasion.

 

The outcome: one of the groups that the teacher considered the weakest in the traditional AP class came out tops (either first or second place); the group made up of stellar AP students performed the most poorly -- they actually failed. After the kids begged for something to make up for it, he gave them a written test on the textbook material, which they duly aced. They simply could not apply what they knew because they were used to a very specific definition and use of knowledge. They knew, in other words, how to study for the test, and that was the limit of what they knew.

 

I know tests and scores loom large in the minds of most of us. But the blog, the studies, the chapters in the Dream School, are encouraging precisely because they say that you do not have to sacrifice one for the other. In fact, you will likely end up with kids who score higher on the tests if their work is not limited to or centered around a syllabus geared to the tests.

 

For some kids, you'll also preserve their love of a subject rather than getting the reaction that the ex-dean of Stanford Admissions Joyce Reed got when her daughter took the French AP test: "Thank goodness, now I never have to look at or speak French again." It doesn't happen with all kids, but it happens to some; and mine is a great example of one those kids whose passion for a subject can be destroyed when the emphasis is on narrowly defined performance and scores.

 

This whole thing can sound counterintuitive for many of us, I'm very aware, but that's because we are so used to the whole testing apparatus and the test prep industry. I understand it takes a lot of courage to do what feels like betting your child's future on a scary departure from the way things are conventionally done -- again, that's why the studies and stories are so important. I don't know that I would have done it had I not been faced with a child who absolutely required it.

 

If anyone is wanting to experiment but is afraid, even in the face of the studies and stories, to risk a child's SAT II scores -- perhaps you could pick an area that isn't going to be a SAT II subject for your child in which to see how it all works. My leanings are the opposite -- I do this in exactly the areas that my child is most passionate about and will be most likely to need to have scores in should we decide to go that route -- but I can see that for others it might work better and be less panic-inducing to start out in other areas and see how it goes, or to do as Roger Schank did, and build up a child's "outside" interest (the subway kid; Nan's kids' peacewalking and traveling and sailing) in this way.

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I suppose that part of the problem I have with wrapping my mind about this lies in the fact that the things we are talking about here are still so intangible for me, as a reader with presumably no direct experience of what we are talking about. I think what would really help me would be concrete examples which demonstrate it in more detail - for example, if a child cannot learn a certain way, what happens if they try? What happens in their head (if they can articulate it)? Is the response consistent or dependent on some other parameters, and if so, on which ones? Does the child instinctively know what is a better way to learn for them? Do they learn well exclusively their own way, making connections they need, or do they still respond well to a combination of that and more standard approaches? If so, can we rule out some more subtle benefits of applying standard approaches too? Are those preferences stable?

 

Below are some explanations of the differences between "visual-spatial" and "linear-sequential" thinking, from visualspatial.org, which might answer some of your questions. Of course, this is a continuum rather than a dichotomy, and the kids who tend to struggle the most with the standard linear-sequential modes of teaching are the kids on the far visual-spatial end of the continuum. My DH and DS are both extreme VSLs, and I have to say that learning how to teach DS has been like learning a foreign language, because I'm very much a linear-sequential thinker. I've tried to add more concrete details in my comments.

 

Although they may be called picture thinkers, visual-spatial learners [VSLs] are oriented to the dimension of space and see in 3D. Their world is far more complex than the flat worksheets or textbook pages in a classroom. Spatials often “see†ideas in 3-dimensions like a computer animation with depth. They look through both real and imagined space to see the whole of something and to check out the relationships and connections. ... Having to pay attention to a small set of details...can feel like being pulled back from their normal range of awareness to a trivial pursuit. That tiny part better be important, or they discard it to return to scanning for significance.

