The 2000 Outstanding Teacher of the Year Award goes to….A CARING TEACHER!

Oprah talks with Ron Clark, the 2000 Outstanding Teacher of the Year and O, The Oprah Magazine’s first “Phenomenal Man.”

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I met Ron Clark, the 2000 Outstanding Teacher of the Year, last fall at Disney’s American Teacher Awards. He’d not only traveled from East Harlem to Los Angeles to receive his award but he’d raised more than $25,000 to bring his entire class with him. As I watched the video about Ron’s life and his decision to relocate from North Carolina to one of the toughest areas of Harlem, I was moved to tears. What I saw in Ron that day left me humbled and inspired-I could literally feel his deep sense of love for and connection with his students.

OPRAH: Was it always your desire to be a teacher?

RON CLARK: I never wanted to teach; all I wanted was a life filled with adventure. After college I became a dancing and singing waiter in London. I went to Greece and got stranded on a desert island for four days. Then I went to Romania and stayed with gypsies in Transylvania-they fed me rats and I got really sick, so I had to come home. I lived with my mom in Belhaven, North Carolina. She told me a teacher in her area had passed away and asked me if I’d be willing to finish out the school year for that teacher. I wasn’t interested … but I figured I’d just go down to the school. I was hooked! The next day I started teaching fifth grade. From then on it was like magic-I fell in love with teaching.

Five years later, I saw a program about a school in Harlem. It showed these students who although they were intelligent had extremely low test-scores because the school couldn’t attract good teachers. And at that moment I had a feeling… it was like a calling. The next day I told my co-teacher, “I’m going to teach in Harlem.” I packed up my car, drove up to New York, and stayed at the YMCA. Every day, I went from school to school in Harlem trying to find a school like the one I’d seen on TV.

O: You’re kidding.

RC: I’m serious! It was hard. I knew the calling I’d felt was strong enough that when I came to the right school I’d know it.

O: That’s not a calling, Ron-that’s a siren!

O: How do you motivate your students?

RC: The main motivator, whether in rural North Carolina or Harlem, is letting the kids know that you care about them and that you’re interested in their success. Sometimes it takes other motivators, like jumping rope with them. When I first got to Harlem, jumping rope was the thing-all the kids were out there doing Double Dutch. So I tried it-I knew that if I could learn to do it, it would earn me points with them.

O: And a connection.

RC: Yes. It became a bonding experience because every day at lunch, when the other teachers would go to the teachers lounge, I would spend my time with the students and practice Double Dutch. And when I finally got [Double Dutch], it was a success for me and for the kids.

O: So your curriculum was based on what was happening in their lives?

RC: Exactly. Through my curriculum I tried to help them become complete individuals and to love life. Using things they were already interested in made my job a lot easier.

O: How do you encourage students to be lifelong learners?

RC: I model the behavior that I expect from them. For example, whenever I teach anything, whether it’s math, science, or geography, I am excited about it! When the kids look at my face, they can tell I’m excited about it. Sometimes I may not be that ecstatic, but it’s important to show them the excitement you can have from learning.

O: Why does your philosophy work?

RC: I’m sincere-my students know I mean what I say. They know everything I do is for them and that I’m giving it everything I’ve got. Some people say I’m crazy because I put so much effort into dealing with the kids. But when the kids see my effort, it makes them put forth more effort. They know I have high expectations for them.

O: Do you think of yourself as creative?

RC: If I had to name three of my characteristics, one of the top three would be creative. You have to be creative to be a good teacher because you can’t do the same thing day after day.

O: If you can make long division exciting, you are one creative person!

An ‘F’ Kills a Student

Today was the first class for EDUC390 Measurement and Evaluation in Education and the overall perception of students toward examination and grading isn’t that encouraging. This is mainly because exams and grades (in whatever form they are presented) create undue stress, division (through competition in the classroom), and ill-feeling in students. I was particularly fascinated and ‘sad’ at the same time by a statement made by a student from mainland China about people’s perception toward examination and grading in her country. I quote her…

“When children come home, parents ask them what did they get, instead of asking what did they learn for the day.” – Jessica –

Just think about the statement. I dare not expand on this statement and distract your reflective mind about the ill-effects exams and grading bring to our society.

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When I was in Malaysia on a one-month home leave just recently, I read about students committing suicide for getting an ‘F’ grade in one subject (which they could re-do in a matter of a few months time). I know this is not an uncommon incident. But when we really think about it, we come to a realization of how ridiculous our premises and attitude toward examination and grading are!

