Customized Learning Theory A compilation of best practices for creating the most effective learning environment for optimal growth and development

Irene Contento 561-654-6784 April 19, 2011

CUSTOMIZED LEARNING THEORY Introduction An effective learning environment must be purposeful, well designed, and intentionally planned by the teacher. It must take into account that the classroom is not the only place that


children will learn. The entire community that a child is exposed to will have an influence on the learning that can occur. Deuteronomy 6:5 states that we should “Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” The Lord tell us in this chapter that we should impress this commandment on our children; that we should make is so much a part of our lives that they should not depart from it. A successful learning environment will start with a focus on loving God with all of our heart. From there, we can begin to focus on those around us and what we need to learn to positively impact our world for Jesus. Learning Theory and its importance Before a teacher evens steps foot in a classroom, much thought should have already been given to how learning can best occur. Research should be done on the best methods of teaching, behavior management, creating a positive classroom environment, incorporating the community into the classroom, and meeting the needs of all learners. Once the teacher has gained a critical understanding of these ideas, the next step is to look inside and consider what type of learner she is. The teacher must understand what learning style, and study habits work best for her, and how she can use her gifts and talents in the most effective ways. After critically looking at all of these components to teaching, the educator is now ready to come up with the best combination of practices for her classroom. Prayerfully creating a customized learning theory for your classroom will set up a class for successful learning, positive development of self-esteem, and a nurturing community of learners.

CUSTOMIZED LEARNING THEORY Description of an effective teacher and learning environment A successful classroom starts with an effective teacher. Slavin describes teacher efficacy as


the belief that a teacher’s efforts will have a direct impact on the success of their students (pg. 7). We must realize that every decision we make in the classroom can affect our learners. The effective teacher must also be constantly assessing the results of their instruction and making adjustments as needed. They must stay on top of the latest research and be willing to try proven strategies, always looking for ways to increase learning in the classroom. The direct instruction approach to teaching is often thought of as uncreative, but when it is done in the manner it is intended, it can provide positive results. This method should be incorporated into an effective learning environment. It is essential that students are exposed to all of the parts of the direct instruction model to ensure that they gain the desired results. Slavin explains that students need to know from the beginning what the objectives of the lesson are. They need to come to the lesson with any required prerequisites already mastered. They must be presented material and given examples and demonstrations, ensuring that all learning styles are represented. Next, the teacher needs to probe the students to assess their level of understanding. Once this is determined, a formative performance assessment can be given and practice and review opportunities can be assigned (pg. 200). Another important method that an effective classroom needs to utilize is grouping. Social learning can provide positive opportunities for students to interact with one another while teaching and learning together. It is important for the teacher to be strategic when places students in groups. Many factors should be considered, and different types of groupings will be required for different cooperative opportunities.

CUSTOMIZED LEARNING THEORY One of the methods that would be used in this learning theory is the jigsaw method. Here


students are placed on teams to complete a project. Each team member is assigned one portion of the project to complete. Once they are finished, they return to the team to teach them what they have learned. In the end, each member of the team will have learned all of the required material because they will have either researched it and become the expert on that portion, or they have been taught it by their teammates (Slavin, 2009). Another method utilized in this theory is cooperative scripting. This technique allows students to work in pairs. One student summarizes a section of the learning while the other listens and provides feedback if errors or omissions are discovered. Then the students will switch roles, back and forth, until all of the material is covered. There is a great deal of research that has been done to prove that this method helps students to retain much more of the covered material than simply studying alone (Slavin, 2009). Technology must be integrated into today’s classrooms. Children are exposed to so many useful tools in their day to day lives, that it is vital to include these tools in the learning environment in order to make learning come to life. Computers in the classroom can be used for research and reinforcement. The teacher can use smart boards to explore and demonstrate. Computer labs allow students to work independently and in groups to gather information. Presentation materials can be created by teachers and students to give different learners exposure to the content in a variety of ways. These are all methods that have become commonly observed in today’s classrooms. Looking into the very near future, teachers and students will be equipped with tablets to take their learning out of the classroom and into real life learning situations. Applications will be available to download onto smart phones that will allow for practice of materials taught in the classroom. Even homework will be given and turned in from tablets and

