Learning Theories

Learning Theories Assignment
 

In my practice, I teach students who have difficulties with reading, writing and spelling to touch type, using a software product known as Touch Type Read and Spell (TTRS). TTRS uses a number of elements from behaviourist and cognitivism learning theories, this paper examines the use of these different theories in practice. I will also look at ways the programme could be improved in the future.  

Numerous definitions of dyslexia exist, and although they share some similarities, these multiple definitions can lead to confusion amongst parents and teachers, particularly in determining if someone is dyslexic or not. One definition is the following:

Development dyslexia is a constitutional condition which results in differences in some aspects of information processing by the brain, and which causes difficulties in specific areas of learning, particularly literacy skills. It may confer advantages in other skill areas, such as visual or practical thinking (Singleton 2000 as cited in Pollak, P5 2005).

This definition is significant because it uses the word “differences” unlike other definitions which use words like disorder and disability. It also indicates that many dyslexics have strengths in other skills.

Touch typing is the skill that enables a person to type, without looking at the keyboard to find the correct keys. With this skill, the student with dyslexia has a distinct advantage in a number of areas. As some dyslexic students have trouble with handwriting, both from a speed and readability standpoint, typed work will therefore be an improvement (Hornsby, 1995). In certain circumstances students may be allowed to use computers in state examinations. This can eliminate the need for a scribe, which is a financial benefit to the education service, and can also improve the student’s esteem. In addition, most modern word processors have spelling and grammar checking capabilities, which are useful for anyone who has difficulties with spelling.

TTRS is a multi-sensory (seeing, hearing, kinaesthetic) computer course for people with literacy problems. It was established in 1992 as the result of a research degree. It is based on extracts from the word lists in the text book Alpha to Omega (Hornsby, Pool, Shear 1999).  The programme works by students hearing the words through earphones. At the same time they see the words on the computer screen and again as they are typed. An image of a

keyboard with hands superimposed on top, guides the student to what key to press, (see Figure 1 in Appendix A)

 TTRS is modular in design. It contains twenty four levels with thirty modules in each level. Each module takes approximately five minutes to complete. TTRS courses are classroom based, with the teacher acting as a facilitator giving immediate and positive feedback.

TTRS uses a number of elements from a number of different learning theories, the two most prevalent ones being behaviourism and cognitivism.

Behaviourism

Behaviourists believe that learning only occurs if a change in behaviour can be observed. (Jordan, Carlill, Stack 2008). A high score in an exam can be an indicator that learning has taken place (Ormrod, 1999). This is not always a good indicator of learning, but in the case of learning a skill like touch typing it can be.

TTRS uses observable behaviour in a number of ways. While students are progressing through a module, they and the teacher can see how well they are doing, by observing the accuracy line on the right hand side of the screen (see Figure 2 in Appendix A)  They can also see how much of the module they have completed by observing the progress line on the top of the displayed keyboard see (see Figure 2 in Appendix A).  

At the end of the module the score for that module is displayed (see Figure 3 in Appendix A). Students get immediate reinforcement from the program and the teacher. The teacher having observed the progression through the module should be in the vicinity of the student when they reach the end of the module thus ensuring feedback is immediate.

BF Skinner defined operant conditioning as responses are more likely to occur if they are followed by a reinforcing stimulus. (Bigge, 2004) Reinforcement can be praise from the teacher, or a prize for academic achievement, for example. The timing of the reinforcement is very important (Ormrod, 1999). It has to follow the “desired behaviour” immediately (Skinner, 1958).

TTRS uses positive reinforcement. Once the student completes a module the result is displayed on the computer screen. The teacher who should also have observed the score will then use consistent language to praise the student. Scores between 80%-90% the word “Good” is used, 90%-95% “Very Good”, 95%-100% “Excellent”(TTRS). This scaled praise acts as a motivating factor for the students to strive to get better results.

The teacher’s comments must follow immediately after the module is complete, to ensure the best results. With some experienced students, the teacher may miss the displayed result before the student moves onto the next module. There is another opportunity to comment on their results at the end of the session, when the teacher marks up all the modules completed in the student’s paper record. I myself, would often show the student’s parent their results, and comment on how well they are progressing. This can help to build the student’s self-esteem and confidence.

Repetition is a teaching aid used to learn facts, figures and in the case of TTRS the spelling of words. Some students with dyslexia have problems with their short-term memory. Repetition is a way of “over-learning” which can help with these problems. A multi-sensory approach to repetition learning has been found to be the most effective (Reid, 2003).