We often talk and become concerned about moral degradation. But what happens in the school system is even worse than a decline in morality because those who are supposedly educated and well-versed in the principles and practices of ‘true’ education are the ones who place so much importance on something so feeble like exams and grades. In essence, we have become murderers of our own children. We kill not by using physical weapons. The instrument we use to kill our children is our own misperception about ‘what constitutes learning and how it is assessed’.

Copyright August 2006 by Dr. Edward Roy Krishnan,

Introduction to Cognitive Psychology (Chapter 1)


  1. A Brief History
  2. Cognitive Themes for Education

Subject Matter of Cognitive Psychology? (When we talk about cognition, we mean one or more of the following)
· Human perception

· Thought processes

· Memory (Sensory, STM, LTM)

· Attention

· Information Processing

· Problem Solving

· Decision Making

· Associative Processes

· Motivation behind learning

· Language development

· Meaning attached to concepts, etc.

· Imagery

· EVERYTHING that involves your ‘mind’ (brain’s intellectual function)

A Brief History

The Associationist era
1. Stimulus – Response paradigm of psychology (1920-1970)

2. Cognition was studied by systematically observing external (overt) behavior (do you sense any problem with this?)

3. Experiments on ‘lower organisms’ (laboratory animals; highly controlled settings) – the results and findings of these experiments brought about difference laws of learning (e.g. Ivan Pavlov’s classical conditioning)

4. These laws were thought to be universally applicable to humans (can we accept generalizations about human learning from studies of animal learning?)

5. Clark Hull, Kenneth Spence, Hermann Ebbinghaus – popular Associationist

6. Example of the laws of learning established in this era:

· Trial and error learning (random, non-purposive actions lead to learning) – more in infants; initial learning of certain (limited) life skills – at higher level, TEL can be frustrating (do you agree?)

· Serial list learning (one item cues the next item in the list)

· Paired associate learning (a response must be linked with a stimulus)

7. All these laws of learning emphasized rote or non-meaningful learning!

8. These experimental findings had limited application to complex human functioning and were less relevant to the field of education – the findings couldn’t be applied to benefit the study of all other species across settings and contexts (that makes sense because no one species responds similarly to any given stimulus – individual difference factor!)

9. In essence the laws of learning that emerged in this era were more like ‘laws of animal learning’, or ‘laws of animals learning to make choices in mazes’, or ‘laws of human rote memory’, rather than UNIVERSAL LEARNING PRINCIPLES

The Behaviorists Era (behaviorism – originator of behavior modification)

  1. Mid 1960s – study of consciousness was discredited
  2. B.F. Skinner, J.B. Watson – “give me a newborn child and I will make him/her anything I want him/her to become” – tabula rasa (clean slate)
  3. Learners are subject to conditioning by their environment
  4. Scientific psychology attempts to predict and control behavior
  5. Organisms behavior is largely a function of the environment in which they are placed and their learning histories
  6. By managing the antecedents and consequences for behavior, prediction and control can be achieved (shaping)
  7. Consequences can be presented before a behavior takes place and chains of desired/complex behavior could be developed
  8. By 1970s – behavioral principles in human learning were applied successfully in a variety of settings (residential treatment facilities for persons with mental illness and mental retardation; field of education – controlling learning environment to manage behavior, classroom management, teaching machines – frequent responding, progress in small steps, shaping, and positive reinforcement – e.g. toy laptops for kids)

Problems with the two earlier eras:
1. Over-reliance on external, observable behavior to study internal, implicit mental processes – limiting the possibility of the functioning of mental processes in the absence of behavioral manifestation (“you can imprison my body, but I am free, in my mind!” – can we really study cognition in a confinement? – the experience of Apostle Paul in the prison?)

2. Inadequate account of human thought and memory – studies were done mainly with lower organisms – rats, cats, monkeys, birds, etc.

3. Many cognitive processes like human memory, thinking, problem solving, decision making, creativity, etc. were not understandable and researchable with the use of Associationist and behaviorist approaches/framework (these two were too narrow in their scope to study these complex processes)

4. Inability and inadequacy of these two school of thought in explaining and defending language development – language is not merely learned through imitation, reinforcement, association. These are contributing factors, but not the sole factors! How do we explain the qualitative difference in child and adult speech? Language development at different life stages are drastic and amazing – thus, behavioral principles alone are not sufficient to explain this complex phenomenon of language development

The Cognitive Era

  1. Came as a direct result of limitations in behavioral theories and models
  2. Emergence of computer (metaphorically demonstrates the working of human mind – information processing)
  3. Jerome Bruner, David Ausubel, Jean Piaget, etc.
  4. Emphasizes mental structures and organizational framework – these two are crucial for an understanding of human cognition
  5. Schema (pl. Schemata) = mental framework that helps us organize knowledge, directs perception, and attention, and guides recall
  6. Scripts = schema representations that provide mental frameworks for proceduralized knowledge

