Go to previous article
Go to next article
Return to 2000 Table of Contents
A web-based course on developing process-oriented instruction has been created to support teachers of students with learning disabilities. The course focuses on raising self-awareness.
Process aware learners learn to recognize and analyze patterns, and ask themselves questions: "Is this problem like another I've experienced?", "Why do I have trouble with this type of problem?", "How is my excitement (or anxiety) affecting how I learn?", "What did I just do?"..., each of which are conscious metacognitive statements. These questions become a regular part of thinking that develop into a skill, and with practice, become a regular part of a person's personality. Life-long learners, a popular term in the realms of education, possess the skills and knowledge that develop out of process-oriented instruction.
One of the keys to developing increased knowledge of thinking processes is to develop models of thinking. Models help an expert learner put into words (or pictures) "tacit" knowledge that is often difficult to verbalize. Models also help the novice learner make sense of a vast number of interactions between perceptual abilities, learning preferences, memory capacities, and the accumulated knowledge of facts and procedures that govern how learning occurs. By developing models of thinking, highly automated processes become declarative knowledge, and the accumulation of this knowledge forms a content area of it's own. This content knowledge differs from other content area knowledge however. It can be compared to language, which is a "meta" system of symbols we use to describe other systems of symbols that we use to represent meaning (see a discussion of semiotics and sign systems). Metacognition is another such "meta" system, used to regulate thinking, the development of which is a primary focus of process-oriented instruction.
Several characteristic profiles come to mind: disorganized, lacking social skills, the class clown, each stemming from the inappropriate or ineffective use of strategies.
Children with learning disabilities tend not to transfer
strategy knowledge across domains; skills they learn in one
situation are not likely to be applied in a similar situation in
another content area. Research repeatedly shows that strategy
transfer has been difficult to achieve in children with learning
disabilities. For these children, a primary reason for this lack of
transfer is insufficient general knowledge about learning,
knowledge about one's self as a learner, and knowledge about task
demands. Metacognitive learners, on the other hand, are able to tap
into a content area consisting of models, strategies, and
regulatory skills that can be generalized to new learning
experiences. A goal for educators of children with learning
disabilities should be to turn these often disorganized,
unmotivated, though often very bright children, into metacognitive
The first navigation system consists of graphical button bars at the top and bottom of each page, providing instant access to the nine major sections of the course site. The section of the site currently accessed is high-lighted by the corresponding graphical button turning green. The second navigation system is identical to the first except that its presentation is in a text format and it appears only at the bottom of each page. The third system adds a linear structure to the content, allowing learners to proceed through the course sequentially from beginning to end using next and previous buttons. The forth system consists of a visually presented hierarchy of ones position in the course content, using customary open and closed folder and page icons found in most PC-based applications, which are presented on every page. The fifth system consists of hypertext links from within the content itself, providing direct links to related topics in other areas of the course. The sixth system consists of colour coded headings used consistently throughout the course indicating one's depth in the material, location among the major sections of the site, and also providing direct links back to the upper most pages in any given section of the course. The final navigation system consists of a hierarchical site-map that presents the course with numerical, textual, and visual structure. Headings are integrated into the site-map, maintaining a visual presentation of the hierarchy of ideas.
Learning to Learn also includes a set of "thinking type" icons,
used judiciously throughout the course to trigger particular types
of thought. These icons initiate thinking that might not emerge
spontaneously in learners with a learning disability. The icons
include brightly coloured question marks, check marks, and X's to
indicate things learners should question, things they should adopt,
and things they should avoid. Other icons include an open book, a
pen and paper, and a scissors glue and paper icon to indicate a
reading exercise, a writing exercise, and a project suggestion,
Learning to Learn is also offered as a model of accessible
Web-based instruction, designed to provide content that is adaptive
to a person with a learning disability, accessible to a person with
a visual impairment, and both visually pleasing and interesting to
a sighted person or "typical learner."
In addition to an introductory orientation week at the beginning, in which participants learn how to use the course site, 10 general areas of learning are covered. These areas include, in order: consciousness, metacognition, learning styles, memory, language, reading, writing, problem solving, creativity, and the biology of learning.
