Learning Theory Project

I am wrapping up the fall semester and have a final project due in my non-emerging tech course. For this assignment, we were tasked with using a creative outlet to present our final views on learning theory: what our views are, how we want to achieve them, and how we want to ensure our students succeed.

When I first started teaching, I had grandiose views of how things would work. It was great to imagine these ideal classroom situations; they quickly disappeared the first time a student got jumped outside of my classroom, or maybe it was the time a student ran through the halls after lighting his backpack on fire, or maybe it was one of the drive-by shootings that took place just steps away from the front doors. My ideological ways certainly shifted but much of them remained in-tact. I learned that I needed to adjust my understanding of my students to ever have the true gist of how to teach them, guide them, and learn from them.

That is what I did. I opened my eyes and I opened my ears. I looked for cues students put out into the universe; I listened to things students said in passing as they walked by my classroom; I read their papers and focused on their text:self connections; I heard them. Admittedly, I grew up in a stable environment and have lived (and still do) a largely privileged life, so figuring out what to do with all of the information I was taking involved quite the learning curve, but I figured out how to address students social-emotional needs in such a way that made academic progress possible.

My first year of teaching was rough: I was 25 and had no experience working with youth. I also had no exposure to the school I was in. I was given a reading textbook and basically told ‘good luck’ — from there, I created an entire reading guide for both ninth and tenth grade ELA and was part of a two-person team to design DC-CAS pretests and preparation that led to the highest scores our tenth graders had seen in years (sadly, still underperforming AYP).

It’s hard to think that was over 10 years ago. When I first took human development classes, I was in so far over my head that it all felt like words flying at me. Nobody addressed the issues going on with my students. Today, I am in a much different position: I’m a parent; I’ve had the exposure of teaching for the last 12 years at both the secondary and post-secondary levels; I’ve welcomed foster children into my home and have had a new outlook on trauma and social-emotional struggles. I feel like after these experiences, I’ve been better able to digest and connect to the information I’ve read in class this term.

A few weeks back, I wrote about crying when you get home— this is something that happened to me regularly in the school settings I’m used to teaching in. As I look to pivot to a district with a bit more stability and support, I want to keep in mind the theorists that influence my teaching style the most and the educational theories I mostly relate to:

  1. Humanism:
    Humanism is a theory I believe I employ most in my classroom. I love the idea of students learning from one another and often encourage discourse in both the small and large-group settings. “It assumes that students will be highly motivated to learn when the learning material is personally meaningful, when they understand the reasons for their own behavior, and when they struggle” (Jack Snowman & Rick McCown, 2015, P483). This approach offers students the opportunity to support their own learning through understanding themselves as learners and people first. Such a big part of my beliefs as a person and an educator centers on students understanding their needs so they can best advocate for themselves and achieve their goals in education and beyond.
  2. Behaviorism:
    I’ve always found behaviorism to be fascinating. I remember sitting in my high school psychology class and learning about BF Skinner and Ivan Pavlov. After years of working in education and around others, I try to keep in mind how behaviors have an effect on nearly all other facets of our lives and I work to relate that to the needs of my students. I feel strongly in using positive reinforcement as opposed to negative and feel this something vital to the development of young people be it in the classroom or otherwise: “… the fact that many of the voluntary responses of humans are strengthened when they are reinforced and weakened when they are either ignored or punished” 
    (Jack Snowman & Rick McCown, 2015, P239). The tenet of this aligns solely with my philosophy of education.
  3. Cognitivism:
    The cognitivism approach to learning is one that also aligns with my beliefs: “Using information can mean experimenting, questioning, reflecting, discovering, inventing and discussing. This process of creating knowledge to solve a problem and eliminate a disequilibrium is referred to as constructivism” (Jack Snowman & Rick McCown, 2015, P40). The reason that I can appreciate this methodology centers on my constant attempts at meeting students where they are, helping them to access prior knowledge and make connections to both that and what they are learning, and then elevating their thinking through an idea or concept based on lecture and class-based activities and assignments. I feel that moving through the discomfort of not knowing and coupling that with the behaviorism approach listed above (positive reinforcement) allows students to grow and best understand their learning styles and learning strengths (and weaknesses). 
  4. Constructivism:
    The last of my interested views is the constructivist approach. This approach is lesser-used by educators who teach in the typical lecture-drill capacity and thus, I feel it suits my teaching style and philosophy of education perfectly. When teaching, I focus my efforts on appropriate scaffolding and modeling because I feel these elements to be effective methods in the classroom. While I still use direct instruction/lectures, I focus my efforts around collaboration, checks for understanding, and mastery demonstration through projects and discussion. I have worked in a project-based school and thus have had school staff support the ideologies that put projects above exams and have seen first-hand the benefit to students from such an approach: “A constructivist classroom, on the other hand, is characterized by inquiry, collaboration among students, use of the teacher as a resource, explanations of points of view and solutions to problems, and attempts to reach consensus about answers and solutions” (Jack Snowman & Rick McCown, 2015, P479). Further, in my library media coursework, I have learned so much about integrating technology and how to work with school staff and content-area teachers to do so in such a way that benefits students’ curiosity and creativity.

