Archive for January, 2014

January 26, 2014

In Search of Good Research (2)

“There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.” (Benjamin Disraeli or not, sic!)

       In his introduction to Reading Educational Research – How to Avoid Getting Statistically Snookered, Gerald W. Bracey states, “Misleading statistics abound. “ His entire book is an illustration of this claim, starting from the very chapter (Data, Their Uses and Their Abuses) to the final part (Testing: A Major Source of Data – and Maybe Child Abuse).

*As a side note, I loved reading in the Foreword about his struggle to expose statistics abuse for years as he demystified the politics behind many U.S. educational programs, institutions and policies (No Child Left Behind, NAEP – National Assessment for Educational Progress and more).  At the time of writing this book he was losing a part-time job at George Mason University because, as Jay Mathew remarked, “The school couldn’t take the heat that often follows Bracey in his scholarly travels.” – in other words, he was too direct in his approach to truth.

The book is full of examples that support the 32 Principles of Data Interpretation and guides the reader to a deeper understanding of how data is collected, presented and used. I will only selectively refer to some of them as I cannot obviously make a summary in a single blog post.

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Principle 1: Do the arithmetic

Failure in doing the math occurs mostly in examples that track changes in data over time.

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January 24, 2014

In Search of Good Research (part 1)

WARNING: I am a fan of slow reading so if you are looking for a brief inspiring blog post this is not it.

Research and rule.

Paraphrasing Caesar’s Divide et impera,  I would say that research has been perhaps one of the most powerful tools in shaping education systems and policies. As such, we owe it to ourselves to understand the research process better so as to go beyond the biased views we all hold and to question at all times everything we read under the category of “research” and/or “study”.

I happen to have finished three books on research (Research Methods in Education, Louis Cohen et al; Reading Educational Research, Gerald W. Bracey; An Introduction to the Philosophy of Methodology, Kerry E. Howell) and, more than 1,000 pages later, I am still left with one question. You will see it at the end of this post.

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January 20, 2014

Writing and Cognition

We no longer write by hand. Technology replaced this intimate ritual of literally putting our thoughts to paper with a completely different mechanism. Why should we bother teaching children to write by hand when we have digital tools that can make writing such an easy, flowing process?

Well, we still should. And I am not saying that because I am a “traditional” teacher or a Luddite living in the 21st century with inescapable nostalgic flashbacks going through her mind. We should because it matters to learning. And cognitive science and neurophysiology have proved the importance of handwriting in cognition during childhood.

The neurophysiology of writing

Writing has been described mostly as a mental process and little attention has been paid to the physicality of writing and its impact on memory, attention and learning.  Anne Mangen, associate professor at the University of Stavanger,  and neurophysiologist Jean-Luc Velay (University of Marseille) have shed light into this aspect of writing in their study (Digitzing Literacy –  reflections on the haptics of writing, 2010).

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January 5, 2014

Critical Thinking or Opening Pandora’s Box

Critical thinker. Alongside “creative”, it seems to be the ultimate compliment one can receive nowadays with so many other buzzwords invading social media (“leadership, “innovative”, “disrupting” and the sorts).

Let us then dig deeper into this concept to clarify what it means and how it can be applied in the field of education.

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        First, we are not *that*revolutionary in promoting the concept. Actually, we owe much to a quite charismatic and brave Athenian who lived about 2,500 years ago.  Socrates, considered the father of the Western thought and philosophy, taught us what it means to question the world, the words and the relationship between them (see Socratic Questioning techniques). Each century on had its critical thinkers whose work contributed to our understanding of the importance of thinking critically – from Erasmus, Moore, Francis Bacon (The Advancement of Learning), Descartes (Rules for the Direction of the Mind) to Hobbes, Voltaire, Diderot, Kant (Critique of Pure Reason), Comte, Spencer, Graham Sumner and Ludwig Wittgenstein, we learned that critical thought “is our only guarantee against delusion, deception, superstition, and misapprehension of ourselves and our earthly circumstances” and that “education in the critical faculty is the only education which it can be truly said that it makes good citizens.” (W. G. Sumner, Folkways, p.633).

Conclusion: When we claim to be the first promoters of “critical thinking” (for 21st century, rolling eyes now) we are wrong, ignorant or arrogant. Take your pick. 

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