Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Rethinking learning and a great school day

I just finished reading In Their Own Way by Thomas Armstrong, PhD (although the copy I got from my local library is the 1987 edition. This is the 2000 edition. I can't testify to the differences). I LOVE this book. It really focuses on students labeled with learning disabilities (which the author argues don't really exist. His theory is that there are just different types of intelligences and the school systems only teach to two of the seven which leaves all others behind), but there's a wealth of information for all parents--both those who school at home and in the school system. Homeschooling is briefly mentioned, but the focus is on working with a school system. Still, there are many great ideas for teaching to the different types of intelligence.

One thing that's pretty interesting is that the author specifically tells you to avoid filing your child away into one focus. He points out that children may fit the description of one more so than any of the others, but you can most likely find other focuses that fit your child as well.

When reading through the 7 learning styles, I found myself in a number of them. It's an odd sensation to read the descriptions and about one thing, think, "That's me exactly," but in the same topic, there will be something that I never did. For so long, we've been taught, "You're this or that." To hear that we can fall into a number of different categories is very interesting and pretty eye-opening.

The differences in the way my kids learn prompted me to delve more deeply into learning styles. When schooling the older kids, I noticed Girl2 could not figure out most of the answers on a clock worksheet. Yet when we play with the toy clock, she can give accurate answers. I found another sheet that gave the digital time with a blank clock. Rather than writing down the time based on the position of the hands, it gives the time and the student draws the hands. She got nearly all of them right on her own without a meltdown (she's VERY hard on herself and flips out easily).

Oh, oh, oh, that's another great part of the book. I never realized how much the brain shuts down when children are stressed. It tends to be a vicious cycle with Girl2. She works herself up even before she tries. So even if it's something she knows, she'll already be too freaked out to give an answer. So I get annoyed and she then gets more stressed. The book, though, features several simple breathing and visualization exercises to help kids teach themselves to calm down. I've tried breathing exercises with Girl2 in the past, but usually without much luck. I actually tried the visualization with her last night and found that works really well. With her sister, though, not so much.

Inspired by the book, I decided to mix things up a bit today. Instead of just thinking up lists of nouns, verbs or adjectives, we acted some out. First we played a verb charade game where one acted out an activity and we had to guess. We kind of made it up as we went along. When they wanted to add sounds, we did. When they wanted to use their toys as part of the act, we did. Then we acted out nouns. If they acted out or guessed the wrong type, we used that as a chance to review the difference. We even tried to think up the appropriate word that would go with that opposite guess (i.e. if they acted out "Rocking" a baby while we were doing nouns, we talked about how "Mother" would be a noun that would do that action). Then we made up a song about verbs (to the tune of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star: "I like these action words; singing swinging those are verbs." We changed out the actual verbs every few verses. The kids got to pick which ones we put in the song).

From there, they asked to play the addition card game. I made that one up from Arthur's Tower of Cows game and I've been surprised by how well it works and how much they like it. I only printed the number cards, not the rest of the game. All 3 of us draw cards and flip them over. They range from 1-4 and they have pictures of the number of cows on there, so they work as manipulatives. There are lots of ways to use the cards. The kids tell me which numbers are the greatest and which are the least. They put them in numerical order. They add them up. They add different ones and tell me which sums are the greatest and the least. Today, on their own, they started adding 3 digits. Granted, the numbers are simple, but still, I'm impressed that they can do it and that they WANTED to. A few days after we first played the game, we were all in the car and we randomly asked them to add different numbers. When we asked for 3+3, Girl2 gave us her answer immediately without having to count on her fingers. When we asked about it, she said, "I remember that from the cow game."

During that math game, I noticed the kids were getting hyper, so after playing for a while, I suggested one of the Leap Pad reading DVDs. They're watching that now. I could tell they needed to calm down and I figured that would help.

Some days, homeschooling wears me down. I was so tempted to put them in the school system this year. Some days are just awful. Then we have a day like today and I feel wonderful about homeschooling. It's so neat that I can tailor the day to suit them. We can make up our own games. I can find a different way to approach something if I see them struggling. When they're too revved up to focus, we can either run around to burn off the energy or do something calming to bring them back down. Plus the school day never ends. There's no bell at 3 o'clock, so they never think learning is over. They've asked to "do school" at all hours. I think that's pretty neat.

I'm so glad I found that book. It has given me a whole bunch of ideas for how to teach to the different intelligences. And let me tell ya, it's SO much easier to find what works for their particular focus rather than trying to use what works for me or what's readily available (which actually tends to be one in the same). I think the book is a great resource for any parent and/or teacher. I highly recommend it. I'm having a much better day as a result of reading it. :-)


Anonymous said...

It was great reading this entry. I'm having a really, really bad start of the school year. I hate my schedule as I get period 1 "off" for planning. Then I teach the rest of the day, non-stop. My kids are mean - to each other and myself. Very disrespectful. I have one class in particular that I have to redirect constantly; they also keep getting in trouble so the fans get turned off. Not fun, very hot. I go home miserable and unhappy. On Sundays, I don't want to get up and by 4 o'clock, I'm ready to cry...because Monday isn't that far away. I've had bad times at school before, but not because of my "kids." I'm at a total loss...and yet, I do realize I love my special edu classes. I have tons of kids from last year that have come back day after day. Your entry made me realize how lucky I am to teach. That I need to continue looking in new directions and reaching out to my students. That learning can be fun. Yeah, I need to get these kids in line -- but I've done it before and with some success if the old kids keep coming back to say hello. I need to step back, relax and try again. No matter what. Thank you. You always say/write what I need to hear/read the most!

Pixie LaRouge said...

I have this book and its junior reading companion book "You're Smarter Than You Think" both on reserve at the library. I am so anxious to get them. Today was not a good day at school for Van, and I ache when I see him struggling between wanting to succeed and wanting to do his own thing. I'm hoping, hoping, hoping for even one idea I haven't tried, one suggestion I'd have never figured out on my own, one little lifeline to help him soar. Thanks for turning me on to this!