The Psychology of Learning


I want to teach my dog some new tricks. Nothing fancy, just some new behaviors that will make our lives better, such as improved interactions with other dogs or leaving paper on the ground without shredding it!  As I teach her these new behaviors, I see how motivation plays a key role in her learning.

According to the article “How Motivation Affects Learning and Behavior” in Educational Psychology (2008), “motivation is something that energizes, directs, and sustains behavior; it gets students moving, points them in a particular direction, and keeps them going.” While my student is a dog in this case, the theory still applies.  I know Belle will be motivated to learn these new behaviors with food (always) as well as positive reinforcement and consistency.

This applies to my students in the classroom as well; identifying the motivators in learning impacts how understanding is acquired or changed and knowledge and skills are retained.  I think our new initiative with the Project-Based Learning (PBL) approach will provide important motivators in my lessons by “engaging students by starting with the concrete and solving hands-on, real-world problems . . .” (Edutopia, June 9 2016).

So, I will continue to work with my dog this summer and identify what motivates her to learn.  And this summer I will also integrate the PBL approach in my lessons for the upcoming year by focusing on ‘real world problems’ to energize my students and keep them going in the right direction.  All of us can learn new tricks, right?




Making Connections


I am reflecting on my lesson plans for the upcoming year, and I always want to improve on them to make better connections with my students.  I begin my year with the classic book, The Outsiders, by S.E. Hinton because this is required summer reading. For those who actually read the book, we make connections because it touches on their sense of identity and every student has a story about being an outsider.

Last year, we had ‘Character Day’ and students could dress up as their favorite character.  I  was impressed with one student’s approach to being a Greaser (and how much he loved his cat 🙂

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As this picture reveals, students relate to the Greasers, not the Socs, because they are the ones who are misunderstood and disenfranchised.  Everyone has experienced these feelings so we can all make connections with each other. So, this unit helps me expand awareness that all people have common life experiences both positive and negative, which promotes empathy in the classroom.  A powerful way to begin the year and I am looking forward to improving on this through authentic experiences.

Gardening is a Work of Art


I love to play in the dirt.  It takes me outdoors to enjoy nature, and I love the rewards of blooming flowers and strategically-placed plants.  It is pleasing to the eye, and I see it as a creative work of art.

One aspect of my garden involves ‘landscape painting’ – I see my garden as a canvas on which I draw an outline of pleasing shapes to be colored with shrubs and flowers. Another aspect of my garden involves ‘landscape architecture’ where some elements are joined together to create pleasing paths, spaces and shapes.

Gardening Blog 2

Whether I am a painter or an architect doesn’t matter; what matters is that I love the process of creating something new that did not exist before.  I find new discoveries every day as I walk the gardens with my coffee in the morning, listening to birds and watching the butterflies.  And I am rewarded with the thought that I created this, and it makes me happy.


It is about stories . . .


” Stories are the way . . . human beings understand . . . how we have come to be who we are; narratives show us what is important in our lives.  Stories make the magic of fate visible. ” Quote from A Tale of Highly Unusual Magic by Lisa Papademetriou.


This quote is from the “Author’s Note” at the beginning of the book, and I could not agree more!  I began my summer break with the challenge to read as many books as possible, but I realized I do not want to focus on the raw number of books.  While it gives me bragging rights, it does not feed my soul.  So I am selective in my choices.

Since I teach Middle School, I have come to love stories in the Young Adult genre.  Not only do these stories portray protagonists who are accessible and real, but they bring me to an age of growth and development that I want to understand.

While I don’t see myself as ‘old’, I recognize that the span between me and my students continues to widen with time.  So these stories give me a bridge of language that enables me reach across the great divide and share an experience about what is important in our lives.  This is how I want to teach the love of reading to my students!


Launching Summer Reading


We just finished our school year last week, and I was proud with the positive ending in my Literature class.  I hosted a Book Bistro party that included a ‘book swap’ – students found a book on their bookshelves at home and wrapped it up for an exchange in the classroom. Not only was this fun, but we engaged in book reviews of the books that were exchanged with each other.  I, of course, included cookies as a fun way to celebrate this activity so the students felt this was more than an academic activity – it was festive!

Little did they know they were getting excited about reading and getting new books!  While I don’t know if they will actually read them during the summer (perhaps I could do a survey to assess the success of the book swap), I did get a sense that my students were more empowered to read during the summer.  I overcame the first hurdle to reading which is providing a book for the nightstand!  They can’t say, “I don’t know what to read” when they just came home with a book from a friend at school!

Summer Reading Book Swap 2016

So, as I write my thank you notes to students for the wonderful end-of-year gifts (which, thankfully, included gift cards for Amazon and Barnes & Noble to get books to replace the ones that were not returned to my classroom library!), I encourage my young Grade 6 students to continue reading over the summer.  They were challenged on Goodreads to read more books, and many of them achieved their goal.  Now, let’s hope they avoid the infamous ‘Summer Slide’ and continue to achieve the goal of becoming life-long readers!