Teaching & Learning: Entry Points to Learning

One way to start thinking about a learning item is to consider various entry points to learning: narrative, foundational, experiential, aesthetic and logical. In this video Marian McCarthy (UCC) gives an overview of the various entry points whereas in this video Marian and her colleagues focus solely on the narrational entry point.

For this discussion I was asked to discuss three of the five entry points in relation to the following picture Room in New York by Edward Hopper. I chose: aesthetic, narrative and logical.


Edward Hopper. Room in New York. Held in Sheldon Museum of Art. http://www.sheldonartgallery.org/hopper-room

1. Aesthetic
Look at the colours in this work of art, which one did you see first? Was colour the first thing that you noticed? What else caught your eye?
The white of the guy’s shirt caught my eye first. It’s so bright and balanced by the solid black of his waistcoat and the smudgy black & white of the newspaper he holds. The next thing I saw were the block shapes of the door & table. They’re nearly the same colour but because the table is closer to me it felt like the colour and the shape was 3D and jumping out of the painting. I didn’t see the orange/red of the woman’s dress til much later.

Does this work of art express and idea or an emotion? Do the colours, lines, shapes and movement help make that happen? How?
The way the people are sitting with the table and door between them makes me think there’s a separation. The man’s newspaper blocks him from the woman and she’s turned away from him anyway pretending to play the piano.

Do you see movement in this work of art or does it seem still? Do the colours, lines, and shapes make it seem that way? How?
It seems still. They’re not caught mid-action like a skating or dancing scene but it’s not a restful scene as if both were putting their feet up and doing a favoured activity: reading or playing the piano. The blocks of colour are very definite and imposing.

2. Narrative
What is the story that you see in this work of art? How do the colours help to tell the story?
An argument of some sort has happened and neither are in a forgiving mood yet. He’s staring at his newspaper and it partly shields him from her. She’s turned away playing somewhat half-heartedly, one finger only, and half-turned with her body away from him but wholly turned with her head. She has a rich bright colour in her dress but this colour is matched in the lightshade and the colour of the armchair.

Is he sitting in her chair? Does he normally play the piano (black & white)? In the story that you see, who or what do you think is the most important figure, shape, or object? What makes you think so?
I think the continued block shape of the table & door is the most important. It currently acts a divider between the two but is also a source of possibility. Two people can sit around a table and look at each other. Two people can go through the door to somewhere else. In
terms of colour both table and door are a half-way colour between the dark black of the man and the bright orange/red of the woman. While the door and table currently divide the pair they can unite them as well.

What do you think will happen next in this work of art?
How long can one person read a newspaper even if they’ve read it already? Can she continue to play with one finger? Will that eventually annoy him? Will his continued reading eventually annoy her more? Is there another room that one of them can go into? Why hasn’t one left already?

3. Logical
Look at what is happening in this work of art. Are things moving quickly or slowly? How can you tell?
Things seem to be moving slowly now but they may have moved faster before the work was painted. Both figures are looking downward and not maintaining eye contact with each other; nor are they looking in the same direction even if they’re not looking at each other.

Which object or shape did you see first in this work of art? Why do you think this is the first thing that you noticed?
The rectangle of the door was the first shape that I noticed followed quickly by the round oval of the table. They’re both the same colour and both act as dividers between the two people.

Take a look at the title of this work of art. Does knowing the title change the understanding or appreciation of this work of art? How?
It says it’s “New York” but it could be a room anywhere. I’ve seen other Edward Hopper paintings and they’re great everyman or everywoman works. There’s nothing wholly New Yorky about this paining – no Empire State building, no Chrysler building.

What do the perspective emerging from the various entry points tell you about your own learning? What might be the implication for your students’ learning?
I need to think about things more fully and more actively. It takes a long time to write out all that I’ve perceived. Whereas some of it I’d have realised straight away it’s only through writing about it that some of the other responses came to the fore. If we take some time to observe before we speak or take some time to observe before we expect others to speak we may get more rich, more full and more nuanced reactions, contemplations and answers.

What are the implications for planning your teaching?
If I ask questions, then I should give a longer lead-in time? Processing a situation can take a while. Giving cold questions may not be the way either. I could present guiding questions to allow students to fully respond which in combination with a longer time for responses could give a better learning environment.

