Improved student engagement follows topics of high personal relevance
By the twentieth century, all major industrialized countries offered formal schooling to all of their children. When these schools took shape in the ninetieth and twentieth centuries, scientist didn't know very much about how people learn. Even by the 1920s, when schools began to become the large bureaucratic institutions that we know today, there still was not sustained study of how people learn. As a result, the schools we have today were designed around commonsense assumptions that had never been tested scientifically.
Sawyer goes on to outline these problematic "commonsense assumptions" as follows:
- Knowledge is a collection of facts about the world and procedures for how to solve problems. Facts are statements like "The earth is titled on its axis by 23.45 degrees" and procedures are step-by-step instructions like how to do multidigit addition by carrying to the next column.
- The goal of schooling is to get these facts and procedures into the student's head. People are considered to be educated when they possess a large collection of these facts and procedures.
- Teachers know these facts and procedures, and their job is to transmit them to students.
- Simpler facts and procedures should be learned first, followed by progressively more complex facts and procedures. The definitions of "simplicity" and "complexity" and the proper sequencing of material were determined either by teachers, by textbook authors, or by asking expert adults like mathematicians, scientists, or historians - not by studying how children actually learn.
- The way to determine the success of schooling is to test students to see how many of these facts and procedures they have acquired.
This traditional vision of schooling is known as instructionism (Papert, 1993). Instructionism prepared students for the industrialized economy of the early twentieth century. But the world today is much more technologically complex and economically competitive, and instructionism is increasingly failing to educate our students to participate in this new kind of society. Economists and organizational theorists have reached a consensus that today we are living in a knowledge economy, an economy that is built on knowledge work (Bereiter, 2002; Drucker, 1993). In the knowledge economy, memorization of facts and procedures is not enough for success. Educated graduates need a deep conceptual understanding of complex concepts, and the ability to work with them creatively to generate new ideas, new theories, new products, and new knowledge. They need to be able to critically evaluate what they read, to be able to express themselves clearly both verbally and in writing, and to be able to understand scientific and mathematical thinking. They need to learn integrated and usable knowledge, rather than the sets of compartmentalized and de-contextualized facts emphasized by instructionism. They need to be able to take responsibility for their own continuing, lifelong learning. These abilities are important to the economy, to the continued success of participatory democracy, and to living a fulfilling, meaningful life. Instructionism is particularly ill-suited to the education of creative professionals who can develop new knowledge and continually further their own understanding; instructionism is an anachronism in the modern innovation economy. (R.K. Sawyer, The Cambridge Handbook of the Learning Sciences, Cambridge University Press, 2006.)
Do any of these ideas resonate with you too?
I am thinking that I ought to begin sharing ideas that parents can use, that make instruction and learning at home more interesting. Practical, simple ideas that have been tested scientifically. Ideas, that show that teaching, while partly an art form, is not ALL an art form. Good teaching need not be limited to the degree baring college trained among us. Teaching anything, at home, work, church or the community can be engaging, interesting, effective and memorable. In fact, maybe in some ways, more so than what the professionals offer. And why shouldn't our children we teach at home have the benefit of interesting teaching too?
Maybe it's time to put the overwhelming and scary part of "teaching" anything, in its place and begin focusing on the simple things that can make learning fun and enjoyable for our precious students.
I'll have to think about this some more.
Labels: Better Instruction At Home