Dr. Mark Myers conducts a radio interview with Dr. Christine Johnston.
WGLS Program – Issues in Education – September 11, 2000
With: Dr. Mark Myers
MM: Good Afternoon and welcome to another edition of Issues in Education. I am your host Dr. Mark Myers from Rowan University’s College of Education and with me I have a very special guest today, Dr. Christine Johnston (CJ) , also from the College of Education. She is now, however, starting a new venture which we will be talking about in just a little bit. Welcome and thank you for coming on the show today.
CJ: Thank you for having me.
MM: We’re talking about a program you’re involved in called, “Let Me Learn.” If someone came up to you on the street and asked you, “What is Let Me Learn?,” how would you answer that?
CJ: I’d say it’s an advanced learning system that provides the technology of understanding how our mental processes work that help us learn.
MM: Ooh, that’s a good one, I like that. I’m more familiar with it than our listeners, because I’ve been working with you on this, but if someone wanted to know what good this would do for their children, what would you say to them?
CJ: This gives children an understanding of how they learn, and a vocabulary to explain to their parents and teachers and even their classmates what’s going on inside their heads. It makes a very big difference in their sense of self as a learner and confidence.
MM: So it’s not just being able to identify the patterns that each person has, it’s letting them have a way of telling other people that they can appreciate what their pattern is and what other people’s patterns are.
CJ: That’s right and as you refer to the patterns the use of sequence in organization or the use of precision in details or the use of technical problem solving or risk taking in use of confluence, it’s more than just understanding the degree to which you use them, it’s how they work together to make you a unique learner.
MM: Now, where did this come from? Where did Let Me Learn come from?
CJ: The original question was, “How could school leaders lead better?”, and we really looked at the literature of leadership. And in doing so found that in the business world there were many instruments that sought to identify how leaders develop their leadership style. As we looked at that we began to recognize, when I say we, I’m referring to a number of graduate students who worked with me here at Rowan. We began to recognize that it’s not just leadership, but how you as a human being learns, that really had an effect on the leadership that you provide. And so we took a step back and looked at it from a learning prospective. This has taken nine years to develop and along that pathway we looked at a variety of research and individuals who have been working at this for a long time and we sought to pull it together, we call it, “The Interactive Learning Model”, because it’s really eclectic.
MM: So it really started out as something you never would have seen where you were going with today?
CJ: Absolutely, we were looking to see how leaders could lead better and also how they could work bring adults together, to work better.
MM: Now you mention the business community and obviously with your background in Educational Leadership that’s the administrative part of schooling. So there’s an impact of this not just in the classroom and in the administrative suite, but in the business world as well.
CJ: Absolutely. Currently, DuPont Corporation along with Playmobil, which is a German toy manufacturer, and ExecuTrain which is one of the largest technology training organizations in the United States and frankly internationally, all are engaged in doing research to see if knowledge of this helps them become better trainers, more cooperative in the way in which they work with one another. Obviously they have a bottom line which is called productivity, so that’s what they’re looking for. To date they have been very positive about the outcomes of having their workers and employees understand their learning processes.
MM: For example, what benefit would a business get out of having their employees, not their learners understand their learning process?
CJ: Well, a good example is the manufacturing floor. The supervisor might post a sign that is written in sentences explaining what needs to be done or what cautions should be taken at that point. If the individual is high in precision he or she might read all those words, but if he or she is not, and say for example, is more sequential, just posting steps 1,2,3 in a briefer form is going to be much more effective. And in fact we have actually studied that to see if there are fewer mistakes made. In one case we have a plant where the individuals themselves overall are much more sequential, but administrators are much more precise. So we’ve had to help them understand why communications may not have always occurred on the same level that they would like to see it.
MM: So one way to look at it, the precise administrators might actually be overloading the sequential workers with too much information that they can’t process?
CJ: That’s right. And keep in mind that we’re talking about this on the simplest level, we really know that each of these individuals is a combination of those patterns. But for the sake of making a point here, I’m just emphasizing the primary pattern that each of these groups have used.
MM: So what would be the benefit in the classroom then?
CJ: The benefit in the classroom is what it has done it has allowed children to know very early on that how they learn is valuable, and that they can explain it to others, who can equally value it. And Mark, the difference that that has made is that across the world in all English speaking nations, by the third year in school, children have decided that they are either learners or losers. Well, we’re trying to erase that loser mentality. Why do they think they’re losers? It’s because they recognize the way they learn may be different than the way the teacher learns and teaches. So they begin to think of themselves as not competent. We want to break that mold. So first thing it does is help children learn to value themselves and helps the teacher learn to value them.
