Archive for ‘critical thinking’

February 22, 2016

Myths in Education, or How Bad Teaching Is Encouraged

“Opinions don’t affect facts.

But facts should affect opinions, and do, if you are rational.” (Ricky Gervais)

I thought I would not have to blog about these fads again but it seems they have the strange ability to be reborn every single year and surface in professional development courses as well as in tweets, blog posts, and conversations within the education community. The reasons are different, ranging from ignorance to vested interests, but the effect is the same: poorer teaching. And no, you are not a bad teacher because you used them but you are a less effective one. We need to learn to dissociate our practice (which can have flaws) from our beliefs formed in the background of consistent bad professional development provided by schools.

Let’s see these monsters in their entire splendor:

  1. The Cone of Learning / The Learning Pyramid
  2. Learning Styles
  3. Right-Left Brain
  4. Brain Gym
  5. Brain-Based Learning
  6. Multiple Intelligences

The Learning Pyramid – a complete bogus

Where does it originate? Edgar Dale’s Cone of Experience (1946) was an exclusively theoretical model for audio-visual media, it did NOT include any percentages, and Dale himself insisted that the classifications should NOT be regarded as “any sort of hierarchy or rank order”.

Where did the percentages come from? Don’t laugh. They were first published by an employee of Mobil Oil Company in 1967, writing in the magazine Film and Audio-Visual Communications. This employee, D.G. Threichler, provided NO evidence for the figures but the education community accepted the percentages nonetheless.

PicMonkey Collage

References:

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June 14, 2014

How to Argue With a Traditionalist – 10 Commandments

*Take this piece exactly for what it is – and smile.

 

  1. Before you even attempt to engage in dialogue, anticipate the first “solid evidence-based” argument: Project Follow Through. (Sure, you will wonder why there was a conspiracy theory in place for so many years and traditionalists wouldn’t apply its methodology.)
  2. When that (predictably) comes, make sure you do not ask a traditionalist why they don’t use Engelmann’s Direct Instruction if it was so effective – they will fail to give you an answer. (Wait. It was a packaged program, with scripted lessons, where everything was determined – from tasks and timing *from 3 to 12 minutes for each task!*, to teacher talk  and student “signals”.)
  3.  While you are still wondering, brace yourself for the next leap: knowledge. Of course, as a progressive that you are, you endorse ignorance and promote student inequality. (You know, that is why you became a teacher in the first place.) 
  4. Don’t give up – they now revert to cognitive psychology! You feel relieved – there might be a common ground. No, wait: they keep mentioning Cognitive Load Theory ad nauseam. (Of course, the theory has both conceptual and methodological flaws but, hey, whatever the means to achieve the ends.)
  5. Somewhat amused, somewhat confused about their tactics, you smile – they bring up Hattie! The meta-analysis means you can actually discuss the effect-size of direct instruction (0.59) vs., say, classroom discussion (0.82). Bad luck. They cherry pick from his work again. (At this point, you are less and less surprised. It looks like a denial of critical thinking they praise so much.)
  6. Less enthusiastic about the possibility of a real dialogue (one in which people actually share to understand not persuade) you bring other research. Tsk, tsk – it is not conclusive (despite being a 500-page research book). (But of course. A two-decade meta-analysis shows that inquiry can have a great effect- size , ranging from an average of 0.65 to a high 0.80 -see page 317, and it was successful – it so NOT traditional.)
  7. You raise your eyebrow. Hm. Evidence is not enough. Odd. You thought they would *rely* on evidence at all times. Let’s move on. Maybe educational psychology would help bridge this discussion? No, too “fuzzy” for a traditionalist. (In time, though, you see blog posts on “grit” or “motivation”, for instance, that was earlier dismissed as irrelevant, as engagement was. Begin to smile – this *is* amusing.)
  8. If you try to bring other arguments be prepared to be dismissed – everything that falls outside direct instruction, obedience, and teacher talk is rendered as ruining children’s education. (Large smile. Huxley was one of your favorites. You feel it is time to remind them that “Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored”. Successful schools that do not use the three genius ideas above exist.)
  9. If they use sarcasm to cover for their lack of perspective and critical thinking, make note of that. Wait. 1,2,3. “Tone does not matter.” (Except when it does and they feel victimized. Implicit insults are poured about blog posts of progressives without actually commenting on them – too much of an effort to make your argument clear.)
  10. How could I forget??? Kirschner, Sweller and Clark!*The* piece that is the backbone of a traditionalist?  The one that, you, too, had tweeted and referenced (because you think research should be disseminated so that people are informed)? KSC might undermine any attempt to try out anything but direct instruction…except it doesn’t. Keep calm…and smile. (The paper has been criticized on several points. Sure, a pure traditionalist will argue even against the arguments of other researchers. A pure traditionalist has the research expertise and the wisdom, unlike those who actually…work in the research field.  Amen.)

 

April 13, 2014

Education between Wars and Understanding (1)

“Those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” (G. B. Shaw)

 

It is perhaps our greatest strength and our deepest vulnerability to believe in something. Education makes no exception when it comes to beliefs and values that underpin every single act of our teaching. Those who think that they possess a strong independent mind, unaltered by bias, fall prey to overt or hidden ideologies, even as they claim their neutrality by invoking research. In doing so, they forget that “research and politics are inextricably bound together.” (Cohen et al, Research Methods in Education).

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March 2, 2014

Hattie, Strawman Fallacy and Gurus in Education

“He was impregnably armored by his good intentions and his ignorance.” (Graham Greene)

Nothing is more annoying, and in certain cases more dangerous, than a pseudo-intellectual. You know, one that skims a brief article here, reads a little bit there, and then makes a “compelling” case against something. Worse is, however, when his or her blog post gets re-tweeted over and over again so that it becomes a mantra in education.

