Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Anticipation's Storm

I feel as though it has been a while since I have shared any sort of "creative writing" post and so today, that is what I shall do.  The short snippet below was originally a squabbling challenge for CleanPlace.  We were told to select one of three images and write a story centering on that character (not necessarily the setting they are in, but who they are).  The image I selected is included below.  This story is related to another snippet which I might share soontimes.  I like the ideas that are planted within Evy's life and I might revisit them at a later date.

For now, I hope you enjoy Anticipation's Storm.*
*Working title.
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Darkness pressed down against the earth, sucking up the light like a parched root thirsting for water.  A blaze of light cut the sky, a brief flash into the army of trees below, and then vanished into the void.  Following came a sudden loud clash and bang as the clouds thundered their hunger.  In a lone and  battered cabin,  Evy's hand stilled for a moment as she glanced at the thin ceiling.  Water crept down the wooden walls to pool on the dirt floor.  It was a miracle that no water leaked in from the tiles overhead, leaving the center, where Evy sat on a small crate, mostly dry.  A cold draft licked beneath the edge of the boards, pulling back to howl in anger at the door that denied its entrance.  Panels creaked in protest, but stood firm in rebellion against the wind.   The stale, damp air kept the smell of mildew potent and fresh and Evy cringed every few minutes when she forgot to breathe through her mouth.

via the internet... not sure main source
Another hungry rumble sounded overhead and she bent back over her sewing.  Sheltered between her feet sat a small flickering candle that cast a dim glow on the taught piece of leather in her hands.  Her fingers trembled as she reached for the thick sinew cord.  Scowling at her hand, she pulled back and tossed her long orange hair over her shoulder. 

"Get a hold of yourself, Ev," she muttered, pulling her ponytail tighter.  Her right hand paused on a beaded necklace, rubbing the sculpted rocks a couple of times before she reached for the sinew again.  This time, with sure fingers, she pushed the needle through the leather and pulled it tight.  She added a few more stitches and then tied off the end before severing the cord with her teeth.    Pulling it back, she admired the odd trapezoid-shaped piece.  A strand of sinew formed a loop between the corners on the short side of the trapezoid while a clasp of sorts was connected to the other two points.

A crashing directly above her head caused her to jump, eyes wide and heart pounding.  The candle fell over in her sudden movement, and the darkness gobbled the small morsel of light.   She pulled her new makeshift glove onto her left hand and fumbled on the ground for the candle.  With a soft scratch against the crate on which she sat, she lit a match and relit the candle before lowering it back into its holder.  Evy then wiped the grim from her fingers onto her long and worn skirt as she pulled her knees up to her chest and rested her toes on the crate's edge.  With the next boom from above, she squeezed her eyes shut and whispered a count to ten.

A tap from below the crate startled her out of her concentration and she reached back for a long thin spear resting against the far wall.  The tapping continued with three quick beats followed by two slow.  Evy slid from her perch and pushed the crate back against the wall.  Beneath the box was a small latch.  While holding the spear poised at the ground, she twisted and pulled up with her free hand to open the hidden passage.  Her friend, Thom, stood down in the opening and she released a breath.  She flicked her pinky over a rivet in the shaft of her spear and it collapsed into a small cylinder that nestled comfortably in the center of her hand.  Knocking the spear onto a rope at her belt, she reached down for her candle and attempted a smile.

"Is it time?" she whispered.

Thom nodded, his shaggy brown hair glinting in the flickering glow.

"Are you sure?" She licked her lips and tucked some stray strands of hair behind an ear.  "'Cause you know the weather is kind of bad tonight and if we waited the storm will pass and we could do it then."

Smiling, Thom walked up the small steps and into the room, his head nearly scraping against the ceiling.  "Evelyn, what better night to face him than on a night you fear?"

"Well… never, really."

He chuckled softly as thunder vibrated through the air.  She squeezed her eyes shut, her hands clenching until her knuckles went white.  A cool touch pressed against her forehead and she opened her eyes to find Thom's brow against her own.  He looked into her eyes unblinking and she swallowed.

"You're right… I know," she murmured at last.  She took a deep breath and squared her shoulders. 