CUSTOMIZED LEARNING THEORY phones. One controversial advance in technology is doing away with paper text books and replacing them with ebooks. Many schools have made this a five year plan. Students will each


have an ebook that will contain all of their required reading material. Heavy backpacks will be a thing of the past. All of these advances simply reinforce the fact that a master teacher must be ever willing to adjust the methods used in the classroom to meet the needs of the learners. It’s very important for children to have a desire to learn and to be a positive part of a community for the right reasons. The ultimate goal is for them to want to do these things because it is pleasing to the Lord. The challenge for teachers is to create a positive and nurturing environment that keeps the focus on service to one another and to bettering ourselves through learning and growing for the sake of the kingdom. One way to motivate students is to communicate positive expectations. This is explained in detail in chapter 10 of Slavin’s book. He states that it is imperative for teachers to make sure that their students know that they can learn. Positive expectations should be understood, and negative ones should be avoided. Wait time, keeping grades private, and providing equal opportunities and attention for each student will set the tone for a successful classroom (Slavin, 2009). Another great way to motivate students for success is to provide opportunities for them to work with other adults to have a positive impact on the world. Students can greatly benefit from the feeling of accomplishment that comes from giving back to those around them. When adults partner with them to show them ways that they can serve, it shows them what a difference they can make, that they can be a positive change in the world (Markstrom, 2005). Once they realize that they can be used for God’s glory, they can become more in tune with their spiritual gifts, and can partner with the right mentors to serve in the best way for their talents.

CUSTOMIZED LEARNING THEORY Clear expectations allow students to know exactly what is expected of them both


academically and socially within the classroom. It is also critical for students to understand what the consequences are when the predetermined expectations are not honored. A classroom must have a clearly posted list of rules and expectations for this to be possible. In a Christian classroom, it is important that these rules are biblically focused. The students should have a clear understanding of what God’s word says about these expectations of love, obedience, and diligence. “Godly discipline is always administered in love” (Van Brummelen, 2009, p. 186). Expectations should also be phrased in a positive way. Examples of positive options include providing routines, stating clear rules and consequences and using praise and rewards to motivate appropriate behavior. Negative examples of curbing disruptive behavior included reprimands, corrections, and commands. Studies have proven that positive examples show a reduction in disruptive behavior, while the negative techniques actually elicit more disruptions (Leflow, 2010). Another important element that will avoid problems and distractions in the classroom is to maintain momentum in the classroom and avoid down time for students. Some of the ways that Slavin recommends to do this are to plan thoroughly, prevent interruptions, and have a set routine for the students to become accustom to, minimize time spent on discipline, teach engaging lessons, and conduct smooth transitions from one lesson to the next (pg. 331-334). Each of these strategies requires preparation and practice to master, but none of them can be ignored. Creating a safe, non-threatening environment can help to avoid problems in the classroom. Students need to know that the classroom is for them. It is intended to be a place for them to express their thoughts, emotions, and ideas without judgment. Teachers play a vital role

CUSTOMIZED LEARNING THEORY in setting that tone in the classroom. They must aid in building confidence and self-esteem in students so that they feel valued and special (Hamman, 2005). The relationship that teachers have with their students can greatly impact their emotional growth and development, which can affect their academic success as well. Learning Characteristics Identifying the learning styles of your students, and adapting lesson plans and activities to meet each child’s need should be a goal of every teacher. Learning styles need to be addressed


by teaching lessons in different ways until all styles have been addressed. Differentiating lessons, practice, homework, and group reinforcement makes it possible for every learner to meet the minimum expectations for a unit, and gives them chances to expand what they already know. Meeting the needs of every learner requires teachers to adopt non-traditional techniques. It will not always look like tradition or direct instruction. It takes more work to plan for, and requires reflection and adjustment. One strategy that can be used to encourage problem solving skills is to include games such as chess into the classroom. It has been proven that students, specifically gifted learners, can greatly improve their problem solving skills when they are regularly exposed to these types of games (Ferreira, 2008). Personal Reflection Knowing how God created me helps me to be a better servant, wife, mother, friend and teacher. Quiet time with God allows me to place my life in His hands. My career is no exception to this. It is my responsibility to know how I learn, study, teach, and grow the best. These characteristics should not be ignored. They should be embraced and utilized to their fullest. The surveys we took throughout this course have revealed many things about me. I have realized that am a hands-on, task-oriented person. I like to be in control of my learning and desire

