Category Archives: Learning Supports

Differences, not disabilities

learning differences

Students who learn differently from most have often been defined as having disabilities, which has a profound effect on their experiences in school, their relationships with others, and even their sense of identity. But a growing movement is seeking to shift the paradigm from learning disabilities to learning differences—recognizing that no two students learn exactly the same and that all students deserve an education based on their strengths, not their deficits.

In the April issue of Educational Leadership, McREL’s Bryan Goodwin and Heather Hein examine these differences through the lens of learning styles, which focus on the ways students gather, process, and evaluate information—and how that can inform curriculum, instruction, and assessments.

Learning styles have been around for decades, the authors explain, but little hard evidence proves their existence, let alone their impact on learning. However, the concept continues to influence educators. The Every Student Succeeds Act, for example, calls for states to apply the principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL)—a framework for developing flexible learning environments that accommodate individual learning differences—when planning assessments and instruction. Why?

Perhaps it’s that the research has yet to catch up with an idea that, at its core, makes common sense. Learning styles have been hard for researchers to pin down: More than 70 different frameworks exist, much of the data relies on unreliable self-reporting, and the styles themselves appear to be changeable (i.e., people can have multiple styles and switch among them). However, say Goodwin and Hein, a new generation of neuroscience studies are using brain scans and eye tracking to support different learning preferences.

The key takeaway for educators, the authors conclude, is to reflect on their approach to instruction planning. Do you plan based on how you prefer to learn, or on how your students prefer to learn? Do you consider the preferences of some of your students or all of them? Getting inside your students’ heads is, ultimately, what learning styles—and effective teaching—is all about.

Read the entire column.

Posted by McREL International.

Four tips for using nonlinguistic representations

nonlinguistic learningToday’s learners are continually fed linguistically presented information, such as lectures, videos, directions, math chants, and reading assignments. Most opportunities for students to interact with peers happen primarily with words.

It’s all too easy, while employing various aspects of instructional design and delivery, to overlook ways that students might also engage in learning through nonlinguistics.

When used intentionally and consistently, nonlinguistic representations are powerful instructional tools that can have a positive effect on student achievement. They provide varied ways for students to process new information without solely relying on language.

McREL’s analysis of research for the second edition of Classroom Instruction that Works (CITW) provides these research-based classroom recommendations for use of nonlinguistic representations:

  1. Use graphic organizers.
  2. Use physical models or manipulatives.
  3. Generate mental pictures.
  4. Use pictures, illustrations, and pictographs.
  5. Engage in kinesthetic activities.

Tips for engaging in nonlinguistic learning

  1. Consistently use each type of nonlinguistic representation.
    It’s important that students learn several ways to represent information nonlinguistically. This means providing students at every grade level with multiple opportunities to use kinesthetic movement, draw pictures and pictographs, use their senses and emotions to form solid mental images, be fluid in the use of several graphic organizers, and create or use physical models to denote their learning. Consistent use is key; if you use these strategies only occasionally, it will limit students’ ability to grasp the possibilities associated with learning both linguistically and nonlinguistically, preventing them from developing automaticity in their use of all the representations.
  2. Help students engage in conversations with peers to explain their choice and use of a nonlinguistic representation.
    When students engage in peer discourse to explain why they chose a certain nonlinguistic representation for the content being studied, they deepen their understanding of the content and are better able to make connections between types of information. Peer conversations help students elaborate on their learning; they describe their thinking and listen to others do the same, helping them extend and apply their learning. When students engage in peer and classroom conversations, it becomes easier to expose and correct any confusion about or misinterpretations of the content. Using sentence stems and guiding questions may also help students become more proficient in speaking with, listening to, and understanding one another.
  3. Students can use multiple nonlinguistic representations to learn or represent a concept.
    It would be a mistake to believe that students should select only one nonlinguistic strategy to represent a piece of content. Nothing could be further from the truth. When students are encouraged to combine and use multiple nonlinguistics to represent their learning, the probability of deeper understanding and longer retention increases. For example, students learning the vocabulary word defenestrate, which means to throw something out the window, might kinesthetically demonstrate the word, followed by sketching what it looks like to defenestrate. Ultimately, students should be given time to create a mental picture of how they look defenestrating an object.
  4. Students should be encouraged to use nonlinguistic representations on their own.
    Nonlinguistic representations can be used to learn new vocabulary words, take notes, capture information along a timeline, symbolize information that is difficult to see—such as parts of an atom or solar systems—depict historical events, connect new learning to previously learning information, and demonstrate understanding beyond linguistics. When students consistently represent their learning using a nonlinguistic approach, they internalize useful methods and multiple ways to process and make sense of new information. Ultimately, the goal is to create a desire in students to use these learning tools without teacher insistence.