Because of my work in an alternative school that employed school-wide project-based learning initiatives, I have a soft-spot for such promotion of thought, teaching methodologies, and assessments that push students beyond multiple choice with a side of essay question. As an ELA teacher, my inclination was to always assign written essays or projects as a means of assessment; as a future librarian, I won’t have many opportunities to assign specific deliverables but I will be in a position to work with students as they strive for success in their content-area courses. I will also be able to work with school staff to develop means and methodologies to support students in the classroom and beyond.

Taking everything learned about theorists and their research, lesson planning, assessment, and classroom management into consideration as I spent time in the library classroom is one of the many facets of adaptation I look forward to as I bridge the gap between being a stay at home mom and working back in a school environment.

The OPAC, continued and 10 more things…

This sounds like a sequel to a horror film combined with a grocery list (I kid, I kid). I actually enjoy doing procedural things — I know I’ve touched on this and if you’ve not deduced on your own, I’m here to confirm that I’m a total Type-A personality. Organizing is my jam and structure guides so many facets of my life. (Kids have helped to loosen things up, like the one time the Discovery Museum in Acton had a station where kids could paint their own faces… we all survived that day, so I like to think that as proof of my wild side!)

I really struggled to write this paper though because I feel like I entered it with 20% knowledge and experience, mostly because I’m not in a school right now and so I had to use my imagination and YouTube to find videos that showed front-end and back-end usage of a number of OPACs and then take what I watched and research the sites for cost, features, implementation, training, and other factors used in making a decision. I explored the community college’s front-end as well as that of my uni and the local public library; I tried to keep my perspectives around this experience when creating a proposal to the imaginary principal.

In my experience as an educator, school administration cares mostly about the bottom line: What does this cost the school in terms of finances and time. I tried to err on the conservative side of things to ensure school staff would be more inclined to listen and bite with the mentality that it is easier to add things on as you go instead of shooting for the moon and getting denied. I also figured that with that, I would be responsible for the bulk of the training (which I assume is typically the case as a school librarian).

In truth, this is something I’d really enjoy doing as part of my job because of the chance to showcase something that will benefit the school/community while allowing me the chance to put my writing and researching skills to work. Still, watching YouTube video after video to garner knowledge on the various online catalogs and reading the many sites got a bit overwhelming, so I gave myself breaks in the form of Law&Order: SVU, dog walks, online shopping for velvet skirts at JCrew, picking out outfits for our upcoming annual Finger Lakes trip, and reading Temptation Island spoilers on Reddit (I wish I was kidding).

Overall, I enjoyed the writing of a memorandum — I’ve not been consulting this semester (just schoolwork and 4, which has been amazing), so I’ve not had any opportunity to write a memo in a minute. Still, I felt like my deliverable was lacking but couldn’t quite figure out where so that I could make the necessary improvements. I am hoping that when classmates give feedback, something will click and I can figure out what I’m missing.

In the meantime, I am looking forward to reading what my classmates put together. I also took some time to re-evaluate my Top Ten Technology Tips for Teachers. Incidentally, the 4th tip listed was about checking out computers, something that you can use the Destiny platform to track (this is the OPAC I recommended in my proposal). The primary focus of my ten tips, however, centered on communication and I still stand by this. Through this course, I have learned about and have experimented with some really great forms of technology and I think focusing around those shiny and new-to-you technologies can help students stay engaged in classroom projects even if the teachers are not looking to learn those technologies. I think if I were to add another element to my top ten list, it would focus on the community as a whole.