MM: So what’s the reaction you get from, I mean you said third year students, so you’re talking about in the United States third graders or second graders, now what’s the reaction you get from kids that are that young. Do they use the terminology you are talking about?
CJ: They do, actually children as young as first grade, or six years old, learn to use it well, and what we find is that they no longer pick on each other, they learn to talk with each other, there’s less conflict in the classroom, less referrals for discipline, less referrals for the child study team, and when that’s going on that means more time can be spent developing their skills and their knowledge base.
MM: And I think it’s important that we mention here we’re not talking about a different curriculum, it’s not teaching anything different, we’re talking about identifying the learning patters involved.
CJ: That’s correct.
MM: Well, we’re going to head off to a break right now, and you are listening to “Issues in Education” here on Rowan Radio 89.7 WGLS FM.
MM: Welcome back to “Issues in Education” and now, we’ve been talking about the “Let Me Learn” process and now we’re going to talk about a specific example about the use of the Let Me Learn Process ™ and that’s out at Foothill College, and we have on the phone the Vice President at Foothill College, Rose Myers, Hi Rose, thank you for being on the show today.
MM: Let me ask you first, where did you learn about the Let Me Learn Process ™?
RM: Well, in the mid-90’s I happened to be a graduate student of Christine Johnston at Rowan and she was in her very preliminary research findings of this model, this Let Me Learn model, and when I moved to Foothill, I left New Jersey to the take the job, the Deanship here at Foothill College, and I just happened to call Chris on a whim, just to see where she was, what she had done with her research because I was presented with a new staff that I felt I needed to better understand, and I wanted to use some of what she had already learned through her research, and I just happened to call her and she then told me what other interesting things she had gone onto do in the development of the model.
MM: So how is it being used out at Foothill?
RM: Well we are using it with thirteen of our faculty members. We are doing a study actually, a research study, in using the model to see if it has any effect on student success.
MM: So the student from a college level success?
RM: Absolutely, we are a community college located here in Los Altos Hills, CA and you know we had looked at addressing classroom diversity, and also we were looking at moving towards becoming a learner centered environment. And this model was a way of bringing both those efforts together.
MM: Now are these teachers all in a particular program or are they interspersed throughout the college curriculum?
RM: They are from across the board. We have various subjects, we have general education subjects, we have some vocational subjects, faculty who are teaching those areas, so we are pretty much across the board.
MM: What would you say is the reaction of your faculty when you introduce them to this type of process for the first time?
RM: Well, generally for the first time the reaction is pretty much, “been there, done that,” until they really get into the model, then they really understand the underpinnings of the model, and then it’s quite a surprise to them. I think it causes a considerable impact to them.
MM: Now for yourself, has it made it easier to communicate with your staff when you’re working with
people? RM: It has made a wonderful difference, in communication not only with my staff, and also at Foothill, what I forgot to mention, we introduced the model with our administrative staff as well, so we are not only using it in the classroom, we are using it with our administrative staff. So, everyone from the President down to the Dean and the VP’s, we all have been introduced to the model, on several different occasions, and I think it really increases tolerance, awareness of how individuals work, and learn and get along together.
MM: That brings up an interesting point. You mentioned how the educators react to it from a teachers standpoint, but what about from the administrative standpoint, is the reaction very similar?
RM: Oh absolutely, and I think the administrators have been probably more open upon first blush with it. And they don’t generally go to the been there done that, they just seemingly are looking for something new, so it really has opened up a level of awareness and tolerance. Staff members seem to have embraced it 100%, they love it. We’ve had staff members say, “I wish I had known this several years ago, I may have stayed with a certain supervisor because I didn’t’ understand that person at the time, but now I do understand that person.
MM: Oh, so going, Chris gave an example about giving directions to people and the person giving those directions might have a different learning pattern from the person receiving the directions. Is that what you mean by that?
MM: Now how about from a long-term perspective, how long have you been using the Let Me Learn Process ™?
RM: We’ve been involved for one year and going into our second year. And actually we introduced the model two years ago. So actually this would be our second year, going into our third year.
MM: Now how’s the reaction been, after you finished the second year, has it changed at all? Is it something that you think people are more and more jumping on the bandwagon?
