“Rat” Removal and Transformative Learning

In the first chapter of Contemporary Theories of Learning, by K. Illeris, he outlines the four types of learning that individuals can experience: cumulative, assimilative, accommodative, and transformative. The one that peeked my interest and the level that I would like my students to attain is the transformative, as this is where reflection, perspective changing, and thorough learning occurs. Yet, after reading the chapter, I struggled to understand how exactly this would look in the classroom and whether or not it is attainable. Can we expect our students to have these transformative moments as learners? Or is this process that occurs throughout a school career?

I came across an article by K.P. King that deepened my understanding of transformative learning. Although her article emphasized this learning through adult educators’ experiences with technology, it provided insights into what this would look like at the elementary school level. Below is an outline of the stages of transformation as summarized by K.P. King:

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From reflecting on this chart, one idea of what it would look like in the classroom is through genius hour. Through genius hour it is obvious that students experience several moments of uncertainty, but through exploring, reflecting, and problem solving are able to rationalize new ideas that change their perspectives. However, I am still grappling with other examples of how this transformation learning would occur in elementary school children.

Throughout chapter one, another concept that stood out for me was the difference between defense learning and resistance learning. I initially was puzzled with how to distinguish between the two. A student could come to class disengaged because he/she does not understand a concept, or it could be from an earlier event that occurred in his/her day. In the busy and always lacking time day of a teacher, how do we find means to discover whether a student is demonstrating defense or resistance learning?

During the last school year, I read a wonderful book called, You Can’t Teach Through a Rat, by Marvin Berkowitz. Berkowitz acknowledged the idea that students come into classrooms with “their lives,” thus are not always ready to learn and instead can put up defensive learning mechanisms. As teachers, we are responsible to remove, what Berkowitz called “rats” in order for learning to occur, and through the process listed below:

Berkowitz, 2012, pg 17

Berkowitz, 2012, pg 17

Although this may seem like a daunting task, if we ultimately want our students to be active learners, we need to set them up for success. We need to show them that we care not only for them a learner, but also as a person. I think only then can true learning occur.

Illeris, K. (Ed.). (2008). Contemporary Theories of Learning: Learning Theorists…In Their Own Words. Florence, KY, USA: Routledge. Retrieved from http://site.ebrary.com/lib/alltitles/docDetail.action?docID=10296951 (Introduction, Chapters 1, 2, 3, 4, 14 and 15 [5 and 11].

King, K. P. (2002). A journey of transformation: A model of educators’ learning experiences in educational technology. In J. M. Pettit & R. P. Francis (Eds.). Proceedings of the 43rd Annual Adult Education Research Conference, (pp. 195-200). Retrieved from: http://www.adulterc.org/Proceedings/2002/papers/King.pdf

Berkowitz, M.W. (2012). You Can’t Teach Through a Rat. Boone, NC, USA: Character Development Group Inc.

What’s Your Summer Learning Plan?

It’s hard to think of summer when I awoke to large, fluffy snow flakes accumulating quickly on the ground this morning. And yes, it is May 3. Whether you’re staying in town, going on a traveling expedition, or spending time with your family and friends, it seems as educators we always find ways to integrate some kind of learning into our lives. Although summer is consider a break or holiday, teachers still find the time to do what they do best: learn!

Continuing with my own learning, I joined the vibrant twitter #satchatwc chat this morning focusing on summer goals and learning plans. Below I’ve summarized our discussion:

Question #1: Summer provides a great opportunity for us to focus on our own new learning. What’s on top of your list to learn this summer?

Question #2: What learning opportunities are you making available for staff this summer? Share topics and any innovative practices.

Question #3: Share your recommendations – What book and/or blogger do you think is a “must read” for the rest of us? Why?

Question #4: How about for our students? What are you doing or what do recommend to keep students engaged in learning this summer?

Question #5: What would an ideal day of learning look like for you this summer?

The last question asked about non-educational plans for the summer and of course many answers consisted of spending time with family members. The great ideas in this chat made me think about what my summer plan is. What do I want to learn this summer and how do I want to grow? This will be the first summer in years, that I won’t be traveling to an exotic place, and as much as that aches me, instead I am embarking on a new journey of starting my masters. Continuing and expanding my learning is something I’ve always wanted to do, but hadn’t the time. Having to be in town for my sister’s wedding and family visits seemed like the perfect opportunity. A great balance of educational and fun!

Regardless of if you have plans, or are trying to build some now, I challenge you to do something for yourself. Take control of your own learning and follow the path you desire. You may be surprised with where it leads you.