I also want to be sure to emphasize the importance of community engagement in my communication tips. I feel it’s imperative to have the buy-in of the community at large and definitely those within the confines of the school (and families). I want to be sure to create a realistic social media campaign to help engage parents, students, staff, and stakeholders. I’d like to use my grant writing experiences to work closely with admin to obtain technology and other educational resources for the library through surveys and polls with the school community — I have so many ideas for work ideas that can extend beyond the library classroom in middle and high school capacities (college application sessions — co-curricular planning with the counseling team; vaping awareness — co-curricular planning with the health team, school nurse, and possibly the town’s Department of Public Health; language discussion groups; writing groups; reading circles…). There are so many opportunities to collaborate and build up the library program within a school.

When I complete this program and move into the role of librarian, I would like to hold events or at least create podcasts/video on topics important to the community: How to give back or donate to the schools; How to apply to college; How to complete financial aid forms; etc. I think that concerns about the community can be easily added to questions/polls put out by the superintendent’s office or the school principal even. This would be a really big initiative of mine and I think the value of community engagement would be all the more strengthened if the school participates in a program like METCO and offers those parents outside of the immediate neighborhoods to participate and engage in school happenings.

These are the elements I’ll keep in mine as I complete this program and work towards leading a library one day.

 

OPAC Interview

I’ve written several posts about my recent DC trip with 4 — honestly, we had a great time. One of the things we did on our trip was have lunch with a dear friend. She used to be the math teacher on my team when I taught in Fairfax County, VA; she’s also a fellow Pittsburgh native (Go Steelers!); AND, she is now a school librarian.

I’ve spent a good bit of time processing the library program at my uni with her — and asking so many questions about her role at her school library. Technically, she was hired as a MS librarian but because she works in a secondary school, she works with both lower and upper secondary grades. Incidentally, the state of Virginia has a law in place that mandates schools have X number of librarians per XXX student population. Isn’t that wonderful!? During 4’s and my visit to DC-VA, I texted my husband and asked if we could move back to northern VA — there are library positions in Fairfax County and we’d be close to most of my best friends. (Also, there are so many SAHMs in NoVa and literally any day my son and I go out in my town, we are the only people at the playground or the library or even the closest local zoo some days!) This will be a work in progress, clearly, considering we have a pretty well-established family life and joint network of friends in the greater Boston area, plus I love our house and our town — being able to walk to the beach doesn’t hurt either. Alas, we will see what transpires in the years to come.

Anyway, back to topic… I spoke with my friend about her school’s online public access catalog (OPAC) and then I spent some time research an additional OPAC to compare/contrast the two and make a recommendation to my pretend employer. Aaah — a chance to write a memo! Like most things that excite literally nobody, I am excited at the chance to do some formal writing. I’m not sure about administrators in schools, but I feel like my appreciation of formality helps navigate some of the murkier waters of school admin. Also, I’m a huge fan of procedure and protocol — it soothes my anxiety and gives me a solid sense of stability.

My friend’s school currently uses Destiny; it’s been a process to transition but she reports that while there’s a great learning curve, there’s also a lot more control over how to set things as up than there was in their previous OPAC: Sirsi Symphony. After touching base with her, I figured I’d reach out a librarian I’ve worked with in the past at a local community college.

The feedback I got about the OPAC at the community college was interesting. They use Evergreen, which is an open-source catalog. In truth, I am fascinated by open-source and have used open-source materials for students in the past. Further, I learned that Evergreen is able to be molded to fit the needs of the college’s consortium. Prior to the community college switching to Evergreen (per the urging of the consortium), they used the OPAC, Millenium, which was not as user-friendly.

It is clear that I now have at least four separate OPACs to look into. I also was interested in one called myLibrary (which is created by iii, the creator of Millenium). My next steps are to further research these five examples of OPAC and put together a considerate, well-planned MEMO to send to my future principal (hopefully he/she likes procedure and formality!).