I think one of the biggest misconceptions about VSLs is that they just use pictures instead of words, and learn the "whole" before the "parts," but that the structure of their thinking is the same. IOW, people assume that they still think in a linear, step-by-step way, just using pictures and starting at the other end of the conceptual "ladder," beginning with the "whole" and then going down, one step at a time, to the "parts." In fact, they think in a completely different way. For one thing, they don't think in static 2D "pictures," they think in fluid, moving, spatialized 3D images. Furthermore, information isn't filed in neat, content-specific file folders for easy retrieval, it just sort of floats around in their heads looking for a connector site. If they're forced to learn a bunch of discrete facts that don't relate to anything else they've already learned (or where they can't readily see the relevance), it just floats away without ever finding a connector site. The stuff that does stick, though, gets incorporated into more and more complex webs of information. The more "strings" there are connecting a bit of information to other bits, the easier the information is to retrieve. This is why they tend to "jump around" in their learning process — they find a connection for one piece of information, which leads them down the "string" to another piece and they wonder how this connects to the new information, so they follow that trail, constantly building the web and adding new connections.

 

An important aspect in understanding [VSLs] is that they need to think in their own way. They are uncomfortable with following some one else’s line of thought, partly because such linear thinking is not the way their minds operate. Sometimes they really just can’t follow along step by step. They can take in each step but without that Big Picture, the steps fade away. They don’t remember details well unless those details vibrate with significance, are tagged with their own feelings, or are part of a sudden gestalt. [VSLs] blaze their own thought trail. Most need processing time to put together their own Big Picture. There seem to be no real steps in their thinking. Often they have a sudden insight that “things go together like this!†Either slowly or in a flash, a whole concept emerges, which may be brilliant or flawed. [VSLs] need help in proving (or discarding) their new ideas. Trying them out is a good strategy in teaching them. If their idea actually works in a variety of situations, then it has validity. If not, it’s back to the spatial drawing board.

This is why we (parents of VSLs) try so hard to find ways to engage these kids. It's not about coddling or indulging or making learning "fun" — it's about making learning possible. I think everyone learns better when the material is interesting and engaging, but linear-sequential learners are able to stand "outside" the material and process it even when it's boring. In many cases, this is possible because the information, although boring, is already preformatted for them in a linear-sequential way. VSLs learn by entering into the information; they get inside it and mess around with it and find the big picture (often an all-at-once "aha!") and then absorb the details. When the material seems completely irrelevant to them, and it's presented in a way that's completely counter to the way they think and learn, there's just no "entry point" for them.

 

Sometimes seen as having poor organization skills, [VSLs] have their order. It centers around significance, an emotional response. Rather than outline as step-by-step learners do, where main ideas stand out like trees on the plain, spatials respond to feelings about importance. If something strikes them as worthwhile, it becomes part of their web of essentials, a mental map of things worth paying attention to. Instead of outlines—so comfortable to the stepwise —a picture thinker’s scheme of reality is more like a 3D star map. The various stars and constellations stand out in different degrees of brightness, all shining against the dark space surrounding them and all interconnected in some way. Those connections are based on feelings and sensed importance.

Textbooks preorganize information in a linear, sequential way that is perfect for linear, sequential thinkers. Spatial thinkers don't learn that way, though — they jump all over the place, often making lots of lateral connections rather than moving step by step through the material. For example, a VSL kid learning biology may start at the beginning of the text, learning about cell structure, but then want to jump to learning about single-celled organisms (including several weeks studying protists in pond water), then researching the evolution of life on earth and recent research in recreating the process, and then maybe a brief foray into the search for life on Mars, back to evolution and natural selection, then DNA & genetics (with lots of hands-on labs), then studying the human body (with a side trip into the evolution of viruses), then reading Neil Shubin's Your Inner Fish, then... etc. It may look completely random and disorganized to a linear/sequential person, but that is how they learn and organize information, and if they are allowed to learn that way, then their retention is amazing, and they will often jump ahead and make further connections on their own.

 

[VSLs] live emotionally. They do not shut their feelings away to examine later. Instead, their emotions enliven, interpret, and underscore their experience all the time. Their emotions affect the way they think. Moods intertwine with learning, which means that their thinking can take off when they feel upbeat and confident. On the other hand, if they are upset, confused, angry, or depressed, [VSLs] may have difficulty learning much at all. It is as if their mind shuts down then, not able to function until their feelings are more positive.

This is why forcing these kids to just "suck it up and get it done," when they are frustrated and miserable, only exacerbates the problem. They aren't just "crying to get out of the work" — in fact, much of their unhappiness comes from the fact that they want to do it, but it's just not working. Like Karen's DD, my DS is a very compliant, eager-to-please kid. It isn't a character issue, it's a neurotranmitter issue; they simply can't process information when they're in this state, no matter how hard they try, or how much they want to please.

