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By: Linda Aragoni | February 24, 2017

Since I came across this image in a tweet, I've been trying to decide whether or not I agree with the quote, "No significant learning occurs without a significant relationship." https://twitter.com/teachergoals/status/833703005652447236 I agree with the @teachergoals that relationships must be encouraged and maintained. I suspect the intent of the quote is to encourage teachers to interact with their students as people instead of as rectangles on a seating chart, which is a worthwhile aim. What I'm not so sure about is the meaning of a "significant relationship" in the educational context.  (I'm sure, however, it's not the meaning we occasionally hear about on TV newscasts, in which one of the parties wears a bri...

By: Linda Aragoni | May 05, 2013

The Plastic Age, a 1924 novel by Percy Marks which became a bestseller, takes a close-up look inside a men's college in the days of  prohibition, jazz, and bootleg whiskey. it finds "The college is made up of men who worship mediocrity; that is their ideal except in athletics." As they near the end of their college careers, the men reflect on what they've learned and find themselves wanting. One says, “Here I am sporting a Phi Bete key, an honor student if you please, and all that I really know as a result of my college 'education' is the fine points of football and how to play poker. I don't really know one damn thing about anything." The men take their questions about the value of college to one of the college's few ...

By: Linda Aragoni | May 25, 2012

Sylvia Garrison being tutored Folks in the blogosphere have been talking a lot lately about teachers learning from their pupils, as if the idea had just appeared on the breakfast menu. I was amused to see the same idea advanced by the heroine of Meredith Nicholson's 1912 bestselling novel, A Hoosier Chronicle. When Sylvia Garrison, a Wellesley-educated mathematician, determines to be a public school teacher, everyone tells her she is too good to waste her time teaching in the public schools. She says politely that what she intends to do. She views her Wellesley courses as preparation for her real learning. Sylvia takes the pre-1900 version of Teach for America training one summer to give her the requisite pedagogical training. As she starts her f...

By: Linda Aragoni | April 01, 2012

Caution sign In education circles, it's fashionable to blog about learning from one's students. Not to be left out—and because it's April 1 when a certain amount of foolishness is acceptable—I will share insights my college students have generously shared with me. One student told me that "a bird in the hand is worth two of George Bush." That's an insight you can take to the voting booth. Another student cautioned me not to "burn my bridges at both ends." Even burning them at one end could be a serious let down. A third student said his wife ended up in the emergency room "every time she eats pees." I am now very careful to avoid consuming pees. And one student shared a piece of autobiography that explained something ...

By: Linda Aragoni | February 11, 2012

Attentive class Despite all the hype about making better use of visual content in education, most educators still rely on language to communicate their messages. When educators talk to audiences beyond the education community, they often choose the same words they would use with other educators. Those choices can significantly undermine the case for education. One such word is  fun. Foreign language teachers have been discussing ramifications of  "fun activities" in foreign language classrooms. Joanne E. O'Toole, assistant professor of  curriculum and instruction at the State University of New York at Oswego, offered this insight:
I have spent much time trying to understand why some people view foreign language educati...

By: Linda Aragoni | October 29, 2011

 
George was smarter than he looked
A lot of what I know about learning, I learned from a cat. When I moved into a new home, the kitchen door was badly scratched by the previous owner's pets. I determined my animals were not going to claw the door. I bought a set of fake sleigh bells at the dollar store and hung it beside door just about cat's ear level. Evey time the door opened, the bell jingled softly. When the cat needed to go out, she'd move to the door, I'd give the bells a good shake and then open the door. Within a couple of weeks, the cat learned to ring the bell when she needed to go outside. That cat died. I adopted a replacement from the local animal shelter. George was an older cat, rather stupid looking, but he was up to date on shots and already altered. The positives outweighed the negatives. For the best part of the month after George took up residence, it rained nearly every day. I didn't attempt to teach George to ring the bell because I didn't want him to associate the bell with getting soaked. (Also, I didn't want to go out in a downpour with a cat to make sure he knew which house was his.) When the rain stopped, I started letting George go out, but I was too busy to teach him to ring the bell. One noon after George had started going outside by himself, I was having lunch at the kitchen counter. George was sitting nearby staring at the bell. After a little while, he walked over to the bell and gave it a hard smack with his left paw. I got up and opened the door. George's eyes got big and his jaw dropped. Apparently that was the response he wanted, but he hadn't been entirely sure the bell was what made someone open the door. George plodded out. Next day George repeated the performance, starting from the same position on the kitchen floor.  I opened the door when he rang and let him out. The third day, George sat in a different place before he got up to ring the bell. Again, I opened the door when he rang and let him out. The following day, it was lunch time, but I was still working in my office when I heard the bell ring. I went to the kitchen, where George was waiting beside the door. I let him out. In the second week, I heard the bell ring one morning while I was working in my office. When I got to the kitchen, George was sitting in the pantry in front of his empty food bowl. He looked at me, then he looked at his bowl and looked back at me. I filled the food bowl. Some years later, I moved and couldn't take George. He ended up in a new home in a different state. His new cat care provider  fastened George's bell beside the back door. George rang his bell when he needed something until shortly before he died of old age. What George taught me
  • Learning occurs fast when the a smart cat sees what's being taught will let him accomplish something he wants to do.
  • Immediate success encourages repeat behavior.
  • Smart cats rule out alternative explanations for the results they experience. (The door opens only if I sit in a certain place before I ring. The cat care provider has to be in the kitchen.  I have to be wearing my lucky flea collar.)
  • Smart cats use what they've learned for purposes the teacher never anticipated.
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