"I'm ready," she said after a moment though the candle shook in her hands.

He grabbed her free hand and pulled her toward the stairs.  As she followed him down, he leaned over to blow out the lone flame.  Above them, the dark sang, at last content.


Wednesday, September 24, 2014

History Repeats Itself: Fear of Books

"I tell you, sir, that the end of the world has come.  No one has ever beheld such outbreaks among the students!  It is the accursed inventions of this century that are ruining everything,--artilleries, bombards, and above all, that other German pest.  No more manuscripts, no more books!  Printing will kill bookselling.  It is the end of the world that is drawing nigh."

This is a quotation of a quotation.  It is from Victor Hugo's Hunchback of Notre Dame, but taken from Stephen Apkon's book The Age of the Image: Redefining Literacy in a World of Screens.  Apkon's adds, "This was fear not just of the strength of the Catholic Church [...] but the worry that the new technology would destroy economics and corrupt the youth." (pg. 52)

Sound familiar?  As I read through this section of the book, I was struck by how this idea finds its parallels throughout history.  When new technology first stretches its limbs, showing off its muscles, the initial reaction is not unanimously positive.  On the one hand, change can be good.  New technology can bring about solutions to problems that were previously unimaginable, but... technology can suck out our souls and steal our humanity as we know it leaving us as empty shells that stay in bed all day and eat food out of tubes and then the robots will take over the world!

And breathe.  

I kid.  Smile.  Though I'm sure most people have seen or heard at least one story where technological innovation comes back to haunt us.  I find it fascinating that people centuries ago feared technology that I now adore: the book.  (As an aside, I wonder, in another couple hundred years, what future generations will think about our reactions and beliefs about forms of technology?)

Back to books: Because of the invention of the printing press (1400s), books could be printed en masse and spread throughout the populace.  That caused fear for many people for a number of reasons.  One of these being that all of a sudden, impressionable young people (if they could read or if they were learning to read or had a reading friend), were all of a sudden much closer to "corruptible ideas."  Now, returning to the present, this idea hasn't really gone away and we see it manifest in the topic of banned books.  

This week is considered "Banned Book Week" and there are a number of articles and informational resources talking about this hot topic.  You can even take a quizzes that will tell you which banned book you are.  (If you're curious to know, I got the Hunger Games. I didn't even know it was banned anywhere).  From the perspective of a young adult who has only recently left her teens, I can say that I've read a lot of YA fiction.  Some have been more controversial than others and a handful have been banned, depending on where you go.  To name a few: To Kill a Mocking BirdFahrenheit 451, A Wrinkle in Time, all of the Harry Potters, Lord of the Flies... and others.  

I can't say that one book completely altered my way of thinking and made me believe certain ideas--maybe you or someone else can.  I find it hard to believe that we have this fear that if someone read X book, they will automatically learn to believe Y idea and thus become corrupted.  The human brain is only a sponge to a certain extent.  If a book can supposedly have that effect, what about the tumultuous number of infomercials and advertisements that we see daily?  Being visual messages, we can absorb them a lot faster than a book, so shouldn't we ban them instead?

image via google
I'm not saying that students won't be influenced by what they see and read, but instead of blocking them at the threshold, I think that we should focus on them how to take in what they read and evaluate it based on what they know to be true.  I think we should teach them to compare and contrast what they read so that they can recognize what it is they are taking in and why.  Let's raise a group of readers who will use the organ between their ears instead of soaking up what they see with their eyes.

Fear fosters fear.  Fostering the fear of a book seems pretty silly to me.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Things I've learned in the Faculty of Ed - Bullying

First off, I just want to clearly say that I don't go to "Teacher's College."  I'm in the Faculty of Education. My professors have stressed to us that Teacher's College is not correct because we are in a professional graduate program and that Teacher's College is a specific place in some other country... or something like that.  Most of us still because when we say Faculty of Ed, people go "huh?" so we use an outdated and improper term to convey the right meaning.

Second, today's thought: Things I've learned in the Faculty of Ed take 2.

Today's topic?  Bullying.  Surprised?  Well, you shouldn't be because it's in the title.  Already rolling your eyes are moving your mouse toward the kill corner?  Bullying's been done before, eh?  Yes, and yet it still affects so many people.  As long as there is evil in the world, bullying, unfortunately, will not end.

