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‘Individualized’ Instruction Goes to School Middle school students

By By Thomas S. Carlson, PhD and
Lierin Curry, Coordinator LISD g/t program

           Bringing about school improvement today is like riding a wild bronco that is leaping about in a pattern we can't predict while in the saddle. We hear others on the side calling out suggestions like Restructuring, Site-based Management, Choice Strategies, and Learning Styles Training, but surviving this wild ride has caused many of us to grasp at something that looked like it could ease our plight.

           Unfortunately, short-term results were the best we have gotten, and the bronco keeps bucking. Bruised and wiser, we recognize that being able to sort through and choose is a time consuming task and we can't grab as we lurch by. At the national level we have a president with his "America 2000" program hoping to create new schools for a new world.  He is planning to turn out the bronco rather tame it. Is it better to throw out the horse or retrain it? How does one decide? Confused? Many are!

           If we are to manage and direct effective changes in the future, one thing is certain. We cannot expect to keep doing what we are doing now, even if we try to do it better. The demands on education have put the spurs to structures and methods. Studies a decade ago warned that we were a nation at risk, and today the challenge of removing ourselves from risk into a new era has us in the rodeo arena.

           Old methods aren't working ...new methods look enticing but aren't proven. So what can we do? Perhaps the focus has to shift from such heavy emphasis on the organization and procedure (set a structure and drive for order), to identifying the real function and purpose of a school. Obviously the area that is most clearly defined as its purpose is instruction.

           This article presents a six-month experimental program joint-ventured between a district secondary gifted and Talented program and a Texas training company using cognitive-based materials whose objective was to create instructional success in the classroom without having to wait for massive reorganization to take place. The concern is what can we do right now that will still be valuable after we have changed?

The Partnership

           Lewisville School District (LISD) lies a few miles north of Dallas, Texas. Its population consists mainly of people who live there but commute to other work places. Its growth has been steady and its political and social environment is favorable to the District. While there has not been an excess of funds, the District has been committed to pursuing school improvement. One showcase has been their gifted and talented program, Learning Advancement & Educational Progress (LEAP).

           FOCUS I, Inc. is a Texas Corporation that trains in and markets a technology called ICTech® (Individualized Communication Technology). This technology was introduced and applied in the business sector and resulted in a book written by Carlson and Carlson, entitled How to Stop Talking to Brick Walls. From observing the results of successful application of ICTech® executives, teachers, and parents, suggested that ICTech® should be brought to schools.

           Based on a mutual desire to improve educational performance, the LEAP program and FOCUS I, joined together in an experimental partnership program to train teachers how to use the technology in the classroom.

The Technology

           Look in almost any school room and see how the teacher instructs and you will find that instruction is based on behavior and personality methods. While they have provided some benefits, they are proving to be inconsistent and aren't yielding the long-term results we need. The Information Age has placed great demands on people's learning and communication abilities. To improve learning, we must begin to look at students from a different perspective. We need to know what is happening in a student's mind when we present information and how to present the material so that each student understands. Understanding and being understood is vital to the instruction "business" of a school.

           ICTech® research found that people process all information, either coming into their mind or leaving it, much like a computer formats a disk. People sort through, select and arrange information is certain patterns or informational styles. There are three basic patterns and two combinations for a total of five.

Basic

Single - this student's mind prefers that information is presented clearly and sequentially with clear rules. (like a slide show).

Multiple - this mind keeps information in action, often rotating between several pieces of information at the same time (like a motion picture).

NonVisual - this mind forms no mental pictures and prefers concepts and ideas.

Combination

Integrated - this mind uses all three of the above styles. Because of this, Integrateds are strongly empathetic.

Dual - this mind uses any two of the first three styles, must see at least two sides of any challenge or issue.

           ICTech® is a ‘strategy’ of working with the informational style of a mind and serves to rapidly increase understanding between teacher and student.

           Clearing up misunderstanding can account for as much as 70-80% of a teacher's time. Understanding plays an important role in teaching, and good teachers often subscribe to the formula that repeating material three times is essential to being understood in the classroom.

           However, they often repeat the presentation louder and more slowly in an effort to get the student to ‘get the picture.’ However, understanding only comes when the learner can personally find meaning in the message and can think of ways to apply the information. ICTech® eliminates the necessity of saying "If I've told you once, I've told you a thousand times.”

The Project

           The emphasis of this experimental project was to educate teachers to the fact that individuals do differ in how they mentally respond to and process information. (This is not to be confused with Learning Styles and whether a student needs information presented in a visual, verbal, or tactile- kinetic format.) The project was based on the premise that if teachers become aware of their own informational style and then learned their students’ styles, they could raise the motivation to learn, and improve the performance of individual students.