 

end-of-year goals

About halfway through November, I realized I didn’t set any written goals aloud but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been working towards some. I recently met with a nutritionist who I talked to about trying to lose enough weight to get within my healthy zone — I know that more than weight counts for health and I’ve been definitely working on my health this year. I have lost twenty pounds with minimal effort and have maintained that loss through many trips and even more cupcakes. Still, I want to match that loss in 2020.

With the nutritionist, she recommended I actually increase my carbs intake. I’m certainly not on a low-carb diet and I eat lots of potatoes but she recommended using more oats, brown rice, and pastas. I also talked to her about incorporating more plant-based meals into my life. Before I met my husband, I rarely ate meat because I won’t touch raw meat and thus won’t cook it — it’s really easy to eat plant-based when you refuse to handle any proteins. I decided to largely go back to that (and take my family with me). My husband was easily on board because so many of his runner friends told him that moving toward a plant-based diet would help improve his running time.

Incorporating more grains and eating less meat kind of go hand-in-hand in my mind, so this has been a fairly simple transition. Trader Joe’s makes it easy enough to buy meatballs if the kids want to add meat to a pasta dish and last week, we bought a rotisserie chicken and my husband broke it down so that there was the option of adding chicken. 11 & 13 (especially) are big on meat eating; 4 is like me — he could take it or leave it. This is a central part of our end-of-year goals; basically, intuitive eating with foods and nutrients.

Additionally, I have been focusing on moving more. I have struggled to get into a routine and my nutritionist asked why I felt the need to be in a routine. She suggested I look into ClassPass, which has been great. My old yoga studio in the city participates, as do several in my immediate area — these classes coupled with my gym membership on campus and my at-home cardio equipment and weights should have me covered. So, my goal is to get to at least two yoga classes a week — I can typically fit them in on weekends and then take further advantage on days my husband works from home. On other days, I can just do cardio at home or use the spin bikes/Expresso workouts at the gym.

So, my goals around fitness are to keep on this path — do what I feel like doing and if I don’t feel like doing anything, try to talk myself into getting in a 10-min yoga video or a mile run. So far, this has been working for me and I’m hoping to continue to push forward with continuing this way.

Lastly, I’ve been straightening my hair more regularly, which has given me a big boost — hair, eyeliner, and mascara accompanied by high-waisted ‘mom jeans’ and crop sweaters.

With all this being said, here’s to ending 2019 in such away that encourages me to keep eating carbs and plants, moving my body in ways that push boundaries and ways that make me feel healthy, and getting myself ready for tasks like the grocery store.

national adoption day

Every year, we try to observe and celebrate National Adoption Day. Our Gotcha Day is one of the most special days I’ve experienced, but we don’t tend to celebrate it wholly because it’s a mere two days after our son’s birthday. We want to give our little man all of the celebration he deserves for being so resilient and amazing and so we use the distance from his birthday to observe this special time.

Each National Adoption Day, we’ve celebrated with a special treat (usually, one involving actual sugar and not just nuts — 4 considers almonds a ‘special after-dinner treat’) and read all of our adoption picture books. 4 knows that he’s adopted; it’s something we talk about often and try to have open and honest communication about. We always want him to be able to ask questions and talk openly about his feelings now and of course when he better understands what adoption means.

National Adoption Day is such a special day for so many families. I understand that adoption started by a child being separated by his/her bio family and I’m sure there is a lot to digest and process at some point about that. I have several friends who are adopted and several more who’ve adopted (two of my sorority sisters adopted their beautiful littles and are also adopted themselves). I am so grateful for their support and openness to answering questions when I’ve had them.

I always like to take the time to think of 4’s village when National Adoption Day rolls around. We are so fortunate to have so much love showered on our little guy and even more so that we keep in touch with his former foster family. His former foster mom is amazing and she’s also his Godmother; the most special piece about maintaining a relationship with her (aside from our friendship) is the bond 4 shares with his former foster sister. I call her little girl Mother Hen — she’s only a year older than 4 but just loved him to pieces when he was a baby and they still share that bond when they’re together.

I joke that Mother Hen is 4’s ride or die; sometimes he’ll talk about her and say they’re going to drive her mom’s car for an adventure. I just picture them joyriding as teens — it’s a good thing they don’t live close-by so that this isn’t a true possibility but their bond is special and I cherish it for my son. This year for National Adoption Day, we will go through our pictures from his adoption and will read our favorite books: The Tummy Mummy and Wish are two of my personal favorites.