CUSTOMIZED LEARNING THEORY organization in order to feel comfortable. I am a planner and need to map out my time carefully to be successful. Knowing these things about myself has helped me so much as a teacher. I know what I need to do to be ready to teach my students. I also know how I have to set up my classroom so that I can focus on teaching, and not become distracted by the business end of teachings (administrative responsibilities, grading, parent communication, etc.). I know that I can utilize technology to make these things get done easily. Another great reason to be aware of your learning style and study skills is to help you recognize similarities and differences to them in your students. I am much better at identifying


which students learn the same way I do and which ones need other methods and techniques to be successful. It all seems to come down to awareness. The more I know, the more I grow, and the more effective I am as a teacher. Conclusion Excellence in education takes consideration of so many different factors. A teacher must consider the classroom environment to ensure that students feel safe and supported. Behavior expectations must be set in place so that there is a clear understanding for all students. The learning community must be sure to include teachers, students, administrators, and volunteers. Curriculum must be presented in a manner that will successfully reach all learners, regardless of learning style or needs. Technology must be incorporated throughout the learning process to keep students interested and engaged. Students must be encouraged, loved and supported. While balancing all of these requirements, it is most important to realize that none of these things matter unless the learner feels the love of God coming from his/her teacher. Our most important job is to share Christ with our students. This must be done throughout the curriculum and should

CUSTOMIZED LEARNING THEORY be immersed in how students interact with their teachers and peers. The example of Jesus must be seen and modeled by all members of the learning community in order to prepare our students to be disciples of our Savior.


CUSTOMIZED LEARNING THEORY Annotated Bibliography Ferreira, D., Palhares, P. (2008). Chess and problem solving involving patterns. Montana Mathematics Enthusiast, 5 (2/3) 249-256.


This article summarized a correlation study comparing students that play chess regularly with those that do not. The purpose was to determine if chess can improve problem solving skills. Results concluded that the playing chess is positively related to a students ability to problem solve, specifically when identifying patterns. The researchers also suggested that these test results justified further exploration into the relationship between other strategy games and problem solving skills.

Hamman, D., & Hendricks, C. B. (2005). The role of the generations in identity formation. Erikson speaks to teachers of adolescents. Clearing House A Journal of Educational Strategies, Issues and Ideas, 79(2). p. 72-75.

Hamman and Hendricks use a recommendation made by Erikson to explore the important role that teachers play in the lives of their students. The article discusses how teachers can aid in building confidence and self-esteem in adolescents during these vulnerable years by providing a safe, non-judgmental environment for students to feel valued and special. The relationship that teachers have with their students can greatly impact their emotional growth and development, which can affect their academic success as well.

CUSTOMIZED LEARNING THEORY Leflot, G., van Lier, P., Onghena, P., Colpin, H. (April 2010).The Role of Teacher Behavior Management in the Development of Disruptive Behaviors: An Intervention Study with the Good Behavior Game. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, Volume 3, 1-14.


This article discusses the effects of positive behavior management techniques compared to negative reinforcement in the classroom. Examples of positive options include providing clear expectations and routines, stating clear rules and consequences and using praise and rewards to motivate appropriate behavior. Negative examples of curbing disruptive behavior included reprimands, corrections, and commands. The positive examples showed a reduction in disruptive behavior, while the negative techniques actually elicited more disruptions.

Markstrom, C.A., Li, X., Blackshire, S.L., Wilfong, J.J., (2005). Ego Strength Development of Adolescents Involved in Adult-Supported Structured Activities. Journal of Youth and Adolescents, 34, (2), 85-95.

The authors in this article took on the task of studying how Erickson’s ego-strengths could be enhanced if adolescents were given the opportunity to participate in various adult-sponsored activities. It discusses how specific activities encourage growth in different ego-strengths. The authors determined that it was critical for adolescents to pass through the first four ego-strengths: hope, will, purpose, and competence in order to commit to adult-sponsored activities. Once these strengths are embedded, involvement in structured activities can reap their full benefits.



Slavin, R. E. (2009). Educational Psychology: Theory and Practice (9th ed). Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Education.

This textbook offers current and future teachers insight into how people think and act. It provides solid educational theories from leaders in psychology as well as practical examples from master teachers. Readers are exposed to the most accepted theories on learning styles, meeting the needs of all students, and how teachers should think about teaching. Each chapter allows for opportunities to view the concepts and theories in action.

Van Brummelen, H. (2009). Walking with God in the Classroom: Christian Approaches to Teaching and Learning. Colorado Springs, CO: Purposeful Design Publications.

This book provides a strong foundation for the seasoned or new Christian educator. The author discusses how to view each area of education from a Biblical perspective. Readers are given guidance and direction in the areas of, classroom structure, learning models, curriculum development, student assessment that contain Godly wisdom that can be used in both secular and Christian schools.

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