Action Research

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pepperdine university
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xing king


 

 

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I wanted to review literature to discover how education theorists, scholars, educators, and language instructors contribute to student learning. Specifically, I wanted to learn how students learn with deeper understanding in community of learning environments. I also wanted to understand how interactive technology supports student learning language as an effective tool.

Learning with Deep Understanding

I discovered that effective learning requires a deep understanding. The time students spent on memorization is not sufficient for effective learning because simply memorizing vocabulary, grammar structure, and facts from textbooks or classes will not result in deep understanding. In the long run, without understanding, they forget what they learn. "In order for learners to gain insight into their learning and their understanding, frequent feedback is critical: students need to monitor their learning and actively evaluate their strategies and their current levels of understanding." (Bransford, Brown, & Cockling. 2000). It is obvious that different ways of using one's time have different effects on learning.

" For example, learning is most effective when people engage in "deliberate practice" that includes active monitoring of one's learning experiences. (Ericsson et al. 1993). Monitoring involves attempts to seek and use feedback about one's progress. Feedback has long been identified as important for successful learning, but it should not be regarded as a unidimensional concept. For example, feedback that signals progress in memorizing facts and formulas is different from feedback that signals the state of the students' understanding (Chi et al., 1989, 1994). " (Bransford, Brown, & Cockling. 2000).

There is widespread agreement that prior knowledge influences learning, and that learners construct concepts from prior knowledge. Learners develop understanding when they relate new ideas to prior knowledge and skills through observable activities that develop and demonstrate the target understandings. Such performances of understanding promote learning and provide the bases for assessing and improving learners' work. (ENT 2004) .

In his article Learning in Interactive Environments: Prior Knowledge and New Experience, Roschelle states that previously learning was considered a process of accumulating information or experience. This article focuses on the tension that dominates the debate about prior knowledge. Roschelle points out the two sides of the debate. On one hand, educators create experiences that engage students in actively making sense of concepts for themselves. On the other hand, "researcher tends to characterize prior knowledge as conflicting with the learning process, and thus tries to suppress, eradicate, or overcome its influence." (Jeremy Roschelle. 1995).

Learning theorist place different emphasis on prior knowledge in theories of learning. Piaget's theory concerns the development of schemata in relation to new experience within individual. Children, like adults, combine prior schemata with experience. Dewey elaborates the experiential side of learning that is created in our transactions with nature and with each other, and thus is dependent on the prior knowledge that we bring to it. Vygotsky (1986) argued that advanced concepts appear first in social interaction, and only gradually become accessible to an individual. Thus Vygotsky primarily elaborated the role of social interaction in transformation of prior knowledge.

On the other hand, Bransford points out that prior knowledge can hinder the understanding of new learning. The concept of counting-based arithmetic can make it difficult for elementary school students because some number-counting principles do not apply to fractions. One cannot use counting-based algorithms for sequencing fractions:1/6 is not more than 1/2.

Meta cognition refers to people's abilities to predict their performances on various tasks and to monitor their own levels of understanding. For example, a student may have a certain set of facts to remember, so he/she reads over the information once and thinks he/she knows it, but on the quiz cannot recall the information. The student needs to be able to look at his/her own learning and say just reading over information once is not enough to remember it. If they don't see this, do they continue to fail tests? The meta cognitive approach to teaching includes activities that focus on sense-making, self-assessment, and reflection on what worked and what needs improving. (Bransford, Brown, & Cockling. 2000).

Portfolio reflection provides a means to make learning visible. This in turn becomes the bases for deeper learning. The reflection piece requires some meta cognitive work; that is, students thinking about their learning process. When talking about what assessment should look like in a project-oriented classroom or school, Papert contends that portfolio-based, so-called authentic assessment is very good. (Papert).

Community of Practice

The role of community is a critical part of learning process. Especially important are norms for people learning from each other and continually attempting to improve. (Bransford, Brown, & Cockling. 2000). The authors describe several aspects of community, including the communities of classroom, school, and home. and the importance of connected communities.

In describing the learning process, Moore states that "learning is a community process of transformation of participation in sociocultural activities. In this view, learning is a collaboratively and socially constructed entity, rather than an individual possession; education is an inquiry as learners interact with peers around topic, activities, or readings with the guidance of an instructor who has particular expertise in the area."

Vygotsky defined a zone of proximal development (ZPD) as the distance between a learner's actual development level and the level of potential development in collaboration with more capable peers. He believed that children were able to solve problems beyond their actual development level if they were guided by someone more advanced.

