We have been asked to discuss a learning experience that was highly memorable. I have had a lot of them in my education, and I have tried to create some for my students. When I was 6, my teacher taught us about Japan. Japan was not in the curriculum for Grade 1 back then, but we were discussing who we were and our families. My teacher was Japanese and brought in her childhood kimono for the girls to wear, and a traditional outfit for the boys. She discussed the fabric and the shoes, and she let every single one of us try it on. I remember her cooking Japanese rice for us, and discussing the differences between Japanese and “Canadian” food. We were allowed to touch her dolls, try “her” foods, and we learnt about who she was. When I think back to that teacher and that experience, I believe she had a large part in my wanting to become a teacher.
My Grade 1 teacher, and many others, provided me with some very memorable learning experiences. If I could list them all, I would find some common themes, among them the idea of meaningful learning. As Ormrod writes in Essentials of Education, “In contrast to rote learning, meaningful learning involves recognizing a relationship between new information and something already stored in long-term memory.” Growing up, I was given many opportunities to explore and experience in order to learn, and I believe those things are key in learning today. I look at the titles of the “Strategies” Ormrod lists and describes in the selection, and I see many of the things I try to do in my classroom. Many of these strategies need to be used with my young learners, as well as with my ELL learners. The strategies of “Relate new ideas to students’ prior knowledge and experiences”, “Accommodate diversity in students’ background knowledge” and “Facilitate visual imagery” are important in any lesson or experience I provide for my learners. They often require pictures or objects to understand new vocabulary, and many have their own experiences about the vocabulary to share. Even Ormrod’s strategy for assessing the learners’ understanding may require them to use visual imagery. Another of Ormrod’s strategies, “Provide experiences on which students can build” resonated with me.. The example of seeing a life-size dinosaur at a museum aiding in a student’s understanding, reminded me of using our school grounds to try and do a scale model of the size of the solar system. The students gained much more understanding of the distances between the planets by measuring, rather than just reading it in a book.
Don’t get me wrong. There were a lot of times in my education where “Rote Learning” was used. The multiplication tables were chanted out daily, and although I can recall them, I didn’t truly understand them until a professor at UVic realized I had no knowledge of what multiplication meant. In Chapter 4 of Dirksen’s book, Design for How People Learn, she writes “Using pure memorization to grind something into a learner’s brain is the equivalent of building really thick walls-yes, it works, but it takes a lot of resources, and it’s a clunky solution.” My inability to recall a single formula from Physics 11 or Math 11 demonstrates to me that the rote learning didn’t work. That UVic Professor giving me blocks to create “groups of” for multiplication stuck with me though.