RM: Oh, I think definitely people are jumping more and more onto the band wagon, because we have the faculty who have been involved on a systematic basis in our research study, and those faculty are speaking to other faculty, so when we recruited for new faculty for this years project, we got a great response.
MM: So, it’s easier when they see other people have had success with it? So it’s easier to get other people to join in?
RM: Absolutely. And they’re also hearing what the students are saying. And that’s what we’ve been listening to and that was our purpose for entering into the project, to see what effect it has on students, and students are speaking about it with each other, with other faculty members, with administrators. There are some students who are requesting to have teachers who have been trained in the model.
MM: Oh, so is that information made public to the students, which are being trained in the model and who are not?
RM: Yes we do, we have that information available.
MM: So the students when they are doing course selection can actually go through and say I like this teacher because he’s more sequential, or I like this teacher because she’s more precise, that sort of thing?
RM: Well I don’t think we haven’t had students ask for specific patterns, but students are asking for those teachers who know and understand the model itself.
MM: Oh, ok, I see what you’re saying. Now, do the students go through the process as well in their courses?
RM: Yes, they students and the faculty together, it’s a joint partnership. And we have counselors who are also involved in it.
MM: So it’s even a ripple effect taking on another level as well?
MM: Now Chris, how about yourself, what’s it like seeing it? I mean obviously you started at Rowan and you are a Rowan faculty member, but how does it make you feel when you see something going in other places, you know, that ripple effect leaving Rowan and going to other colleges?
CJ: Well, it’s very exciting, it exciting to hear Rose speak about the work there and her interest and investment and I want to give a lot of credit to her vision in seeing how this can be applied there. Also it takes a great deal of patience and commitment and stamina. It takes leadership to bring a model like this into a campus. And that’s really been the major issue why it’s been able to persist there. It’s been real administrative buy-in and that’s required if you’re going to bring anything new into any learning situation.
MM: And what’s funny is, Rose I don’t think you heard, Chris mentioned before, about that this came out of a look of how people lead and that led towards the development of Let Me Learn, and it’s almost like its coming back in the use that you’re having at Foothill, that’s it’s a way to find that your leadership style at the school is becoming much more effective by using this.
RM: Oh absolutely. I think that, it’s funny, even when I was evaluated this past year, some of the language of the model entered into the evaluation, and my evaluation was done by our President. So that is very interesting.
MM: Your President is now using the language of the model to evaluate fellow administrators.
RM: Absolutely. And even in our hiring, it’s begun to impact our hiring as well in terms of what we are looking for in individuals.
MM: So it sounds like its something that we talked about rippling out, but it sounds like it’s permeating in every aspect of the life at Foothill College.
RM: It really has, yes it really has.
MM: MM: Well, we’re going to head off to a break right now, and you are listening to “Issues in Education” here on Rowan Radio 89.7 WGLS FM.
MM: Welcome back to Issues in Education and I’d like to thank Rose Myers, she had to leave on the phone, but she really brought a lot to the show, now we want to look at where Let Me Learn is going in the future, and you’re about to start a Center, or you have started a Center but it doesn’t have a location yet, now I don’t know the name of the Center, because it’s so new, so what’s the name of the Center?
CJ: The Center for the Advancement of Learning.
MM: Ok, now what’s the role do you see of the Center?
CJ: There are 4 basic purposes. The first one is to be available to Rowan faculty and students in the College of Education and across the campus to provide leadership in helping faculty members develop their understanding of teaching and learning vis a vis mental processes of the learner. The second purpose is to do research on learning that involves the Let Me Learn Process ™, the research can go on in Higher Ed., corporate settings, or K-12, and maybe there’s some others we haven’t explored yet. The third purpose is to provide an accelerated training for individuals who want to be certified nationally, regionally or for research using the Let Me Learn Process ™. And the fourth is to be able to help institutions who want to do experiments or piloting, not a heavy duty research study more of an action research, to allow them to take a risk that is a powerful risk but not a high risk. And so those are the 4 things, the purposes or the goals. Our mission is to bring this, what we call this technology of understanding learning into a reasonable academic scholarly setting we can learn, share and publish.
MM: So it’s really talking about replicating what you found out in finding ways for other people to replicate it?
CJ: Right, and to also answer questions, wonderful questions, that are raised about learning issues and about development of our mental processes for learning. And we want to be engaged in that. We’re working right now with 3 other institutions in New Jersey along with K12 districts (a very large NSF grant) again to pursue those issues.