Applying the tips to instruction

As with the implementation of any instructional strategy, teachers who wish to improve student learning need to intentionally plan for and consistently use nonlinguistic representations in their lesson design and delivery. Setting a purpose for using these important instructional strategies, along with a willingness to stay the course in their application, will go a long way to establishing routine use for teachers and the students they have the privilege of serving.

Bj StoneConsulting director Dr. Bj Stone is a co-author of the second editions of McREL’s Classroom Instruction that Works (2012) and A Handbook for Classroom Instruction that Works (2012). A former middle and high school science teacher and central office administrator, she now trains, coaches, and consults with K–12 educators and district leaders on research-based instructional strategies, vocabulary instruction, curriculum development, and assessment design.

 

Additional resources

Beck, I. L., McKeown, M. G., & Kucan, L. (2002). Bringing words to life: Robust vocabulary instruction. New York: Guilford Press.

Dean, C. B., Hubbell, E. R., Pitler, H., & Stone, B. (2012). Classroom instruction that works: Research-based strategies for increasing student achievement, 2nd ed. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

 

Unrealistic expectations for ELLs reflect deeply ingrained “deficit thinking”

Despite years of trying various approaches to reduce the achievement gap between English language learners (ELLs) and their non-ELL peers, the gap has remained virtually unchanged since the late 1990s. Why? Bryan Goodwin and Heather Hein examine this question—and what can be done about it—in the February Research Says column for Educational Leadership magazine.

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A step-by-step guide to building your intervention system

The vast array of intervention programs is staggering, and sifting through the options to determine which will be most successful can be overwhelming. School and district leaders often feel paralyzed by the intricacies of selecting and implementing interventions in their settings as they contemplate myriad options.

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Student identity in the classroom: Building purpose, potential, and persistence

We often think that identity—both our present- and future-oriented conceptions of the self—motivates and predicts behavior. In education, when we think of student identity, most of us would agree that we want all students to believe a positive future self is both possible and relevant, and that student belief in this possible future self motivates their current behavior. But, when we really investigate that belief, is it actually true? When I see data that shows 95 percent of students say they want to go to college, but only 80 percent actually graduate from high school, I see a disparity between what students want for their futures and the behaviors in which they engage.

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ALL for all: Reviving academic language in classroom conversation

“I times’ed 12 and 140 and I got 1680.” Sound familiar? While visiting a middle school math class recently, I heard more than a few students use language like this when explaining their work to their peers and to their teacher. While their answers showed they understood the academic concepts they were learning, the way they expressed their ideas revealed a need for academic language development.

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Should we teach kids to be more mindful?

Kids come to school with all kinds of emotions—and the school environment can supercharge those emotions, whether they are positive or negative. To head off negative behaviors and instead foster optimism and self-determination, more and more schools are incorporating mindfulness practices and programs into their already-full school days.

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RtI, PBIS, and MTSS: An evolution, a revolution, or roses by other names?

If your state is anything like Colorado, Florida, or Michigan, an educational revolution is occurring—or perhaps it would be more apt to say, an evolution is occurring—with districts making the shift from using Response to Intervention (RtI) and Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS), to using Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS).

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