One person in my group that it fascinating that I thought the couple had had an argument. The other person thought it looked like they were waiting to go on a night out, she looked bored and was strumming on the piano while her partner read the newspaper to pass the time. We both thought this painting was a good way to remind us that everyone: interprets differently, not just paintings which turn out to be like Rorschach tests; has varying thoughts and opinions and this makes life and learning more interesting. We should observe all so that we can learn to discount what is irrelevant but learn to have the wisdom on what is meaningful. I’m sure there’s a Sherlock quote for that but I can’t think of it! For now I’ll consider how Sherlock analysed a fictitous Vermeer and how real scientists used a similar methodology to analyse this painting.


Teaching & Learning: Know Yours & Others’ Strengths

Over the course of both modules the two main take-aways I had were:

  • Teaching for Understanding
  • Using Multiple Intelligences (See Howard Gardner)

This post focuses on how I as a learner and teacher unpacked multiple intelligences. Watch this video, answer some questions about your reactions which may provide you with some insight into your preferred intelligences.

Question #1: Give an example of one of your intelligence strengths.
I didn’t have to look at the table in the handbook or to do the Cats test to know that my core strength was linguistic – I like languages and pick them up relatively easy. I did English and French in university and subsequently returned and did Irish. If given a choice now I’d go learn a different language. I’m one of those oddballs who likes grammar and I like wordy activities be it reading, writing Scrabble or the Countdown word rearrange! I’ve even been known to tweet about Scrabble – yet another linguistic tool!

Question #2: How does this strength influence your teaching?
When it comes to presenting information I’m quite happy to talk and to have words on a page or words on a screen. For students who come to Special Collections I use a printed guide as a safety net, for me and for them. There can be a lot of information and areas to pick up in a 1 hour visit and I feel that at least if something is missed in that one class (either by me forgetting to say it or if they’re tired and don’t pick it up) that at least the student has something to refer to.

However I was moderately surprised then when I did Walter McKenzie’s MI Inventory (knowing that it wasn’t wholly reliable) that on relatively equal footing were: naturalist, logical, musical, visual and intrapersonal. I definitely use the visual when presenting as I feel a picture tells the story of a 1000 words. For example when presenting on Boolean logic AND NOT OR used in searching databases it can be handy to relate it back to venn
diagrams which most students would have done at school. The visual representation of each then makes it I hope easier to understand what each (AND NOT OR) mean.


The classes I have tend to be one-offs and I rarely see a class group more than twice. When I produce how-to guides I try to include pictures with text because I find the how-to
guides that only include pictures decidedly unhelpful. I hope by including both that I’m reaching more people than if I only went with one.

Question #3: How can you go beyond your own comfort zone and recognise students’ strengths?
When asking students to work with databases I always ask them to fill in the various search boxes online rather than asking them to create a venn diagram which is a representation of their search. I know from a recent class that I gave examples solely from the Arts & Humanities as that was what I expected the makeup of the class to be. As it turned out there was someone doing a Food Science PhD and someone else doing a PhD in Law and while they appreciated the class they felt it would have made more sense to them if their disciplines, even on a broad scale, had been included. Now that I know from the table in the handbook that people may be drawn to one discipline if their core intelligence lies in that area it forces me to think of ways to be more inclusive for the various discipline.

Interpersonal is the skill where I’m genuinely woeful which seems to be at odds with the profession that I’m in. The only saving grace I hope is that because I know I’m not good at it I’m constantly working at it trying to improve.

I remember one of the others in my group appreciated that real world activities inform better than a textbook and they tried to recreate this with various learning activities.

Another thing that cropped up in the group discussion was student participation in discussion.  It’s a tricky balance getting quiet students to voice an opinion because I can be really grateful that someone speaks up sometimes. Do students participate because they want to, because the lecturer stares them down, because there’s marks for participation? Can we give each student two flags where one flag means you can say something for three minutes max. When you talk you use a flag. When you’ve no flags left you can’t talk, even if you really want to. The flag method was used in a staff meeting I was in a couple of years ago. It did mean that everybody participated but it was slightly forced. We never used it again but maybe if we had used it more on a regular basis we’d all be better at being forthcoming. On a personal note I can recommend Susan Cain’s Quiet. I don’t remember it giving ways to draw quieter students out but it could well do. I know I read it from the perspective of someone trying to deal with an extrovert-oriented world.