A typical module starts with a "Targets" page that outlines the topic, providing hypertext links to the various course notes and activities from within the context of the outline, and suggests goals and discussion topics. Participants are instructed to read the course notes as an introduction, try the activities to develop an awareness of particular learning processes, and visit the Web resources to broaden their understanding of the topic. Finally they report back to the discussion forum the experiences they had with the exercises and the resources they found while searching the Web.
During the first week participants are introduced to a number of simple activities which immediately trigger their awareness of learning in progress. A concentration exercise reveals an ongoing internal dialogue (or chatter) in one's mind, attention exercises reveal the flow of thoughts during problem solving and academic activities, and discussions reveal differences in learners' abilities to deal with various types of exercises. It quickly becomes apparent that learners approach the exercises from a variety of angles, and are quite aware of what they are good at and not so good at. For most it is the first time they have devoted conscious effort to thinking about thinking, and it often results in an "Ah Ha!" experience that permanently changes the way they think about themselves as learners.
The second week expands on their developing self-awareness by introducing learners to the concepts of metacognition and automaticity. A model of learning abilities is also introduced at this time, providing a structure from which to link content learned, with that that follows. The third week introduces the notion of learning styles, outlining the various theories and providing activities and discussions which reveal a broad range of learning tendencies or preferences. During weeks four through nine specific areas of learning are addressed, looking more closely at the development of language, reading, and writing ability, and the nature of memory, problem solving skill, and creativity. The final week focuses on developing an understanding of biological processes involved in learning, how brain structure and cognitive processing differ in those with learning disabilities, and how things work differently in those with a developmental delay, Alzheimer's disease, who experience a stroke, or who acquire other conditions that change the biology of the brain.
The ultimate goal of the current version of the Learning to
Learn course has been to develop a general awareness of the
importance of including learning skills instruction as a natural
part of teaching/learning within any content area. The course
stresses the need to adapt instruction to multiple formats,
providing students with reinforcement through different modalities,
and supporting students with a weakness in one or more modalities
by providing alternative formats that express the same
Patterns of navigation will be recorded and analyzed, and compared with results from the various exercises, inventories, and tests taken throughout the course. Four types of criterion measures will be collected for comparison with navigational tendencies: 1) memory ability on tasks measuring verbal and visual memory performance; 2) learning preferences collected from the Sternberg-Wagner Thinking Style Inventory and Howard Gardner's Multiple Intelligence Inventory; 3) qualitative accounts of participants' experiences with the exercises throughout the course, collected from postings made to the course bulletin board; and finally 4) participants' attitudes and beliefs about the course and it's content, and their experience with computers, the Web, and Web-based instruction. The ultimate goal is to create an intelligent tutoring system that can learn about a learner and adjust itself to match the needs of the learner.
It is expected that visual and verbal learning tendencies will be displayed through the preferred use of graphical or verbal/textual navigation systems, as well as global and sequential preferences displayed through the use of global and sequential navigation systems.
Future development also includes the addition of a "Social
Skills" module, and the development of a complementary course that
focuses more on specific strategies such as note taking, test
taking, comprehension, and organizational strategies.
Though the current version of the course was created for teachers, the original version was created for high school students, with an emphasis on teaching self-awareness and compensatory strategies to students with learning disabilities. As the course framework evolved it became a tool for teachers of these students. The ultimate beneficiaries of Learning to Learn are young learners, particularly those who don't do well in the classroom for one reason or another. Teachers are able to use a public version of the course to support these students, providing alternative formats, reinforcement, and learning in a motivational environment that adapts to ones abilities and preferences.
The Learning to Learn project is part of the Special Needs Opportunity Windows (SNOW) project, a collaboration of educational institutions, government, and professionals in the fields of technology and special education. The SNOW project Web site is hosted by the Centre for Academic and Adaptive Technology (CAAT) at the University of Toronto in Ontario Canada. More information can be found at the URLs below.
Wong, B., Y., L.(1992) On Cognitive Process-Based Instruction: An Introduction. Journal of Learning Disabilities. 25(3), 150-152.
Gay, G., R. (1999). Learning to Learn: Thinking and Learning
SNOW- Special Needs Opportunity Windows
CAAT- Centre for Academic and Adaptive Technology
Go to previous article
Go to next article
Return to 2000 Table of Contents
Return to Table of Proceedings