To me, this ultimately boils down to ethics. I understand your desire to change the status quo or to advance a certain view (value, belief, theory, or whatever you have in mind), and for sure this revolutionary intent and constant war against the current state of things is part of what we call “passion”. What I do not understand is the misuse of information in order to promote this change.

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This week I came across this blog post (Three Shockers from the Guardian) in which its author criticizes three articles – one related to collaborative learning, the second to problem-solving, and last to Hirsch’s developing of the Core Knowledge Program.  What I find most ironic is that the blogger is definitely *not* aware (dare I say not well-read?) about each of the points he attacks. He uses random quotes from Hattie’s work Visible Learning and cherry picks from the effect-size list only what would serve his intention. Moreover, he shows lack of reading of Hirsch’s work and brings a straw-man argument to engage in the debate. I would like to analyze his post as I find that more and more educators slowly fall back into accepting gurus in education they most relate to and discard little by little the qualities that make us critical thinkers. For that, you need to read widely. Secondly, you have to learn more viewpoints, to be literate in terms of learning theories and pedagogy, and to analyze a lot of research – including those that create cognitive conflict and disprove some of the beliefs you hold. Thirdly, examine your own philosophy of education and see where your biases lie.

Let us then start with Hattie.

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February 22, 2014

Making Thinking Visible or How to Debate Poorly

It took me some time to write this post as I don’t generally engage in replying to particular bloggers – I , for one, have better things to do other than arguing with someone in the blogosphere.

Harry Webb posted back in December about the website Making Thinking Visible and called these routines “step-wise procedures” using Carl Bereiter’s arguments. This is his own description and I would like to deconstruct his arguments as he mistakes these techniques with teaching thinking programs.

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First, it is interesting (dare I say ironic?) that he uses Bereiter’s book (which I also read, namely Education and Mind in the Knowledge Age) to discredit the work and research behind Visible Thinking project – the title of the blog post is relevant in itself (“Thinkamajiks”). I say ironic because Harry is a “traditional” teacher (he always mentions that on Twitter) and Bereiter is quite a progressive mind, who sees inquiry (A) as a more effective way to learn, emphasizes motivation and mentions the importance of thinking as a social activity (B), all of which do not fit in the “traditional” model.

  1. To develop such knowledge, it is obvious that students must be engaged in inquiry. Passive uptake of knowledge, as in reading a novel or listening to a lecture, has its value, as I’ve argued earlier. But, to continue with the hiking analogy, it’s like viewing a movie rather than actually going on it.” (ch. 9, p. 338)
  2.  “It is time to take a broader view, in which thinking is seen as a primarily social activity (although always with an important private component). Ignoring these three- thinking as a social activity, how thinking relates to knowledge and motivation -reduces thinking to a set of parlor tricks.” (ch. 9, p.348)

Moreover, in the description of his own model (Knowledge Building), Bereiter states,

“As a constructivist approach, Knowledge Building shares many characteristics with the other constructivist approaches discussed earlier. That goal is to advance the frontiers of knowledge as they (the students, n.n.) perceive them. ‘As they perceive them’ is an important qualification when Knowledge Building is undertaken in educational contexts. Identifying frontiers and judging what constitutes an advance are essential parts of Knowledge Building, which students need to learn to carry out themselves, not depend on a teacher or a textbook to do for them.”

Now, let’s go back to Harry’s post.

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February 20, 2014

Always Evidence-Based Practice. Or Not?

I wrote about research here (Research and rule)  and here (Lies, damned lies and statistics) and I would like to draw attention to an interesting yet less questioned aspect of educational research: what are the limitations of evidence-based practices?

Phil Wood tweeted several articles and links (by the way, if you do not follow him you should) and I was intrigued about two in particular: “Why What ‘Works’ in Education Won’t Work” by Gert Biesta (Educational Theory, Vol. 57, 2007) and Using a Living Theory Methodology by Jack Whitehead (Educational Journal, 2008).

Biesta takes a critical look at the evidence-based practice rhetoric by analyzing the epistemology behind it, its role in shaping education policies and the relationships it creates within a democratic system.

“(…) evidence-based education seems to favor a technocratic model in which it is assumed that the only relevant research questions are questions about the effectiveness of educational means and techniques, forgetting, among other things, that
what counts as ‘‘effective’’ crucially depends on judgments about what is educationally desirable.”

Thus, “effectiveness” alone becomes the sole criterion for implementing a specific teaching method or strategy. Although apparently neutral (who would contest the need to use most effective strategies?), evidence-based practice does bear an implied assumption that teaching is, in fact, a simple cause-effect chain of teaching-learning experiences, and that the teacher’s work is simply to apply a particular intervention.

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February 1, 2014

Engagement, Teaching and Bias

The cure for cynicism is simply to engage honestly. “ (Jeremy Paxman)

It is interesting how a single tweet can spark such controversy over a single word: “engagement”. Soon after I tweeted

“That is why I am suspicious of people who dismiss “engagement” in relation to school. That is part of your responsibility as a teacher. Students won’t learn just *because* you are an expert in your subject. Period. “

Tweet engagement

an avalanche of tweets, replies and threads of discussion – from my original point (“engagement”) to further related concepts (“expertise”) followed. People taking sides and soon being labeled as “traditional” or “progressive”, misapprehension of the word itself in relation to the school setting and gut-reactions based on personal experiences.

Two clarifications before I embark on the debate – they will come back in my post. I dislike intellectual laziness, and generalizations based on anecdotal evidence or teacher beliefs should be subject to scrutiny at all times, whatever the label you were given on social media.

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..     A. Causation is NOT correlation.

Not a single element in the teaching domain *causes* learning per se in disjunction with others.

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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 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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