My thought originates from a chat I had with some of my girlfriends.  As we were talking over dinner a few nights ago, the topic of bullying came up and we found that almost all of us had some pretty scarring bullying stories from elementary school.  We each could recount a moment or two when we were made to feel unwanted, stupid, or the odd one out.  From other talks about bullying that I'd had with others over the years, I've met many others who have similar stories, but for some reason, it hit me a little harder that night.  I couldn't help but think, We're going to be teachers.  We who have felt the pain of bullying are going back into environments where multiple forms of bullying exist and hide like bacteria floating through the air: hidden in plain sight.  How could we not move to address the issue?  And at the same time, what can we do?

Bullying is old.  Bullying doesn't stop.  What can we possibly do to help the kids who are hurting like we hurt?

In seminars and lectures, they talk about different intervention techniques and ideas, but I wonder: how successful are they?  Years down the road, will some students be hurting in silence while the teachers think in ignorance that their anti-bullying strategies have worked?  It could be that in some cases, the bullies don't know they are bullying: bullying through neglect.  A friendless child is hurting just as much as the children who are picked on and made fun of.  How, as teachers, do we keep students from falling through the cracks?

This probably seems like a depressing post, and it is.  I wish I could say I knew all the answers, but I recognize that I can only do my best in all situations.  It pains me to think that I will probably miss something critical at least once in my career, but I suppose that's why as teachers we're placed in a team.  Something I miss can hopefully be caught by a colleague or vice versa.

Some food for thought.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

to live somewhere VS to know somewhere

I would say that I've lived in a number of places.  From living with my parents in grade school, to their divorce and subsequent separate houses, to moving away to Peterborough for University (and then moving from year to year),  I have lived in a number of neighbourhoods.

And yet I've learned that even when you live somewhere, that doesn't mean that you know that place.  I still remember standing at my bus stop in the fall of my second year at Trent.  It was the morning and I was heading to class when a car pulled up beside me and a window went down.  "Do you know where a garden center is?" a middle-aged woman asked, sitting beside her husband.

I could only shake my head and apologize.  I didn't really know much of where anything was beside the University, my house and downtown.  By the end of my four years, my mind map had greatly expanded, although there is still a lot of holes in my mental representation.  And that took four years and a lot of exploration to build.

Last weekend, a few friends and I travelled out to Wolf Island on the free ferry here in Kingston.  It was a lovely day and we all wanted to cross it off our list of things to do while here at Queens.  When we came back, I made a detour to the grocery store before heading home.  Again, a vehicle pulled up near me while I was waiting to cross a street and a window lowered.

"Do you know how to get to the fairgrounds?" was the question this time.

At first, I felt a rock drop in my stomach.  I've only been here 3 weeks, and I was currently downtown, an area I'd only been two-three other times.  I don't know many street names, but I really want to help.  However, I had been to the fair with friends on the Thursday before and I remembered the way.  So, I opened my mouth and told the lady to drive up Princess St and turn right on Nelson, happy to be of help.

But.

image via google
I did my groceries and then walked back toward the bus.  When I got to Princess St, I realized my error.  Princess St is a One-Way street this close to the lake and you can only go down, not up.  I have no way of knowing what that lady thought when she got there, but I felt awful.  The sad thing is, I knew where she wanted to go and I knew in theory how to get there, but I didn't know the city well enough to account for One-Way streets.

The whole episode just made me realize how big a difference there is between living somewhere and knowing somewhere.  Simply living somewhere is passive.  Within your own bubble, you don't interact with where you are and only do what you need to get by--the typical university student life.  School, home, grocery store.  Those are the staples--maybe a friend's house or two.  Knowing somewhere though, it often takes courage to step away from the small world you may have constructed and to go places you haven't gone before.

I think knowing is more attractive than merely living.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Creating barriers in student learning: Learning styles and multiple intelligence theories

The educational system is creating barriers in student learning through the enforcement of learning styles (LS) and multiple intelligence (MI) theories in the classroom.