Tech Skills for Elementary Students

Removing the “teacher hat” can allow you to reflect and contemplate the varying aspects and teaching methods within your classroom. Being on spring break has allowed me to do just that. What’s working? What would I change? What skills do the students need before the end of the year? How can I integrate technology to enhance student learning? Thinking about the last question led me to contemplate what technology skills students need to have. Is it enough that they can navigate a tablet and create amazing projects? Am I really driving home the concept of their digital footprint and do they truly understand what it means? Do they even need to know how to type effectively in a tablet-based society or is that skill becoming obsolete as well?

The rapidly, ever changing technology has led me to reflect on what exactly students should be learning. Should you be teaching to the present, or attempting at teaching to the future? Are fads in technology here or stay, or simply a fad?

Curious about what other educators thought on this topic, led me to twitter and a chat I participate in tonight, #mdeschat, whose focus was on tech tools in the elementary classroom. Here’s a summary of our discussion and the thoughts around technology and it’s place in the elementary classroom:

Question #1: Thinking about elementary students, what technology skills do you feel our students need these days?

Question #2: Given this wide range of skills students need to be exposed/master, how do we ensure that our schools offer kids experiences?

Question #3: What tech projects/tools have caught your teachers’/students’ interest recently? Where are you experimenting technologically?

Question #4: With so many skills and apps/sites/tools should we try to rein it in and plan an organized tech curriculum in elementary?

Question #5: How do you think elementary schools should be using social media?

Question #6: How can each school train students in DC?

Question #7: What are your top three favourite/recommended technology tools/sites/programs you recommend for everyone else?

When it comes to technology, the answers seem to be endless and ever-changing, but also seem to build on previous skills. I think that in order to be an effective teacher in this day in age, you need to stay on top of the trends, and find the time to experiment. Don’t be scared! Learn from your colleagues and learn from your students. Remember we are all students of technology!

Digital Learning Day


Digital Learning Day is a yearly scheduled event to help focus on learning through different technology platforms. It is a great way to get students excited about using technology and to see the abilities that it has to enable their learning.

Twitter was filled with amazing examples around the globe of educators using technology with their students in numerous ways. It was inspiring to see and to participate in the conversations. Here are a few comments that stuck in my mind.

I’m lucky enough at my school to have a variety of technologies to use: ipads, laptops, smartboard, flip cams. Our day was filled with exciting activities that had the students actively learning new things. Close to the end of the day, a student asked me if they could blog about what Digital Learning Day is, so I of course gave everyone some time to type an entry. Here are a few examples.

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Their reflections were great and each varied in meaning and understanding. We are lucky to have such an easy accessibility to technology. I sometimes feel that we forget that we’re even using it. Days like this are a fantastic opportunity to reflect upon how technology can help us leverage teaching and the improvements and ease it allows. Be thankful we have it. Be appreciative of the abilities it grants for us. Be mindful of the possibilities and immense learning opportunities it creates.

Reading Between the Lines


Classrooms are filled with a variety of students with different abilities, background knowledge, languages, skill levels, and personalities. All of these factors effect and play an important role in students’ abilities to comprehend stories, information, or articles that they read. With our highly diverse student population, my school and teachers were finding that our students lacked the background knowledge and vocabulary skills to understand, what some may deem as, simple stories. Over the last few years we focused on reciprocal teaching as a way to increase students reading, but also to make students think while reading. We want them to make connections to the stories they read, be able to ask powerful questions, clarify unfamiliar words or phrases, predict character actions, and summarize in their own words what happened and what the most important parts of the story are.

Here’s a student made video briefly explaining how reciprocal teaching works.

Although the ultimate goal is to have students working on these skills independently, at the grade four level, I still find that much teacher intervention is needed to order to ensure the process works effectively. I have found that having props handy makes the role play that much more exciting for the students.

Today, my AP and I were discussing how to improve my students’ reading comprehension skills with our current reading resources available and the ability gaps between students. We brainstormed and came up with the idea of a variety of novel studies happening in my classroom at one time. I haven’t attempted this before but feel it would be a great scaffold for my students, a perfect merger for reciprocal teaching, and the promises of a good concept. But how this would look and how it would function efficiently, well I am still unclear on that. I have the idea of having books on iPads or a way for the students who need to listen to a story, to have that available for them, but I am feeling that I’m still missing key concepts for this to work.

As an educator I am always trying to improve the learning environment for my students, allowing them to be successful and develop the skills necessary. I’m reaching out to other educators now, who can share their experiences with me. Has anyone tried this personally, and if so, what did you find worked and did not work? What were your challenges? What advise can you give to another educator?


Here are a couple resources on reciprocal teaching for those wanting more information:
Reading Rockets
Read, Write, Think
Reading and Learning Strategy
Why Reciprocal Reading?