Sunday, February 6, 2011

The Teacher as the Mediator and Facilitator of Student Learning

“No matter how patiently I explain things to my students and no matter how often I repeat the explanations, I cannot learn for them.”

          This quotation describes how children are not empty vessels, and they need to learn constructively and actively in order to fully connect and grasp the content being discussed.  A teacher can certainly explain and dictate to his or her students abstract definitions and facts about a subject; however, that is not how a student truly learns. Basic knowledge of information and facts is the lowest level of learning that can occur, and a teacher needs to provide experiences in which a student can take his or her prior experiences and incorporate and connect them into their present learning experience. Learning science is not about transmitting information to students, but is about the exchanges that occur between teachers and students as they explore science together. Teachers can mediate and facilitate the learning experience by both providing the experiences that will help them constructively learn, and by posing questions that can further a student’s thought process. Being a mediator involves serving as a go-between, offering to help people resolve their differences by bridging the gaps between their points of view. Students need to be exposed to new experiences, and slowly help them probe their own thinking through this process. Teachers scaffold students’ learning by acting as temporary supports and proving information or questing to guide them to the next step. Providing students with both the intellectual freedom to investigate their alternative conceptions and test their theories is important in order to allow students to be in charge of their learning experiences to see what students truly know and do not know, and what they have or have not learned. Learning is done independently by each student based on their previous experiences, and is the result of the freedom given to apply and test their ideas and alternative conceptions.

            For students, true understanding means that they can discuss concepts freely and apply them to other areas of thinking. Student’s prior knowledge is central to building this type of understanding, and will help students make sense of the “big ideas.” Mr. Wilson, in the science story in chapter 3, did not correct the students when incorrectly weighing the icicle the first time because he wanted to provide them with the freedom to be wrong and explore further options until they come to a correct realization. People do not learn by being told what to do, but we learn by actively doing and experimenting. When a student applies his or her ideas to a situation they are given the opportunity to investigate their notions and learn what works successfully, what does not, and why this is so. Mr. Wilson provided his students with the intellectual freedom to discover the best way to measure the icicles, and therefore, grow and learn in this experience. If Mr. Wilson had not done so, the students may have not learned why they needed to weigh the icicles in some kind of receptacle. Although the students would have followed the directions correctly if Mr. Wilson had originally told them to weight the icicles in a pan, they would not have had the learning experience behind this reasoning. By Mr. Wilson not providing the students with instructions to weigh the icicles in the pan, the students needed to use their own reasoning and prior knowledge to decide the best way to measure the icicles. Concepts do not simply sit in our minds; they help refine and accommodate new knowledge. Mr. Wilson promoted the development of the children’s own ideas, and indirectly told his students that it is okay to be "wrong," or have alternate conceptions.  
         In response to the way Mr. Wilson appropriately mediated and facilitated the children’s learning process (and the other science stories discussed in chapter 3), I began to think about my experiences in school. I have certainly written a specific answer in an exam, or wrote an essay on a certain topic because I thought it was what my teacher wanted. Many of my teachers I have had in elementary school and high school were very rigid, controlling, and strict about assignments and very specific about exams. They’d often feed us the information we needed to know for an upcoming test, and if we didn’t use the exact definitions or viewpoints my teacher had provided then points would automatically be deducted from our grade. My school experiences have always involved how to achieve a high grade and do well, and have been less about truly learning or taking risks. I can’t recall engaging in active learning experiences where I was provided with the opportunity to explore often throughout elementary school or high school; however, I can remember being assigned worksheet after worksheet. My teachers always expected certain answers, or would provide all the necessary instructions to complete an assignment accurately; therefore, I never truly wanted to apply my own ideas or go outside the boundaries until I went to college. I believe this is very common for students everywhere because the curriculum relies so heavily on grades and assessments. There is less room available for students to be more creative and independent, as they are reluctant to not appease their teachers and want to receive great grades. Teachers often do not allow students to explore their alternative conceptions, and therefore, students are not making true learning advances in their education. Teaching science requires both information and guidance in order for students to understand and learn. Engaging students in concrete experiences, encouraging students to express their ideas about what they observe, listening seriously to those ideas and considering their prior knowledge, and asking probing questions should be the necessary roles of the teacher.
          Similarly to Mr. Wilson, I could bring natural artifacts from nature into my class, as well. Some of the artifacts could include: various rocks, leaves, plants, icicles, bird’s nests, and insects (if it’s spring/summer). I could conduct science lessons and create various learning experiences for all of these artifacts. For example, I could bring in leaves from fall and summer and help mediate and facilitate my students grasp the concept of photosynthesis and how the leaves change color with the seasons. Creating real-life connections to nature is important in science, as well.
          During class this week, we discussed and explored the six levels of higher-level learning (Bloom’s Taxonomy), and the structure of knowledge (Bruner’s Structure of Knowledge). Both of these descriptions of knowledge and learning relate to each other very closely, and can guide teachers how to correctly teach science to students. Bloom’s Taxonomy involves the following levels of learning: remembering, understanding, applying, analyzing, evaluating, and creating. Bruner’s pyramid of knowledge is comprised of: facts, declarative knowledge, concepts, conceptual knowledge, contextual knowledge, generalizations, procedural knowledge, and metacognition. Both structures demonstrate how remembering facts, and just understanding concepts and facts is the lowest levels of learning and knowledge, and actually applying, creating, and reflecting upon what one knows (metacognition) and has learned is the highest level of learning and knowledge. It is important to allow students to create projects to further their knowledge and demonstrate what they have learned, and also reflect upon their experience and make connections between what they knew previously and the recently acquired knowledge. Both Bloom and Bruner’s levels of knowledge and learning outline how a teacher should teach science to students most efficiently.

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