Wenger's ideas of community of practice shows how members of a learning community both support and challenge each other, leading to effective and relevant knowledge construction. "Learners inevitably participate in communities of practitioners and that the mastery of knowledge and skill requires newcomers to move toward full participation in the sociocultural practices of a community. "Legitimate peripheral participation" provides a way to speak about the relations between newcomers and old-timers, and about activities, identities, artifacts, and communities of knowledge and practice. A person's intentions to learn are engaged and the meaning of learning is configured through the process of becoming a full participant in a sociocultural practice. This social process, includes, indeed it subsumes, the learning of knowledgeable skills". (Lave and Wenger 1991: 29).

New Technology as a Learning Tool

Technology is used to enhance the learning experience through information dissemination, communication, collaboration, knowledge construction. In his speech, the education theorist, Seymour Papert mentions that the computer is a tool. Papert says that schools can be divided into two wings: 1) those that technology as an informational medium, and 2) those that use technology as a constructional medium (doing things, making things, constructing things). In school the information side is dominating. The access to seemingly limitless amounts of information through the internet makes this use of computers the tool many teachers are using to bring the world into the classroom.

Bransford says that "technology has great potential to enhance student achievement and teacher learning." He believes that technology can help us create an active learning environment where students not only solve problem, find their own problem. This is a very different way of learning from the traditional classroom learning, where students learn facts from text.

In his article, CALL (Computer Assisted Language Learning) for Chinese-Issues and Practice, Prof. Zhang of San Diego State University indicates that interactivity is a crucial strength of the new technology. The computer is interactive, first of all, by virtue of the fact that the user can gain control over learning and therefore becomes an active participant in the learning process. Interactivity also allows the instant feedback from the computer. The interactivity of the computer makes it especially suited for implementing learner-centered teaching methods. (Zhang. 1998).

Tapped-In is a powerful tool to create a multiuser virtual environment, in which synchronous ("live") communication on the network is used. Students can share ideas and interact with each other in an electronic environment . "Because many new technologies are interactive, it is now easier to create environments in which students can learn by doing, receiving feedback, and continually refine their understanding and build new knowledge". (Bransford, Brown, & Cockling. 2000).

Along the same line, Toyoda and Harrison claim that one of the advantages of synchronous CALL (Computer Assisted Language Learning) interactions such as chat sessions is that language interactions can easily be recorded in the form of logs. Unlike the chat session itself, which is transient and dynamic, the log provides a stable reference for discussion later. These logs may be used post-chat for discussion and analysis, by the student alone, through pair work, or through teacher-student discussions. ( Toyoda & Harrison. 2002 ).

It is a good idea to integrate the use of asynchronous communication and synchronous communication in a networked environment into my classroom activities as well as student's regular homework assignments to promote student's interaction and collaboration, and to provide more opportunities for student to practice. The goal is to "provide the means for students to practice speaking in the target language outside scheduled class time and, most importantly, to develop their confidence to continue independently." ( Levy and Kennedy. 2004).

Professor Sotillo, an Associate Professor of Linguistics at Montclair State University contends that synchronous electronic discourse is more efficient in terms of time on task than ordinary classroom discourse, and that a decrease in teacher domination of discussions creates more opportunities for the production of more complex language (Chun, 1994; Kern, 1995). There is also growing support for pedagogical claims made by proponents of CMC (computer-mediated communication) for greater student empowerment, autonomy, equality, and enhanced critical thinking skills. ( Sotillo. 2000).

On the other hand, Bransford argues that technologies do not guarantee effective learning, however. Inappropriate uses of technology can hinder learning. He points out that students has wasted their time when surfing the Internet.

Collaborating on Project-based Learning

The education theorist, Vygotsky and others have been interested in the impact that social environment has on learning. Vygotsky developed the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) that describes how collaboration leads to individual learning.

When describing learning environments in which children collaborate around meaningful projects and powerful ideas, the learning theorist, Seymour Papert states that kids will work in communities of common interest on rich projects that will connect with powerful ideas. (Seymour Papert). He thinks the project allows some kids to get a new sense of themselves as learners - that learning is something valuable, that setting a goal and working to achieve it is something some kids have never seen before in their lives.

On the other hand, some say that doing long term projects (which is necessary in a constructivist environment) in the classroom take away from students learning of reading, writing, listening, critical dialogue, and directed inquiry (Sewall. 2000 ).