That is one of the major things that I have learned from being both learning to be a teacher and doing my undergrad in Psychology.  I recognize that education and educational practices may not want to be "behind the times," but to be honest, they are in a bit of a sticky situation because of two main reasons:

(a) To implement any new research into practice takes years and typically faces challenges from people set in their ways.  By the time things are in place, the research upon which those changes were based may no longer be relevant newer, updated versions have since become available, or alternatively, the research may have been shown to be flawed.   Or, it could simply be that something may have interrupted the flow of change preventing the research from having any lasting effects as education reverts back to where it was before.

(b) Schools and school boards want to show parents that what they are doing is for the good of the students.  This in itself is not bad, but sometimes parents want tangible evidence which leads to theories like LS and MI becoming predominant in classroom planning and application.  The idea then is that to effectively teach all of the students, a teacher needs to structure their lesson activities by catering to their different styles of learning or intelligences (e.g. people high in visual-spatial intelligence learn best with pictures, charts, graphs and kinaesthetic intelligence is best met with movement and action, logical intelligence... etc. and so on).  In including this into the doctrine of teaching, parents are then satisfied because teachers are seen to be doing their best to reach different types of students.  I want to stress that wanting to help students is absolutely the job of a teacher, but there is a problem with LS and MI which I will get back to in a second.
One of the things the professors stressed to teach us in my undergrad is that we need to think critically about everything.  Just because something is the common practice or just because someone tells us that there is a certain way to do something does not mean that is the best way or the right way.  There is no empirical research that justifies the use of LS and MI in the classroom.  These popular beliefs, despite all the power they hold over teachers all over the world, are merely theory and philosophy and serve only to satisfy parents who worry teachers aren't trying hard enough to reach their students.

I'm not saying that different teachers strategies will not help in the classroom.  If a teacher lectures every single day, eventually, a student will most likely get bored.  In that respect, I think it's good to liven things up and do a diverse selection of activities.  However, this obsession over understanding and catering to learning styles and different intelligences is unfounded and may actually lead to problems in the classroom.

What problem?  A self-fulfilling prophecy problem.

I remember taking a LS quiz in grade 10 and many of my peers likewise took a variation of an LS or MI quiz in their high school careers.  Whereas now I don't put much stake in those results, I remember at the time thinking that the test results explained why I felt I had to work harder when information was expressed verbally over visually.  I was simply more visual learner than audible learner.

Can you see the problem yet?

Students who take the tests (tests that are not necessarily reliable between testings and that measure preference more than actual style/intelligence), may build themselves a box.  They will put up walls that could prevent them from attaining their full potential.  A student who sees himself as having a low intrapersonal intelligence may give up sooner on individual work because that's not his "strong intelligence" or someone low on mathematical-logical intelligence may reason that they don't have a math brain so why try?

I do not want to be apart of the belief camp that is given our students the tools they need to fail.  Sure, not everything will be easy when learning, but as a teacher, it's my responsibility to help you find a way over the hurdle, not build it higher.

Thank you for reading.
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For more on this topic, see:
Re-examining Barsch Learning Styles, a critical reflection by me.
Here are also a couple of articles that I found via google search:
Multiple Intelligences: The Making of a Modern Myth, by Daniel T. Willingham
Multiple Intelligences theory by Gardner: myth, proven theory or philosophy?, by... Pedro, I think

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Re-examining the Barsch Learning Styles Inventory