Teaching & Learning: Teaching for Understanding

This is the second post in a series of six for TL 6003: Theories of Teaching, Learning and Assessment. This post is concerned with how we learn.

Question #1: List some of the ways you came to understand your chosen topic/pastime and discuss the implications of these for your teaching and your students’ learning.
I considered what do I understand really well and thought about work-related
activities but I returned to something everyday: knowing how to drive. I sat as a seemingly passive passenger for 17 years in a car. When I was younger I wouldn’t have understood what the rules of the road were but as I grew older I knew that if the driver wanted to go to the right then the driver had to use the appropriate indicator to show this decision to other drivers. Later I learned the rules of the road and a parent took me out on practice sessions. At a certain level of competence I did driving lessons, I practiced some more, I had more driving lessons, I practiced some more and then I did my driving test.

Depending on the area for learning students may have:

  • Done some observation first and picked up information without realising it
  • Experiential learning – but they may not realise that they have it
  • Theory / background reading / preliminary knowledge
  • Demonstrations / learning by doing
  • Practice what was shown
  • More demonstrations / learning by doing on advanced areas. Hill starts were not going to be shown to me if I didn’t know how to work the gear stick and handbrake while looking at the road and using my mirrors.
  • Doing an exam or a way to show that you’ve understood

Indeed it was my phrasing “Done some observation first and picked up information without realising it” that one of the others in the group picked up on and talked about how everyone brings prior learning on an area to an area. This can include trusting themselves, having confidence in your own knowledge and yet being ok to unlearn certain stereotypes. This is an area I’ll return to as this week I learned something completely new.


Picking apart how you learn!

Question #2: What kinds of evidence do you have for saying you understand your chosen topic/pastime/ etc ? What does this tell you about assessing student learning?
The driving test is a combination of theory and practice. I passed my driving test on the first go. I made a mistake during the test but I stayed calm and corrected it. The mistake: I forgot to put the car into reverse and the car went downhill. The driving examiner put the mistake down to nerves and the fact that I dealt with it calmly and the next time I corrected it. I had to drive around a corner in reverse and uphill. In the 15 years since I passed my test I’ve never been in an accident and I’ve never damaged my car that much! The odd tip at the pillar trying to turn into the driveway shouldn’t count! I’ve taken what I learned about the causes of the accidents and incorporated that knowledge into my driving to minimise the potential for future accidents.

In relation to assessing student learning I can’t expect learners to get it straight away. For me learning to drive was a stop-start process with gaps of a year between some parts of the process and ultimately took about four years to do. The assessments should check small parts before the whole is assessed and assessments should take different forms to
account for all the parts of the process.


Learning for the ‘Real World’
This was a response to another’s post but it’s something that I’ve found is really coming in to modules over the last couple of years. I think it’s interesting that no matter what or how’re you’re taught in college the ‘real world’ presents a different experience. Sometimes the situations we’re in are too abstract or remote from how things are dealt with outside of academia. When we’re teaching are we teaching a concept or teaching how to use a concept outside of the classroom? I don’t know if all the students I deal with make the link between knowing how to search for information on XYZ and knowing that it’s the same technique as knowing how to search for cheap flights to New Zealand.

Teaching & Learning: The Spaces We Use

I did the course as one of a group of five. I came a week late to the group so before I described the space I used I needed to introduce myself. I remember that some of the others in the group found my post describing the space I used fascinating and thought it must feel like such a privilege at times to be the custodian of the rare books but also pieces of history. Sometimes I think it might be easy to get blase about where I am and what I do but it’s when I start describing it to other people that the blase quality, if it’s ever there, disappears and the enthusiasm and passion shines through. For example of this listen to a radio segment I did recently with Martin O’Connor & Ronan Madden for Shush! Sounds from UCC Library.

The next series of blog posts will be for TL 6003: Theories of Teaching, Learning and Assessment.

Question #1: “Describe in detail a classroom setting in which you teach and discuss one challenge you have with this space.”

One of the spaces I teach in is within UCC Library’s Special Collections and it’s set up specifically for manuscript material, material that’s fragile or material that is printed pre-1850. This room, called the Rare Books Reading Room, doesn’t have computers but instead has long desks that seat two people on each side. The desks have overhead study lights (similar to the desks on the upper floors of the Library). The room is kept at c.16C and c.50% relative humidity and this is to ensure that the material used in the room is kept in the best condition possible. The students who use this room are shown either by me or in conjunction with a lecturer a particular book and they then examine the book for an exercise.

