Saturday, 22 March 2014

Peter Westwood. Learning and Learning Difficulties

Reviewed by Arifin
Tulungagung, 22 March 2014

By Peter Westwood
In writing this book Peter has attempted to place the phenomenon of learning difficulty within a much wider context than is usual by exploring a variety of learning processes, learning theories, and concepts about learning. An understanding of the way in which learning occurs is fundamental to an understanding of how and when problems in learning may arise. By painting this broader canvas he hopes to help teachers and others appreciate that problems in learning are not all due to weaknesses within students or to lack of motivation on their part. Indeed, many learning difficulties are created or exacerbated not by factors within the students but by influences within the environment in which they live and learn. Many such factors in the learning environment are amenable to modification and improvement, whereas deficits within learners are not so easily changed.

Two of the most powerful influences in the learning environment are the school curriculum and the approaches to teaching. It is argued here that teaching methods and materials must be selected carefully to suit the types of learning involved in specific lessons, and to accommodate the learning characteristics of the students. Many learning problems are prevented or minimized by matching teaching methods and lesson content to learners’ current aptitude and prior experience. 

Of course, some learning problems are indeed due to deficits or impairments within students themselves; and discussion focuses on such causes in later chapters of the book. However, the point is made that some commonly observed weaknesses or ‘deficits’ (for example, poor attention to task, limited concentration, poor retention and recall of information) are often the outcome from learning failure, not the cause. The impact of inappropriate curriculum, insufficient teaching, and persistent failure is discussed, with particular reference to the detrimental effects they can have on students’ affective development and motivation.

Readers will identify a number of recurring themes running through the chapters — including the need to catch and maintain students’ attention, the importance of explicit teaching and guided practice, and the value of teaching students effective task-approach strategies. Also emphasized in many chapters is the importance of addressing students’ personal and emotional needs, as well as working toward cognitive and academic goals.

He has drawn widely from international literature to support his arguments and to present contemporary perspectives on learning and learning difficulty. There is universal agreement that early prevention of learning failure is much more effective than later attempted cures

1 Perspectives on learning
   Teaching should be based on a knowledge of learning 
   Learning defined and described
   Types of learning 
   Categories of learning 
   Learning physical (psychomotor) skills 
   Acquiring information 
   Developing intellectual skills 
   Learning cognitive and metacognitive strategies 
   Developing attitudes, beliefs and values 
   Intentional learning and incidental learning 
   Observational learning
   Rote learning versus meaningful learning 
   Learning hierarchies 
   The process and sequence of learning 
   The role of practice 

2 Theories of learning and motivation 
   Behavioural theory 
   Cognitive theories of learning 
   Information processing 
   Representing information in long-term memory 
   Constructivist perspective 
   Criticisms of the constructivist viewpoint 
   Locus of control and attribution theory 
   Explanatory style 
   Attribution retraining 
   Metacognition and self-regulation 
   Extrinsic and intrinsic motivation 
   Expectancy-value theory 
   Motivation in the classroom 

3 Brain, memory and intelligence 
   Brain development 
   Learning and the brain 
   Exploring brain function and structure 
   Short-term memory 
   Working memory 
   Long-term memory 
   Models of intelligence
   Contemporary views 
   Can intelligence be taught? 
   Beyond intelligence 
   A current definition 

4 Learning difficulties: prevalence and causes 
   Students with learning difficulties 
   Possible causes of learning difficulty 
   Teaching methods as a cause of learning difficulty 
   Classroom environment 
   Socio-economic disadvantage 
   Poor relationship between student and teacher 
   Poor school attendance 
   Health and physical status 
   Learning through the medium of a second language 
   Loss of confidence
   Emotional or behavioural problems 
   Below-average intelligence 
   Sensory impairment 
   Specific information processing difficulties 
   Visual perceptual difficulties 
   Auditory perception 
   Attentional difficulties 

5 Specific learning disabilities 
   Discrepancy between ability and achievement 
   Defining and describing learning disability 
   Types of learning disability
   Genetic factors 
   Neurological factors 
   Phonological awareness and rapid automatic naming 
   Visual perception 
   Learning style 
   Dyspedagogia (inefficient teaching) 
   Differential diagnosis 
   Are students with SpLD really different from other low achievers? 
   Intervention methods 

6 Difficulties in reading 
   Defining and describing reading
   Learning to read 
   Word identification and phonics 
   Reading difficulties 
   Reading disability: dyslexia 
   Aptitude-Treatment Interactions 
   Phonological awareness 
   Is dyslexia different from other types of reading difficulty? 
   General principles of intervention 

7 Difficulties in writing and spelling 
   The need for explicit instruction 
   Writing is a complex skill 
   Developmental aspects of writing and spelling 
   Difficulties in writing 
   Difficulties with spelling 
   Phonological skills 
   Visual imagery 
   Insufficient instruction 
   Specific disability in written language: dysgraphia
   Intervention: general principles 
   Strategy instruction 
   Interventions for spelling 
   Use of computers and spellcheckers 

8 Learning difficulties in mathematics 
   The changing nature of mathematics education 
   Learning difficulties in mathematics
   Poor teaching generates poor learning 
   Affective components of learning difficulties in mathematics
   Specific learning disability in mathematics: developmental dyscalculia 
   Specific areas of weakness
   Subtypes within dyscalculia 
   Determining a student’s instructional needs
   Intervention: general principles and strategies

9 Intellectual disability
   Description and definition
   Mild intellectual disability
   Moderate intellectual disability
   Severe intellectual disability
   Causes of intellectual disability
   Language delay or disorder
   Social development
   Teaching approaches for students with intellectual disability

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