Cognitive Themes for Education

  1. Learning is a constructive, not a receptive process – interaction among what learners already know, the information they encounter, and what they do as they learn – construction of meaning by the learner – knowledge is created and re-created – ‘you get out of it only what you put into it’ – full engagement in the process of learning vs. rote memorization (superficial and transitory) – deeper understanding of knowledge
  2. Mental frameworks organize memory and guide thought – schemata are mental frameworks we use to organize knowledge; they direct perception and attention, permit comprehension, and guide thinking – learners instead of learning becomes important subject matter – learners frame of reference, perspectives, experiences, etc. guide learning and creation of new knowledge
  3. Extended practice is needed to develop cognitive skills – to remember/internalize any knowledge/concept, it has to be reinforced 5-7 times (maybe more – individual difference) – practice makes perfect (true for cognition as it is with physical skills) – automated processes allow us to perform complex cognitive tasks smoothly, quickly, and without undue attention to details (saves mental energy) – e.g. speed reading and not losing out on understanding what is being read
  4. Development of self-awareness and self-regulation is critical to cognitive growth – learners are self-directed, strategic, and reflective thinkers! – exerting deliberate effort vs. S-R or letting environment direct my learning? – metacognition = the knowledge learners have about their thinking & their ability to use this awareness to regulate their own cognitive processes – learners use cognitive strategies such as rehearsal, elaboration, etc. to help them remember information – critical thinking – learners not only acquire knowledge but also ‘ways of knowing’ and ‘thinking dispositions’ (thinking styles)
  5. Motivation and beliefs are integral to cognition – other factors like learners’ motivation and belief systems also affect cognitive processes – learners’ goals, beliefs, and strategies for motivating and regulating learning, self-efficacy, outcome expectancy, self-regulated learning – individuals constantly judge their own performances and relate them to desired outcomes – these judgments are integral part of whether activities are attempted, completed, and repeated – these psychological factors determine what students choose to do, how persistent they are and how much success they enjoy
  6. Social interaction is fundamental to cognitive development Social constructivism emphasizes the importance of culture and context in understanding what occurs in society and constructing knowledge based on this understanding – this perspective is closely associated with many contemporary theories, most notably the developmental theories of Vygotsky and Bruner, and Bandura’s social cognitive theory ( – the role of social interaction and discourse in cognitive development – ‘ways of thinking’ and ‘ways of knowing’ need to be nurtured in a supportive social context – social-cognitive activities – observe others, express ideas, get feedback, etc.
  7. knowledge, strategies, and expertise are contextual – history and situation – events are inherently situational, occurring in contexts that include other events and taking some or even much of their meaning from those contexts (interrelatedness/connection among contexts and their meanings) – learning and memory are not, so much a product of machinelike input and output as they are something learners construct in a social context from their prior knowledge and intentions, and the strategies they use (difference between computer information processing vs. human mind’s information processing?)

Learners are viewed as:

  • whole beings
  • active not passive
  • unique and different from one another

Copyright August 2006 by Dr. Edward Roy Krishnan,

Taking Time for Yourself

“Where are we?”

We need to?”

“When should we?”

“What should we say?”

We, we we. Being married certainly is a “we” proposition. And when kids enter the picture, whatever sense of privacy or self you enjoyed goes down the drain faster than ever. But remaining happily married requires an “I” focus, too.

Is taking time for yourself a selfish preoccupation? It can be if you routinely neglect the needs of others. But one of the more selfish things you can do is to neglect yourself. Why? Because when you neglect yourself you become needy. You then require more help from others and resent it when help isn’t forthcoming. Selfishness can unravel a relationship. But so can an absence of selfishness.

Who were you before you became a “we”? Does any part of that person still exist? When you’re alone (do you have quiet time to be alone?) who is the “me” inside of you?

“My teenager was talking about his future dreams,” a middle-aged man told me one day. “He wants to become an actor. An actor, can you believe it? He explained to me-before I could warn him myself – that 95 percent of all actors are unemployed and he doesn’t care. He simply wants to act. You know what? I envy him. Not for his wish to be an actor. I envy him because he has a dream.”

People stop dreaming when they think it’s time to wake up. Home loan repayments, taxes, children, aches and pains, hair loss, a fondness for quieter music – are all reminders that you’re older now and that the real world must be faced, not an imaginary one. But if facing the real world means abandoning personal dreams or losing your sense of individuality, you may feel imprisoned by your commitments and smothered by your intimate relationships.

Happy couples not only balance time together with time apart, they use their individual time to replenish themselves.