As with all spaces there are a few challenges! Anyone working in the room for an extended period of time may get cold but because of the nature of the material in Special Collections the temperature can’t be increased. Personally I know that when I’m cold, what I learn is reduced because I’m too focused on staying warm.

The primary focus of this space was conceived as a space to use material for research purposes and not as a teaching space. Indeed I frequently share the space with students, staff and researchers examining their respective manuscripts and early printed items for assignments or research, and the lecturer and/or me at the other end giving a class. As the opening hours of this particular room are limited, in order to give the best care and security to the aformentioned items, in general the students, staff and researchers are happy that the hours haven’t decreased.

I think it’s because the space wasn’t envisioned as a teaching space that the room is without a dedicated computer, projector and screen. Sometimes someone asks a
question where the explanation would be made a lot simpler by showing or would be enhanced by using a computer. One of the suggestions to me by the others in the group was to see if a computer could be acquired and I’ve used one of the Library’s iPads on a stand when giving classes in this room. It’s more portable than a computer and as it’s on a stand it doesn’t take up valuable desk space.

Question #2: How can you make the most of this learning space from your students’ perspective?
Not all of the spaces in the Rare Books Reading Room are used so one of these could be set up with a computer. If someone asks a question where a computer aided response is required then the means is there to show the means to find the answer. Additionally if anyone wanted to quickly check something then the means is there. Currently students and lecturer have to go into the room on the other side of Special Collections. When this happens there’s a break in the flow of discussion. Having a computer in this room would ensure the discussion continues to flow. Note: Since I posted this in early October 2015 I’ve semi-solved the problem by using an iPad.

What struck me as I was considering the classroom spaces I teach in was that my thoughts were automatically drawn to a space that has computers in it which we in the Library use for catalogue, database and bibliometrics teaching. While I spend some time in this room I definitely spend more time in the Rare Books Reading Room. It was then really interesting to read posts from the others in the group as they too had spaces which weren’t the usual classroom lecture/computer space but one set up for a specific purpose in mind. I think that when such spaces are set up then it may be done so with a small number of students in mind and perhaps the space is more feasible then for that particular number. Or when spaces are set up it’s with a particular teaching agenda in mind and if requirements are different to that particular agenda then it can be difficult for all parties to consider different requirements.


Last year I wrote about how I was starting a new course in Teaching & Learning in Higher Education and how I was going to blog my way through the course. Em, well that didn’t go to plan but I did save my responses to the course blogging assignments that we had. Today I received word that the Parchment Presentation Ceremony (I could be in Harry Potter!) was going to be in 10 days time. Unfortunately I’d be away for it happened but it reminded me that I should post my responses. So in a series of posts I’ll belatedly blog what the modules were like:

  • TL6003 Theories of Teaching, Learning and Assessment (15 credits) – Semester 1
  • TL6004 Practice Approaches to Teaching, Learning and Assessment (15 credits) – Semester 2

Teaching & Learning in Special Collections

Special Collections is not about just history or just literature or just geography or just languages. It’s not just about set periods of time: Early modern or medieval or last week. It’s about all times and all disciplines. Granted our resources for nuclear physics are small but the possibility that it could be there is present. Given that my purview is quite broad to say the least I can’t be an expert in any one subject. What I can do is offer a way to navigate the sources, collections and services. It is not the only way and I welcome those who work with particular areas showing me different ways. That’s why I’ve started a course Teaching and Learning for Higher Education.’

Over the last few years from September on I have different groups coming into Special Collections to be shown any number of things ranging from:

  • how to use Irish bibliographies and catalogues (catalogues that are oh so different to library catalogues)
  • how to use microform
  • how to arrange an older printed book on foam so as to give it the best possible support
  • how to use a directory for newspapers to source information on a newspaper
  • how to use short stories as both primary and secondary sources
  • what could be the various uses for dictionaries

My world of teaching & learning is hands-on. It is impossible to show what Special Collections is without showing how examples work and time permitting to have students work examples for themselves. Equally my world of teaching & learning is both teaching and learning. For each class I work with I learn something new. I’m looking forward to continuing this learning journey.