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06. The Design of Learning Environments

        Learning theory does not answer all questions about schools, but it does raise important questions.  Different learning goals require different instructional strategies.  For key aspects about learning that influence the learning environment are being learner centered, knowledge centered, assessment centered, and community centered. 
        Expectations and standards for schools have risen dramatically.  For example, functional iteracy went from writing your name in the early 1800s to decoding and reading for new information currently.  In the past, the factary model influenced schools' designs.  Today, students need to "do" - displaying qualities of adaptive expertise.  
        A learner centered environment pays close attention to the knowledge, skills, attitudes, and beleifs that learnes have (this is also called being culturally sensitive).  This includes being aware of "school talk", the language of a school, and particularly those that don't come in to school with it.  Learner centered teachers bridge the gap beginning with students' understanding and with the subject matter.  
        Having well-organized bodies of knowledge guided by standards makes a knowledge centered environment.  Learning must consider previous knowledge, as all new knowledge is built from it.  Knowledge must have a focus on understanding, not just facts.  It must focus also on sense-making, making students meta-cognitive, and seek clarification where they don't know something.  
        Progressive formalization is the idea of taking informal concepts and formaliying them in an effort to teach the concept.  Math in Context has an algebraic program beginning with words and pictures and gradually becoming formalized.  In the past the beleif that young students canÄt deal with complex reasoning is now absurd, as there is evidence even young students can out-reason college students when learning appropriately.  The metaphor of the "learning path" is replaced by a "learning landscape".  Instead of organizing a curriculum by skills, it can be organized by larger integrated ideas.  
        In short, a knowledge centered environment should have a balance between promoting understanding and skill automaticity.  
        Assessment centered environments have opportunities for feedback and revision.  They also include formative and summative assessment that are aligned with state or national standards.  For assessment to be good, student thinking must be made visible and feedback provided shold focus on understanding.  Effective teachers continually attempt to learn about their students' thinking and understanding.   Theey also teach students how to perform self-assessments.  
        Feedback, such as tests, is mostly summative.  Rather, it should include opportunities to revise.  Collaborative work can also be used for assessment, but students must learn how.  Many teachers, parents, and students need to move away from summative assessments that focus on procedures or facts.  There are various formats for assessing understanding, such as giving students problems and asking them what formula to apply, and portfolios that include reflections.  
        There have been attempts oof making theoretical frameworks that connect assessment and learning.  Baxter and Glaser, for example, created process-content continuum for science assessments.  Yet, development is still needed in this area. 
        Community connections, to the schools, neighborhood, nation, or even world serve an important purpose.  Social norms, such as making mistakes and seeing understanding as a process, have an impact on learning.  Some norms, like grading, can impede learning if it is too competitive or at odds with community ethics.  The culture of a school is also strongly affected by teacher behavior and broader cultural expectations or habits.  
        Community connections are important because students spend much time in their community.  Family, especially in the early years of a child's life, play a critical role.  The union of family, community, and schools has great promise to improve acheivement.  
        Television viewing can be educational or entertaining.  Some students spend more time in front of the TV than in school.  It can improve acheivement but only in small doses, educationlly, and when used in certain ways.  It affects sterotzpes, opinions, and many values.  As children today watch 7 times more entertainment TV than educational TV, more educational TV is needed. 
        Alignment between learning, assessment, knoweldge, and community needs to happen with a systems approach to be effective.  This should happen not just within classrooms, but between them too.  


  1. Brainstorm a list of at least 12 questions about the topic, concept or object. Use these question-starts to help you think of interesting questions:

  2. Why...?
    How would it be different if...?
    What are the reasons...?
    Suppose that...?
    What if...?
    What if we knew...?
    What is the purpose of...?
    What would change if...?

  3. Review the brainstormed list and star the questions that seem most interesting. Then, select one or more of the starred questions to discuss for a few moments.

  4. Reflect: What new ideas do you have about the topic, concept or object that you didn't have before?

Question 1:
 - How can the success of a learning environment be measured?
 - Is there a difference between the union or pedagogy and content and pedagogical-content knoweledge?
 - Suppose that a school only trains its teachers for pedagogical knowledge.  What would happen?
 - Suppose that a school only trains its teachers for content knowledge.  What would happen?
 - What would happen if you find out everything that your students understand and find they are all over the place?  How could it be addressed?
 - What are the reasons for the shift from a learning path to a learning landscape?  Isnt order of the teaching material important?
 - What would change if we removed summative assessments altogether?  Isnt it more consistent with our philosophies of teaching?
 - How would it be different if more television was educational?
 - How could schools work with TV companies to make it more educational?
 - What would change if standards are written differently?  Would it actually affect teaching practice?  How?
 - How can community be broght in to schools to help teaching-learning?
 - Suppose that schools aligned these for components (learning, knowledge, assessment community).  How would this influence budgets?  Isnt is much more expensive to do?

Question 2:
 - See the questions that are bolded
 - Discussion

- Personally I think that in some domains, particularly with more open, conceptual, and broad projects, summative assessments need to change from quantitative forms to qualitative forms.  Giving, for example, and 88 to a student on a research project isnt useful information.  Rather, having qualitiative feedback using a rubric could be more appropriate, particularly if we want to be consistent with our teaching values.

- One of my fears is that doing all this is expensive, and when budgets are short and a Principal must decide between one more teacher or teacher training, it is not an easy decision to be made. 

Question 3:

I also recognized these four components as critical to education or schools, yet I never clearly distinguished between them or used these 4 specifically as a framework to think about the different aspects of schools.  Now having this framework, I feel much better equipped to analyze schools.