The Barsch Learning Style Inventory (BLSI) (Barsch learning style inventory) is an assessment used to measure an individual's learning style.  There are many different theories on how people learn and the different types of learners.  The BLSI organizes people into the categories of visual, auditory or kinaesthetic learning and is widely used and promoted in school systems.[1]  In theory, by knowing the preferred learning style of the students in a classroom, a teacher can better construct their teaching methods to match and thus help facilitate better learning.  This matching of preferred learning style with the same teaching method is known as the meshing hypothesis(Pashler, McDaniel, Rohrer, & Bjork, 2008).  In order to meet all of the learning styles present in a group of children a lot of preparation would need to be undertaken by teachers.  However, before working on all these changes, it is important to consider the research on the use of the BLSI which yields mixed results.  Some researchers demonstrate evidence that matching an individual's learning style benefits memory (Korenman & Peynircioglu, 2007) whereas others have found little evidence for the meshing hypothesis (Krätzig & Arbuthnott, 2006; Pashler et al., 2008; Stahl, 1999).  Ultimately, at this time, there is little foundation for the use of the BLSI in classroom settings.
First, there is little empirical evidence for the meshing hypothesis.  Korenman and Peynircioglu (2007) examined whether learning style influences an individual's ability to learn and remember music.  They did find that participants were better able to remember melodies when the information matched their main style of learning.  However, the results of this study cannot be generalized to other disciplines as the experimenters were looking at short lines of music and poetry.  Other materials such as math, geography or history may not experience the same benefits.  As well, in a classroom setting students would have to be responsible for a lot more information than a couple of lines of text or music notes.
In his paper, Stahl (1999) reports the results from numerous review papers on the use of learning styles with regard to teaching children to read.  In each of the cited papers no significant effect for matching the visual or auditory learning styles with the same type of teaching was found (Stahl, 1999).  Furthermore, Krätzig and Arbuthnott (2006) sought to test the learning style hypothesis by having participants learn material and then complete a test in all three modalities.  The researchers found no evidence for the meshing hypothesis; there was no relation between participants' learning style and the individual memory tasks.  Reported visual learners did not score significantly better on the visual memory task nor did auditory learners on the auditory memory task and the kinaesthetic learners on the kinaesthetic memory test (Krätzig & Arbuthnott, 2006).  Their results do not support the learning style hypothesis.
Second, in order to collect evidence that would provide strong support for use of the BLSI, a certain type of study should be conducted.  According to Pashler et al. (2008), to properly assess theories of learning styles specific criteria need to be incorporated into an experiment.  The learners need to first be divided into their proposed styles and then they need to be randomly assigned to different learning conditions.  The measure of assessment, Pashler et al. (2008) state, needs to be the same across all of the learning groups otherwise the learning benefit could be attributed to the type of test and not the learning styles hypothesis.  The researchers would then need to find an interaction between the learning style and the method used.  Any form of additive results would indicate that one form of teaching is better than the others and would not support the use of the BLSI.  After outlining these criteria, Pashler et al. (2008) conducted a literature review of studies that assessed learning style hypotheses.  Of the countless articles that examined different learning styles, they only found one that could be said to follow these criteria and that study was not examining the use of the BLSI but another learning styles hypothesis.  Both Korenman and Peynircioglu (2007) and Krätzig and Arbuthnott (2006) do not meet these criteria as different testing measures were used depending on the learning modality.  In order to make more conclusive statements regarding the use of BLSI, more research is still needed.
Third, the BLSI has low reliability and validity (Krätzig & Arbuthnott, 2006; Stahl, 1999).  If the measure was reliable, we would expect the same results from the same participants each time they do the test, but this is not always the case (Stahl, 1999).  The implication is that a person's learning style is constantly changing.  In a classroom setting this would be problematic for teachers as by the time they alter their lessons to match a certain learning style, the children's styles may already have changed.  The BLSI is also more of a measure of what individuals prefer over what they are, meaning it's not a valid measure.  In their second experiment, Krätzig and Arbuthnott (2006) asked participants the reasoning behind their choices in completing the BLSI and found that participants tended to answer the BLSI using their preferences or beliefs about their learning habits.  To be a valid measure of how an individual best learns, the BLSI cannot merely be an assessment of personal experience or preference (Pashler et al., 2008). 
In addition, the items used in the measure are somewhat vague.  For instance, one of the items says, "Do better at academic subjects by listening to lectures and tapes" (Barsch learning style inventory).  This is a very ambiguous sentence and interpretation may differ among individuals.  Consider the following: in scenario one a student who is stronger in English or history courses may think back to his experiences in these types of classes where the teaching style is mainly audio lectures or discussion groups.  In scenario two, a student who enjoys math or chemistry courses may think of the visual diagrams or hands-on labs that she is more likely to see in the science-based courses.  When completing the questionnaire, the students' background experiences and preferences may then influence their interpretation.
In conclusion, research of the use of the BLSI is not substantial enough to endorse the use of the meshing hypothesis in the classroom.  The current research does not show that matching a teaching method to an individual's learning style will facilitate better learning.  As well, more research into the area is needed as the methodology and design of these studies is put into question by Pashler et al. (2008).  However, before more research is conducted, it would the BLSI itself should be reevaluated as it is not a reliable or valid measure. 


