Monday, December 9, 2013

Learning Vs. Regurgitation & Emotion-Evoking Questioning

In behavior support classrooms, teachers must work to provide a prime environment for learning. In multi-age classrooms, teachers have to address a wide array of learning needs-- not to mention juggling multiple curricula. This makes it all the more challenging to ensure that students are actually learning. So how do we meet the needs of our learners while setting up situations that elicit deep learning? First, we need to understand the difference between learning and regurgitation.

In college, my favorite professor announced that we would be having a pop quiz. She handed out a quiz on drills and saws. Now, we were education majors. Not many of us had the background knowledge to pass a quiz like that. "You might not know a lot about the topic," she told us, "but you do know how to take a test. Off you go!" To our surprise, we all got a 100% on the quiz. I still can't remember what it was about, and I didn't understand any of it-- but I passed it with flying colors. Our teacher congratulated all of us for demonstrating that we learned a lot about drills and saws, and when we all looked at her with puzzled expressions, she let us know that we had simply "regurgitated" information but hadn't learned it.

Learning Vs. Regurgitation

I created a similar quiz, using all nonsense words. Try it out for yourself.

Sure, you were able to comprehend the text at a surface level and spit back answers. You probably gathered that a schmigglefiggin is some type of creature in the dopplehopper category. They live in the rainforest and have poisonous bites. There are four types of schmigglefiggins. Blah blah blah.

But could you make a presentation about schmigglefiggins without just retelling the passage? Could you apply the information learned to a new situation? Do you think you would be able to teach someone else about schmigglefiggins? How are schmigglefiggins, or at least learning about schmigglefiggins, important to your life? Will you ever use this information? Why is it worth learning? How will it serve you? Do you have any emotional connection to it? Nope!

Our students with behavioral needs don't always feel successful in school. We focus so much on getting them to complete tasks that our focus shifts from learning to reinforcing task completion. I could complete tasks all day long, but how does that serve me? What is it teaching me for my life?

It's so important to start small, with task completion goals, for our students with severe behaviors. It's even more important, though, to make it worth their while. My professor explained to us that the best form of classroom management is an engaging lesson.

But realistically, in a multi-age classroom, it's very time-consuming to create elaborately exciting lessons for everything. In a behavior support classroom, sometimes more elaborate lessons can be overstimulating. How do we win?

Emotion-Evoking Questioning

Emotions play a great role in learning. Think about the feeling of guilt. It's such a strong, awful feeling that keeps us from repeating behaviors. Strong, negative feelings can stick with us for a while. That's why we can remember sad childhood incidents like they happened yesterday. Same thing goes for our happiest memories. Ask me what I had for breakfast last Tuesday, though, and I might have to stop and think. The human brain is programmed to hold onto things that are relevant to us. Such things are usually tied to strong feelings of emotion.

That's why it's so important for teachers to work to evoke emotion in the classroom. Emotions leave a much stronger impression than facts for regurgitation. I studied World War II by reading a factual textbook. It was this-side versus that-side, and they were fighting over this and that, and it happened from this year to this year, and there were however-many casualties. Then, I was asked to interview a man who served in the war. My great-grandfather told me stories with emotion, and they stuck with me forever. I had a teacher who told us how history wasn't just something we learned about in social studies; it was real life for real people who had families, fears, desires, and everything just like us. Imagine how they must have felt.

As the teacher taught about September 11, 2001, the student yawned and said, "I'm bored. How much longer til recess?"

When I was a student observer, I watched a student say this to his teacher. I was completely and utterly shocked, but then I remembered... this is ancient history to these kids. I currently teach in an elementary school, and a colleague mentioned to me that not a single student in our K-5 school was alive when 9/11 happened.

I was, though. I was actually in history class. My teacher, who was the one who taught with such emotion, turned to us as we watched the news and said, "You are living history right now. This will be in a social studies book one day that eighth graders like you will read." That stuck with me forever. That's how I teach now.

Teach with emotion-- happy, sad, scared, excited, amused, laughing hysterically, the list is endless. Take students into events, and have them explore. Challenge their thinking, and have them challenge the author and even events in history. You can bring alive a boring text by connecting it to the student and letting them see how it serves them. Use Bloom's Taxonomy verbs to help.

Students won't regurgitate facts on a test when they learn this way. Their answers will contain evidence of higher-order thinking.

I made a list of emotion-evoking questions that can be used with just about any reading. You can grab that freebie here!

Do you use emotion in your teaching? What kinds of results do you find with this technique? How do you feel about learning and regurgitation? Please share in the comments below!

A Peach for the Teach


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