 

Jackie

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Jackie is so brilliant at finding information, research studies, and quantitative information; I'm going to tell one more story.

 

Recently I read a post by someone here whose child, when he or she (forget which) first started to read, liked to read upside down -- that is, with the page upside down. It brought back a rush of memories of dd at a similar stage reading upside down across the table from me, or sideways, or otherwise indifferent to the physical orientation of the text. When she would have her eyes checked at a very young age, before kids typically read, the doctor asked her whether the big E was "pointing the right way." Dd not only had terrible trouble distinguishing left from right, but as far as she was concerned, there was no single fixed "right" way for a letter to point. There were just possible rotations. She had no trouble reading them whichever orientation they were in and she couldn't figure out why the doctor and later, the optometrist, were so interested in knowing which way it pointed. When people tried over and over again to show her the trick of learning left by holding up index finger and thumbs on both hands to form an "L" and seeing that the one the left hand made was the "correct" one, she couldn't get it, because at that stage she still saw them both as correct, just in rotation.

 

I've read about visual-spatial processors who have trouble learning to read consistently left to right, as we do in this culture; one kid's natural reading style was left to right one line, then backwards right to left on the next, etc.

 

There is now brain-imaging research which confirms that in some young children (particularly in visual-spatial thinkers), 3-D mental imaging ability develops BEFORE a flatter, more fixed and sequentially-oriented visual processing. It's not a disability or a problem, UNLESS you stick that kid in a rigidly sequential classroom where the methodology of learning to read is grounded in a mode of perception and processing utterly alien to those kids -- which most programs are, as they have been designed by left-brained, word-oriented, sequential, incremental thinkers.

 

And by the way, dd did not learn to read phonetically either.

 

With some kids, the 3-D processing goes along with an incredibly accurate sense of their bodies' position in space and in motion; with others, the reverse seems to be true.

 

So -- that's just one more twist in the picture.

 

Adding to Jackie's comment that certain people process completely differently, not just "think in pictures": One of dd's greatest frustrations in private school was the writing program, which was agonizingly (to her) incremental, slowly building up from sentences to paragraphs, learning to incorporate quotations as a separate skill, then and only then moving on to putting two or three paragraphs together, then finally producing a short essay. This drove dd to frenzies of tears. To her, this was fragmenting writing into unrelated bits and pieces in a way that made it impossible, meaningless, and incomprehensible. She was ready to learn by reading examples of full essays and going right to it, in a whole and therefore to her meaningful and accessible form.

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To me this suggests the possibility of using inquiry-based learning as the "core" of the course, with the text as a supplement, rather than the other way around.

 

 

This is it exactly, better explained than how I tried to describe it in my physics plans for dd.

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I've read about visual-spatial processors who have trouble learning to read consistently left to right, as we do in this culture; one kid's natural reading style was left to right one line, then backwards right to left on the next, etc.

DH recently told me that the reason he types so slowly is because he often starts with the stressed syllable, even when that's not the beginning of the word. E.g., if he were typing the word "engaged" he would likely type "ga" first, then have to backspace to fill in the "en," then forward-space to add the "ged." I thought that was fascinating because it highlights both the nonlinear way he thinks and also the fact that VSLs tend to categorize things based on meaning or importance, so he basically files and retrieves words by the accented syllable rather than by the first letter.

 

Similarly, when he tells a story he often starts somewhere in the middle, with whatever aspect of the story is the most significant to him, and then fills in the details in what seems to me to be a sort of random jumble, but which makes perfect sense to him. In order for me to process it, though, I have to go back and put it in some kind of logical or sequential order, so I'm always asking questions like "Wait — which guy? Was he already there or did he arrive later?" When I tell DH a story, he tends to latch on to one aspect or event and then try to connect everything else to that, so he'll ask for information I've already given — because it went in one ear and out the other since he didn't have the "big picture" yet. When I first met him, before I understood that that's truly how he processes information, I used to get really annoyed by constantly having to repeat myself, thinking he was just not bothering to pay attention. Which, sadly, is exactly how his teachers always treated him.

 

Jackie

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