References

Barsch learning style inventory. (n.d.). Retrieved January 26, 2014, from University of Utah School of Medicine: http://medicine.utah.edu/learningresources/tools/barsch_inventory.pdf
Korenman, L., & Peynircioglu, Z. (2007). Individual differences in learning and remembering music: Auditory versus visual presentation. Journal of Research in Music Education, 55(1), 48-64.
Krätzig, P., & Arbuthnott, K. (2006). Perceptual learning style and learning proficiency: A test of hypothesis. Journal of Educational Psychology, 98(1), 238-246.
Pashler, H., McDaniel, M., Rohrer, D., & Bjork, R. (2008). Learning styles: Concepts and evidence. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 9(3), 105-119.
Stahl, S. (1999). Different strokes for different folks? A critique of learning styles. American Educator, 1-5.





[1] As reported by many of the students in Trent University's Psychology 4590 course.  Though the students come from different geographic regions, many reported having learned about or taken the BLSI at a previous level of education.

**This was written February 2014 for a fourth year course at Trent University

Monday, September 08, 2014

"What are your learning goals?"

I've heard that question a lot last week. In most of my classes, the professors have asked us to reflect (another popular word) and think about what we are trying to achieve and learn in the particular course.  To some, this may seem like an easy question, but for me, this question brings the dawn of an ice age: my mind goes blank as snow and I freeze up.

What are my learning goals?  I'm not really sure and to me, it seems like the profs expect us all to pull answers like a magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat: 1, 2, 3, abracadabra and there it is!  I'm at the Faculty of Education because I want to learn to be a teacher.  Isn't that a goal?  My goal is to learn all that I can about as much as I can.  They seem to want specific goals, but their question appear vague to me to begin with.

I really don't know if other people struggle with this as well, but for me, this is a difficult question--one I'm not sure how to approach at times, let alone answer.

What do I want to learn by the end of this year? 

What makes it more difficult is that a few of my classes structure our work around our learning goals.  Our assignments are meant to help accomplish these goals and as such are directed by what we want to learn.  Without a learning goal, I feel afloat in an ocean, the sky a thick blanket of clouds, void of stars needed to guide my way.  It's a bit of an overwhelming and scary feeling.  I'm so used to having a course plan and now I don't.

I'm sure that everything will work out in the end, but for now, it's frustrating and I'm wondering how to move forward besides the obvious--one step at a time.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Together Again

Me, Melanie, Candice, Joel
Me, Melanie, Candice, Joel
After a long summer apart, the four of us are together again.  Melanie, Candice, Joel and I all started our undergrad together four years ago.  Mostly strangers (except for Mel and Candice), we met through a combination of res, mutual friends and common classes and have been friends ever since.  At last done our undergrad, the four of us are starting Teacher's College today and reunited last night for cake.  Starting off the year with cake is a good way to go, don't you think?

It's a little surreal to think that this is our last year together in "formal education."  A lot has happened in the four years that I've known these guys.  Some light fluff, and some heavy, thick mud--all mixed into the glue of our friendship.  In eight months, we'll be done and (supposedly) ready to start out into the world of teaching.  As teacher candidates, we can't ever really leave school.  We've set ourselves up to remain in that setting and that mentality.  But, we will at last be moving on from student to teacher and that is a big step.  We'll also most likely be moving away from each other as we go off for our own teaching adventures.

I'm both excited for the coming year, but also nervous that it's almost done.  However, despite where we may end up years down the road, with great friends like these and others, I know I'm better prepared for come what may.  These are the type of friends that whatever happens and wherever we go, when we are reunited, we can pick up where we left off.  Even if we end up living in different countries or provinces, I feel confident enough to say that I could reach out to any of them if ever I needed an ear and a friend, or maybe even a couch.

So as we head into this final year, I just want to say thanks to some of the best friends of my university career.  I'm glad that we're together again.