Apr 27, 2009

Teaching Styles

There has been plenty of talk on this blog about the different types of learning styles that a student may use. This information is useful for the classroom, as it identifies which elements of a lesson will be most effective and how to maximize the learning experience. However, that is just one side of the equation. It is also important to understand a few of the teaching styles you might encounter in order to better prepare for any difficulties or problems you may run into.

In his book Teaching With Style(1), Dr. Anthony F. Grasha outlines five basic teaching styles that educators could employ. These are listed as “Expert”, “Formal Authority”, “Personal Model”, “Facilitator”, and “Delegator”, and each has unique advantages, disadvantages, and methods for teaching material.

The “Expert” model is just as it sounds- the teacher exudes knowledge by possessing the special facts, figures, and insights that the students require. Students are expected to absorb the information and display a similar level of confidence and ability in their own knowledge. Teachers use this model in conjunction with formal lectures to transmit information. Advantages here are the level of content that is available to learn, however, this can have the disadvantage of intimidating students who might feel less prepared.

Next is the “Formal Authority” model. This is similar to the “Expert” model in that it tends to focus on the nitty-gritty details of a subject. However, this is done in a way that is tightly structured and outlined with a “right” and “wrong” way of doing things. This is good in that it provides the student with crystal-clear expectations and instruction. However, this structure can also be inflexible to the needs of students.

The “Personal Model” places the teacher at the forefront. Students are encouraged to solve problems by following the teacher’s example. This method emphasizes observation, however it may lead to a belief that the only way to solve a problem is the teacher’s way.

The methods of the “Facilitator” are more hands-off in that the teacher acts like a guide for students. Peer-to-peer learning and group projects are employed, with a greater degree of creativity allowed. The teacher lets students explore many different options and solutions. This is great for flexibility, however it is time consuming and may not be appropriate where more direct approaches are called for.

Finally, there is the “Delegator”. This model is for students who can act without the constant attention of the teacher, who is merely available to help when called for by the students. This inspires independence for learning, but may not be appropriate for students who are not ready for it.

With knowledge of these teaching styles, you can better prepare for any possible expectations or projects that the teacher may bring to the classroom. Also, if you think there may be a better approach, try suggesting it. You may find that you can make life easier for both yourself and your teacher.

1) Grasha, Anthony F. Teaching with Style: A Practical Guide to Enhancing Learning by Understanding Teaching and Learning Styles. Pittsburgh: Alliance Publishers, (1996).

Apr 20, 2009

The Importance of Relaxation

Whether it’s in the classroom, at the office, or simply out on the street running errands, the stress of everyday life can be a killer. All the anxiety that we endure contributes to a variety of health risks, such as elevated blood pressure, heart disease, and decreased immune system effectiveness (to name just a few). It is important to balance these mental and physical strains with techniques that let us unwind.

The health benefits of effective relaxation are great and varied. According to the Mayo Clinic, individuals who are more relaxed will have reduced muscle tension, increased blood flow to major muscles, slower breathing rate, and a decreased demand for oxygen. Additionally, they will respond to stressful situations in a healthier fashion, with a decrease in negative emotional reactions (such as anger), greater energy reserves, and better concentration.

There are many ways to relax, and finding the most effective method is dependant on the individual (check past blogs for a few ideas). However, here are a few techniques to explore:

One way many people like to relax is by soaking in a hot tub. The warm water will promote blood flow and loosen joints, as well as help relieve any muscle pain. This can be paired with a variety of other relaxing activities, such as listening to music, meditating, or massage (particularly if you happen to be relaxing in a hot tub equipped with jets).

Exercise is another good stress-reliever. In addition to the release of brain-chemicals that promote healthy cognitive function, exercise allows muscles to release stored energy, thereby reducing tension. Exercise is also a form of meditation, allowing for introspection and reflection away from the hassle of daily routine.

Stretching and Yoga techniques are also quite popular. Read up on the various poses and practices that this ancient stress relief has to offer. You can start at home, and when you want to progress, attend a class. Yoga combines a variety of different physical and mental methods that will help integrate your mind and body, helping you become more aware of how you are stressed and how to alleviate that stress.

Relaxation is an important factor to balancing one’s life. Without it, many things suffer. Take time to stabilize your stress, and you will be healthier, happier, and more effective in everything you do.

Apr 13, 2009

Ways To Learn A Foreign Language

In February, we outlined a few of the benefits that come along with learning a second language, including social advantages and improved cognitive function. This week, we will explore a few ways to develop this special skill and get you going on the path towards bilingual ability.

The best possible place to learn a new language is not in a classroom, but rather in a locale where that language is spoken exclusively. Learners will find themselves challenged more frequently and significantly when confronted with daily tasks and scenarios that call upon their ability to effectively communicate to get what they want. Simple situations like ordering food in a restaurant, directing a taxi cab home, or shopping for clothes will call upon the speaker to incorporate a variety of different words and tenses to try to convey what they are after. The brain is much more apt to learn what is necessary if required to do so to simply get through the day.

Although it is not optimal, taking a language class is the next best thing to re-location. Local community colleges will usually offer many different levels for interested students, and the human-to-human interaction is critical. You also have the added benefit of continual practice, with homework and regular class schedules figuring into your routine.

If time conflicts and a busy agenda are the issue, there are still several other avenues to explore. There are many programs available for the computer that allow the user to learn a language at their own pace. The most popular of these is Rosetta Stone, which incorporates text, pictures, and audio to help progress along the way.

Like most learned skills, the key to all these methods is practice. Supplement your plan with activities that help keep your lingual ability sharp, such as a pen pal or e-mail buddy (which helps with slang and common usage you might not get from a language curriculum). The more you practice, the more fluent you’ll become. You’ll find that you reach a point where changing between languages is as simple as flipping a switch, a skill that’s not just useful, but quite impressive as well!

Apr 6, 2009

Videogames and Education

Technology is one of the great innovators when it comes to teaching. If used properly, the right tool can help both instructor and student realize their educational goals far more quickly and effectively. However, despite the myriad of improvements now in place in schools all over the country, there are still many avenues of progress left under-realized. One of these is in the realm of videogames. In an industry once considered to be mere entertainment, there is now a brand new wave of learning tools being put to use.

Videogames are rapidly becoming the go-to resource for a variety of skill sets. However, this is nothing new. Children of the 80’s and early 90’s will remember a host of old-school games designed to teach things like resource management, basic math, and geography. Similarly, modern edu-games deal with a variety of different topics, from simple brain-teasers to full-fledged graphical adventures.

How effective are these new methods? Due to the pace at which innovations are being implemented, research is limited. However, some studies show that videogames are not necessarily more effective than traditional pen-and-paper methods towards improving cognitive functions and learning. However, as the techniques evolve, this could change. Students still expect to be engaged by the material they are presented with. Developing how this happens, such as though interaction and individual participation, is important to integrating new technologies into the curriculum. In many ways, educational videogames are still in their infancy stage, and there is a long way to go before comparisons can be made to traditional pedagogical techniques.

However, there are still many concerns about the unknown side effects of introducing these new techniques on a broad scale. One of the most common of these is the idea that violence in videogames (such as “blasting” the answer to an equation in Math Blaster) is psychologically harmful. Some see the games as promoting violence as a solution. Without a doubt, the majority of research on videogames has dealt with the effects of violent media on the psyche of the player, but all evidence seems to conclude that only the most violent videogames (i.e. those without any intrinsic value beyond simple entertainment) have an effect on the user (roughly the same as other forms of violent media, such as in movies or television programs). The validity of educational games in the classroom has yet to be truly defined, and as technology continues forward, these questions will come to center stage.