Background Research and Philosophy
In the last ten years, our students’ exposure to all forms of media has exploded. Dial telephones, hand-written letters, and most things non-digital are quickly disappearing. Remembering our studies of brain plasticity, we know brain structure changes to adapt after surgery, injury, or because of repeated exposure to certain kinds of stimulation. It follows that young people today, who were brought up in our media-logged society have “different brains” than students of the past. Their attention spans have declined, but they process visual information at a greater rate than ever before. In Chapter Nine of the second edition, Act of Teaching: How to Teach Writing documents the proliferation of new information on the brain and how advanced technologies allow scientists to “listen in” as brains think. (406-410). Since brains are our business, educators must commit themselves to understanding how student brains work. In many classrooms, techniques and strategies must be changed to address these new learners.
For many schools, change comes slowly. In her book Under-Resourced Learners, Ruby Payne challenges us saying, “Most of the approaches to teaching and learning address issues of instruction or the “teaching part”. Teachers must spend more time looking at the learning part. In other words, what must a student do inside his/her head to learn – and then be able to use the information?” (Payne, 53)
Students who grew up in houses with few books, newspapers, and other printed material have trouble negotiating the abstract representational world of paper or printed computer screen information. They live in a visual world of non-verbal cues and human interaction in addition to all the media exposure. It takes scaffolding with teacher modeling, visual cues or mental models to teach strategies students need to analyze literature and produce written responses adequately.
Every teacher knows that building concepts...