MM: Can you think of an example of one of the interesting questions you’ve been coming up on as you look at Let Me Learn?
CJ: One of them is “Do our patterns of learning change over time?” And we studied that in a New Jersey Urban 30 District and found that tracking children for 3 years that over that 3 year period from first grade to third grade their patterns for learning did not change, but we also learned some other interesting things. The children who’s patterns were combined with avoiding precision and using technical reasoning first, every child who had that combination had either been retained or was classified for special education. And see that alerts us to real big issues that we now want to study further.
MM: It sounds like those are the kids that are labeled as having the personality conflicts in the classroom.
CJ: That’s right. “Aloof,” “distant,” “unengaged,” “bright but won’t perform,” are typical phrases. And then eventually children who are disengaged become, by sixth grade behavior problems, and by ninth grade a very high potential for dropouts.
MM: So what can you do with Let Me Learn for those kids who are at that age now? I mean it sounds like, you know you capture the kids before they get that loser label in their third year, can this be used to help kids at the high school level and what has their reaction been when you’ve done it at the high school level?
CJ: It works well when Guidance understands this, where a faculty member to whom the student does or can attach a good mentoring relationship, in those instances it can make a difference, it also helps parents. Because our patterns are not inherited, we don’t see that genetic link, we sometimes think that the children we brought home from the hospital must have been a mistake, they must have been put in the wrong bassinet. So we say why does my child learn the way I do, why can’t I help my child with homework? And helping parents understand that can really prevent a lot of arguments and a lot of difficulty in the home environment. So it’s a combination, it’s a partnership as you mentioned before of bringing the people together primarily the learner but the support system for the learner, that can take away the anger and frustration and allow the individual to really come forward and grow and develop. And sometimes, I’ll be honest with you Mark, I have graduate students who becoming involved in this in their graduate courses will say, “I dropped out of high school, got a GED, went to community college, I never thought of myself as a success, now I can understand why I perceived myself that way.” And they’re in Graduate School, of course they’re a success. But they don’t see themselves that way, so it’s a long term, it can effect people positively and virtually at any age or stage in their life.
MM: Well, it’s funny as we’ve been talking about this it’s interesting that you can look back on things and now have a different way of classifying it. And I know one frustration I always hear from the classroom teachers and from my student teachers is, “the students won’t do 10 words on a word list, but they’ll spend hours memorizing every lyric that was ever written for a song”, and that’s never clicked, but when you think about people’s learning patterns it makes sense.
CJ: Absolutely. I would just share a personal thing. My mother kept a diary, and my mother is no longer living, so I can share this. In the diary she wrote an entry about my brother who was not succeeding in senior high english, and she said the teacher said, “I think he needs to write more.” She said “I asked Bobby why he didn’t write more, and he said that’s all I’ve got to say.” Now my brother is highly technical, that’s where he begins his learning and his technical reasoning, very sequential, always neat, always begins and finishes things and takes a great deal of pride in his work. He is an excellent problem solver, but he uses few words. That he’s not highly precise in that sense, he is not going to be verbose consequently that was misconstrued by his English teacher. And it was a struggle then for him to say I am capable when someone is saying that you’re not saying it with enough words.
MM: So let me ask you, put on your Carnak hat for a second and if you’re looking ahead 10 years from now, you’re just starting up the Center, it’s been almost 10 years since the Let Me Learn Process ™ began, where do you see this going in 10 years?
CJ: Well, let me just start with today. Today, Let Me Learn went to Morocco, and the Let Me Learn organization and Rowan University have established a relationship with the University of Malta and that relationship will now be brought into the Center and we see a variety of things occurring. Student exchange, faculty exchange have already begun, we want to do it more extensively. But the University of Malta is working with the European Union to develop international connections for education and they have therefore taken the Let Me Learn Process ™ into Holland, Italy, and today Morocco and tomorrow Tunisia. And we have that opportunity here with the Center to not only expand nationally but also internationally. And an example would be our first group going through accelerated accreditation come from various parts of the United States, we already have done the national piece and we’re working on an international conference with Malta for next summer, so I couldn’t predict where we’ll be in 10 years, I just know it will be constantly serving learners. That’s our purpose and that we will stick to.
MM: So it sounds like your sticking right to the roots that you started the whole thing off with.
MM: Well I want to thank you for being with me today. Do you have a phone number where to be contacted so that they can get more information?
CJ: It would be best for them to contact Let Me Learn directly at 856-553-6281.