We try to ensure that our little love always knows how special he is and how loved he is by everyone who’s entered his life. I mean, we are talking about a small child who brought a clinic team (nine physicians from nine different departments) to tears as they beamed with pride over his growth. I love celebrating him and celebrating this special day as a family filled with joy on this special day.

 

More on Dewey

I have been slugging my way through the Allison Kaplan’s Catalog It! (2016) for the last week and a half. This is in no way an ‘easy read’ — further, I finding myself feeling equal parts frustrated and defeated at times because I am not used to feeling overwhelmed by information nor am I accustomed to frustration that comes from constantly referring back to previous chapters to understand the numbers, symbols, and acronyms.

Aaaagh!

One thing I do know is that I am happy technology has advanced as such that so many school libraries are moving toward automation. In between my frustrating moments, I’m thinking to myself, “My goodness, I wish there was an app so I could practice using this…” Who even am I these days?!

One thing remains constant in my mind — if I’m having difficulty piecing this all together, how can I expect students I work with to use it in an intuitive fashion? Now, I get that when I was growing up, society didn’t really indulge anyone on how intuitive something was or wasn’t; however, technology has moved our society in the direction of iOS and Google and thus it makes the most sense to try and figure out what is the most intuitive way to organize materials for students.

Incidentally, I look forward to discussing my library friend’s OPAC and her school’s overall organization of the library — she works in a secondary school, and thus works with students in both middle and high school. I am really looking forward to picking her brain about genre-fictation in the coming weeks because more than Dewey explains, this seems to make more sense to me. I’m also curious to learn if there are more ‘cutting edge’ technologies employed by school libraries.

In the meantime, I’ll continue to slog through the last remaining exercises in the text and see to it that I frame my thoughts about how my knowledge of Dewey can help shape the experiences of my future students.

Note: I did Google DDS apps and found LibraryTools

bad medicine

Last weekend, 4 and I went on an adventure to our nation’s capital: There, we visited playgrounds, went to the National Zoo with friends, and dined at TrueFood more than once — we also ate doughnuts and pizza! It was a really decadent weekend, full of mommy-4 time and I loved every second of it. 4 is now an expert at train travel and taxi travel (thanks to the RideSafer) — the number of compliments he gets at the airport for getting his own bin and putting his backpack and jacket in show his savvy when it comes to air travel.

Along our journey from northern VA to the zoo, we got out at Farragut West and walked around for a bit. We were running early and I wanted to show 4 where I used to work (across the street from the WhiteHouse). I pushed him in his stroller a bit and we made our way back to Farragut North to take the red line train to Woodley Park. We took the elevator down to the lower level and then went to board the next elevator to the train platform when we ran into our first joint encounter with a woman who was clearly in a space. Of course the elevator wasn’t working, so we turned around and had an employee turn off the lock so we could access it. As we waited for the elevator, the woman had a very boisterous moment which was followed by taking pills.

All in all, 4 was exposed to language and activity I’d rather not him see but realized that at some point I would need to address. Given 4’s life experiences, I always want to have an open line of communication when it comes to drugs and experimentation. This is something my husband and I have spoken about tirelessly and always figured we’d start addressing this deliberately at an early(ish) age. So, when 4 asked why the woman was screaming, I took it as a chance to open the doors of communication.

I wasn’t sure how to really approach the idea of drug abuse, but given that two of my cousins and an uncle lost their lives to overdose, I felt like I could deliver information about the habit/behavior without judgment/lessening the value of the person; thus, I introduced him to the term of ‘bad medicine’ and I explained that sometimes people take bad medicine because they want to feel a certain way or feel better about things but instead it makes them sick. Then, we talked about how we can’t take Zarbees (honey cough syrup) when we aren’t sick because it won’t work the right way with our bodies.

Keeping things in line with 4’s understanding and allowing the lines of communication to remain open are of the utmost importance when discussing such heavy matters. Considering, he has been talking about this since shows that he is processing what we talked about and what he saw — which leaves me hopeful that as he grows, he will continue to work to understand the epidemic facing our society, show empathy, and make the best choices he can.