           The project began with a highly interactive 8-hour workshop for 10 teachers in the middle school and high school LEAP program. The workshop taught five things.

  1. An awareness of the five different information-processing styles.

  2. The ability to give and interpret the testing instrument.

  3. An understanding of how the styles affect each other.

  4. The awareness of how the teacher's style affects students with different styles.

  5. Recognizing the specific learning and motivational keys for each style.

               The teachers tested over 800 students and each of them received a report, which described each student's Natural informational style (the one the brain has used from birth -which remains constant) and the student's Learned mental processing style (The acquired style which fluctuates according to life experiences). Each teacher kept a journal of subjective observations. After 12 weeks a 2-hour follow-up session was held to check progress and give further training on how to work with particular styles. At the end of the 6 months, a final meeting was held and reports were given by the teachers on what they had done and observed. These sessions were taped and along with the journals and data results were used as the information to evaluate this project.

From the LISD coordinator

           "I became interested in ICTech® because of a teacher-student conflict in our gifted/talented program. In our high school LEAP program, I had a very gifted teacher and a very gifted student who could not communicate. Both were making a tremendous effort. When the material crossed my desk on ICTech®, I read about informational styles. Immediately I recognized my student and teacher because they are both strong in their styles. The student is a strong Single and the teacher is a Multiple.

           After visiting with the Carlsons, I invited them to do a workshop with my secondary g/t teachers. The teachers were so excited about the technology that they willingly gave a Saturday of their time to attend the workshop.

           We found the technology to be most helpful in improving the communication between persons with strong and/or different styles.

           We tested the students of the teachers who had attended the workshop. The teachers then taught the students a mini-unit about the characteristics of each style. The students were very excited about discovering their style. The following generalizations held true in all classes:

  1. By design, the g/t curriculum incorporates a significant amount of student interaction. Their ability to communicate with each other and be tolerant of different views dramatically improved as they understood each other's styles.

  2. Because of the improved communication, the quality of the group work improved.

  3. Parents became interested in "this thinking business" and the characteristics of their child's style. (We plan to follow-up in this area.)

  4. The student had another important piece of information about himself or herself that enhanced self-concept. (Some reported they didn't feel stupid anymore.)

  5. The teachers became aware of the need to give instructions in different ways to meet the needs of the students.

           The teacher and student who originally led me to ICTech® are good friends and able to laugh when their individual styles cross. Every teacher felt that they had one or two special success stories. Each teacher felt that they had at least two students who exhibited significant improvement in their attitude about themselves and their work because of the information they acquired about informational styles.

           As coordinator of the program, I received a bonus from using ICTech®. I had two teachers in my program who were having great difficulty in getting along as well as working together. One was a very strong Multiple. Thy talked at each other, but never communicated with each other. After being trained in the technology, they began to really communicate! As a result, they collaborated to write an outstanding curriculum for one grade-level for an entire year."

From the Teacher Journals

           "I now know not to grade my Multiple, messy, creative child's project in comparison to a Single's neat, organized project. Each child may have done 'A’ work for them, so I have to not 'expect', but 'accept' their capability."

           "I had a Multiple Imaging student in class who was having so much difficulty completing his research paper that he was physically ill and his parents were taking him to a counselor. The mother called me and explained the problem. I gave the student instructions for studying in his on style. He completed the paper and turned it in one day late. This was the first time that he had ever turned in a completed project. Before learning the styles, he would have talked about needing more self-discipline. Now he knows how to use his style and "circle" to complete a project with less stress!"

           "I learned that the NonVisuals are the students that are hardest for me to teach. (Comment is the same from most of the teachers) They made me so frustrated that I just wanted to send them to the office and let them deal with the problem. Now I know how to work with them and enjoy them ...which makes them and me feel better!"

Outcomes

           What were the expected outcomes? The major objective was to demonstrate that there is a simple and easy way to identify informational styles and that this knowledge can make a difference in classroom instruction. We wanted to show that by knowing these styles there would be greater understanding and tolerance between teacher and student and a renewed excitement for learning in the student. We expected to see students acquire a greater sense of self-esteem and assume more responsibility for personal learning. Finally, we were confident that by using ICTech®, teachers would find effective ways to deal with their most difficult students.

           We can't take you off the bucking bronco, but we can make you a more effective rider!

Copyright @ 2008, Psy-Kinetics
tlc@ictech-works.com.