TTRS uses this multi-sensory approach. Students hear the words through earphones, they see the words printed on the computer screen, and they also see what fingers to press via the printed keyboard on the screen. Finally through the sense of touch they spell out the words with their fingers, students learn to “spell with their fingers”. (Touch-type Read and spell (ttrs))

One of the main problems with teaching a classroom of students is that the class almost certainly will consist of students with mixed abilities (Skinner, 1958). With the TTRS programme, each student works at their own pace. This is advantageous for the student with dyslexia, as they may have experienced the feeling of being left behind in their mainstream education. This self-paced model also allows for multiple age groups to take part in the same class.

Cognitivism

Cognitivism is the study of how our mental processes work. It considers how we perceive, store and remember information (Ormrod, 1999; Jordan et al 2008). Cognitive theories are important to education as they can help us form strategies about how we can help others better learn.

Multi-sensory teaching methods involve using visual, auditory and kinaesthetic elements simultaneously. They are often used to teach students with dyslexia. They provide the student with multiple modes of learning. This should ensure that the learner will be comfortable with at least one of them. It also helps accommodate different learning styles, auditory, visual and kinesthetic (Reid, 2003).  Students use all their learning channels when they learn in a multi-sensory environment, this has been found to aid memory and retreival skills (Schneider, 2009).

Students with dyslexia often show weakness in auditory and/or visual processing. They may be unaware of the role sounds play in words, so traditional methods of teaching phonics may not work (Reid, 2003). With TTRS, students see the word while simultaneously hearing it. Therefore they can associate the sound with the appearance of the physical word.

There are certain processes we do every day that we put little or no conscious effort into doing. This type of automatic processing is known as automaticity (Ormrod, 1999). Examples would be riding a bike or driving a car. In the case of learning to drive, we can all remember how difficult it was to steer, change gear and pay attention to other road users all simultaneously. Now this skill is “second nature” to most of us. Touch typing, once learnt, can be an automatic process.

One of the most beneficial aspects of TTRS is how it can improve self-esteem and build confidence in the student (Reid, 2003). This is achieved in a number of ways. It is vital that students with dyslexia can see their progress, no matter how small. The modular nature of TTRS ensures that the student is getting constant feedback. On completion of each module, the student sees their result immediately on the screen and will be reinforced by the teacher. As students complete numerous modules during a training session, they are getting constant reminders of their progress. This motivates them to continue to complete more modules and achieve better results. At the student progresses through the programme they reach multiple milestones, for example completion of a module, completion of a level (thirty modules), removal of keyboard and hands display from screen. As each milestone is reached the student’s confidence and self-esteem should also increase.

Conclusion

As you can see from above, both behaviourism and cognitivism learning theories are successfully used in the delivery of the TTRS programme. Of these two, behaviourism is the most prominent. As a result, the programme can for many be too tedious and boring.  I would suggest shortening the course, this would also be advantageous financially for the parents of the students, as they pay for the course on an hourly basis. Some variety could also be added to the programme. Students could accumulate rewards and play typing games when they have enough points, this would appeal to younger students who are exposed to this type of level/reward system on computer games. Could the programme be offered online, this form of delivery may suit older students who do not want to be in a classroom with a number of other students. As the teacher reinforcement is an important part of the programme, this would need to be incorporated in some way. The study of multi-sensory teaching techniques have improved greatly over the part number of years, I would therefore look at redesigning the interface to use some of these techniques.

Finally I do believe a great deal of thought and work was put into the design of TTRS, especially in its use of reinforcement and multi-sensory methods. As a teacher I get great pleasure teaching the programme, seeing students achieve a new skill and gaining confidence in themselves at the same time.

References

 

(n.d.). Retrieved October 24th, 2010, from Touch-type Read and spell (ttrs): http://www.touchtypereadspell.co.uk/all-about-ttrs

Bigge, M. (2004). Learning Theories for Teachers. Boston: Pearson Education, Inc.

Hornsby B., Pool J., Shear F. (1999). Alpha to Omega: A. to Z. of Teaching Reading, Writing and Spelling. Oxford: Heinemann.

Hornsby, B. (1995). Overcoming Dyslexia (A straight-forward guide for families and teachers). Londan: Random House UK Ltd.

Jordan, A., Carlille,O., Stack,A. (2008). Approaches to Learning. McGraw Hill.

Ormrod, J. (1999). Human Learning. Upper Saddle River, NJ 07458, US: Prentice Hall.

Pollak, D. (2005). Dyslexia, The Self and Higher Education. Stoke on Trent: Trentham Books Limited.

Reid, G. (2003). Dyslexia, A Practitioner's Handbook. Chichester: John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

Schneider, E. (2009). The Routledge Companion to Dyslexia. Abington: Routledge.

Skinner, B. (1958, October 24th). Teaching Machines. Science, 969-977.

TTRS. (n.d.). TTRS Training Manual. Kent.

 

Appendix A

 

            

Figure 1 TTRS touch typing screen

 

Figure 2 TTRS typing screen showing progress and accuracy indicators

 

Figure 3 TTRS typing screen showing result from completed module

 

 

 
 
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