Broadly there are two kinds of self-renewal. Taking time to do more of those things you really enjoy is one type. Vacations sometimes serve that purpose, though most people could use more than the allotted two weeks every summer. Learning to relax, to enjoy solitude, to gaze at a night sky and feel a stirring of wonder and peace – all help you to re-orient yourself to your neglected inner world.

A second level of self-renewal is more profound and longer lasting. It involves having a vision for your life, a mission or purpose. Too many people with worthwhile dreams talk themselves out of them. They convince themselves that they already have too many responsibilities. Besides, dreams are risky. But meaningful dreams, according to Frederic Hudson, are not items on a wish list but “a visceral yearning…a picture of what you most deeply want your life to count for…a haunting refrain…” Will your dream still be important a year, or five years, from now? When your life is nearing its end, will you regret your decision to forsake that dream? If you answered “Yes,” you have a dream worth pursuing.

Maybe. Maybe not. If your dream makes you apprehensive, join the club. Dreams challenge us to stretch our capacities, which increases the risk of failure or setbacks. If you abandon your dream, will you resent your spouse for “holding me back”? If so, you are not accepting full responsibility for your decision. Instead, you are holding your partner responsible.

Sometimes a person lets go of a dream in order to commit more strongly to the marriage dream (for example, by turning down a promotion that would have required spending too much time away from home). A sacrifice, to be sure, but done for a worthwhile reason – to allow the marriage to flourish. It’s not always easy to know which dream should be followed and which should fade. But happy couples keep dreams alive.

Have you given up a bit of yourself over the years? Do you often think in terms of “we” or “us” and rarely “I”? If so, you’re preventing your spouse from enjoying a major source of marital pleasure: a partner who likes himself, enjoys himself, and who has personal goals and ambitions.

Respond to this statement: If I had complete freedom (more opportunity, more money, support from my spouse, etc.) I’d probably devote more time to …. If you come up with an answer that you can’t shake off, you owe it to yourself to take the idea seriously.

Two years ago, my wife bought a ticket for me to go deep-sea fishing. It was on our wedding anniversary. That morning when I woke up, I had envisioned spending the day together with her … but she had other plans.

I couldn’t believe it! Why would carol want me to be away from her? BUT she simply kissed me, and said, this is your anniversary gift! She gave me the ticket to go on a boat for the entire day, fishing. I enjoyed the kiss but couldn’t understand the message behind the gift.

I love fishing although I have moved away from the sea. I can still hear the ocean calling me. And now and again, I just play with my fishing gear in my garage.

I caught some very good fish that day and I will never forget Caroline’s gift to me. Her gift was not a ticket to go fishing but in essence, it was a gift of time alone with myself. Wow! My wife really knows how to choose well, look at who she married! Ahahhaha!

I will never forget that gift. She understood that sometimes we need to spend time alone, apart from each other. The importance and need to spend time apart was highlighted by choosing to give me that TIME on a very special day when it was expected that we should spend time together.

Today, as I write this article, it has been 7 days since our twelfth anniversary, I am in the Johannesburg International airport, waiting for my flight to take me to the arms of the only woman of my dreams. I wasn’t at home for my anniversary because I had to be in Zimbabwe for a speaking engagement. So it is time to celebrate 12 years of happiness with my high-school sweetheart.

I have loved Carol every minute we were together, but today, I love her even more as I realize that in marrying her, she did not bury “me.”

Copyright by Paul Charles, Ph.D, August 2006,

The Chain Reaction

Traditional Assertion about Student’s Academic Achievement:


“If a student does not do well in exams (obtains low scores), he/she is most probably suffering from an inferior intelligence, and/or comes from low socio-economic background, and/or is most probably experiencing some sort of medical/psychological/behavioral (ADHD) problems, and/or is obviously having a learning disability.”’s Assertion about Student’s Academic Achievement:

“A student who is not ENGAGED in the process of learning becomes disinterested. This lack of interest prevents him/her from paying attention to the lessons taught by a teacher. The student finds it difficult to assimilate any type of knowledge if he/she doesn’t pay attention to the lessons in the first place. When there is a deficiency in the existing pool of knowledge (in the form of schemata), thinking is hampered. Academic performance deteriorates as a result of the above mentioned instructional defects!”

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As a teacher, I have learned to stop looking for causes of academic problems outside of myself…simply because I can’t control anything external to me. No amount of lecture on discipline, time-management, and the value of education would change a student’s attitude toward learning if teachers don’t fall in-line with principles of ‘affective’ and ‘effective’ teaching. Instead, I look for ways to improve teaching and make the learning process as engaging and stimulating as possible. I have full control over this and everytime I focus on making learning a meaningful experience, students automatically fall in-line to become ‘affective’ and ‘effective’ scholars.

Copyright August 2006 by Dr. Edward Roy Krishnan,