Trust The Children

Friday, September 17, 2010

Why is Instruction Ineffective?


"Often students need to learn facts or even skills, for the purpose of finishing a set of home work problems or in order to pass a test. [Most often] there is nothing about their new knowledge that helps them achieve a goal that is both relevant and meaningful to them." Roger Shank

In some ways, this is another way of describing the ADD or ADHD child. It is true, that brain scans show a difference between an ADD and non-ADD child. But so often, the kids are just bored. They need to move. They are hunting for answers to "Why am I doing this at all?"

Much instruction does not answer the question, "Therefore, what?"

I have pictures of scales on my wall. Elements that oppose one another sometimes.

Learn "that" vs Learn "how to".
Know "that" vs " Know "why".
Content coverage vs. Critical/engaged thinking
Transmissive education vs Interactive education
Mastery of content vs Mastery of the process of learning.
Content vs skills

Kids feel instruction has impact when it contains "meaningful imagery, surprise, amazement, and when it contains practice that makes them better at something." (Michael Allen) As a grandparent with grandkids living with me for a few weeks, nothing brings a smile to me and my grandchildren more, than when they come running up to me and say, "Grandpa, Grandpa look what I can do!" (Merrill) The total opposite of a bored, unengaged learner. They love learning when they can do stuff better. More how to instead of about. (Google David Merrill- First Principles of Instruction. It's really not that hard to read.)

So what makes instruction ineffective? Here are a few ideas... add your own.
Why is instruction ineffective?

1. It does not lead to results or actual transfer from the learning environment to the real world.

2. It doesn't lead to the personal life success of the students, but makes the teacher's ego feel good... "I really taught them alright!"

3. It lacks contextual structure. The right approach for the right intent of the class. (Michael Allen) they hear all about biology and not why it makes a hill of beans in their lives, except the state requirements are achieved. Liberal Arts education should be about going broad to FIND something. And when you find it. Stop and take it deep. Go deep and learn to love it. But no, the bell rings and we need to suppress any enthusiasm we might have for the topic and move on.

4. The relationship between the student and the teacher isn't a reciprocal one. Most often the teacher sees the student as empty and it's her job to fill them up. Teachers ask questions of students. Yet, if students were asking questions of teachers, they would be mastering the very art that leads to reflection, inspiration and innovation... question asking. Without reciprocity in the classroom, the experience is largely one way, and discovery is discouraged. Result? Bored kids. Its so much about convincing instead of communicating.

Good teaching is hard, and most teachers just don't have time for it. A few days ago, a colleague dropped by and I showed him a new instructional model meant to enhance the chance that a student would actually take something out of the classroom and use it. He became very excited and then his face turned down to a frown as he said, "This would take a long time to prepare."

Yep, it does. So what's the option? Go back to talking down to students where learning doesn't happen? Unfortunately, that is usually the case. Not meaning to give someone a guilt trip. Teaching can be a wonderful adventure, until it isn't any more.

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