Archive for ‘learning’

November 9, 2014

No, I Don’t Personalize Learning

Personalized learning. Differentiated learning. Individualization of learning.

Three jargon elements that twist any teacher’s grey matter in spectacular motions. Which is what? Add to that the pressure that may come through a school PD (“We need to individualize learning!”) and you have the perfect combination for confusion.

There seems to be a continuous debate around the first (“personalized” learning) but I think clarification of terms is always useful before engaging in any argument. Also, a little historical background helps one understand the causes, underpinnings and implications of any educational approach.

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A bit of history

1914 –  The inception of the concept rests with Helen Parkhurst who was heavily influenced by Maria Montessori and John Dewey’s work when she created the Dalton Plan, plan that was introduced in 1914  and was extended later in several countries across the world (from the U.S. and Australia to Japan and The Netherlands). It was designed as an “experiment” where teachers were observers mostly and they would “study the children to find out what environment will best meet their immediate educational needs.” Its main aim was to design learning experiences tailored to the students’ interests, needs, and abilities. 

August 15, 2014

Gender, Math, and Achievement Gap

Jo Boaler’s article was interesting (Britain’s Maths Policy Simply Doesn’t Add Up) and prompted me to blog.  She shows concern about girls’ math achievement in Britain:

 “But when I sat with the PISA team recently, I was horrified to see that of 64 countries assessed, Britain has the biggest gender gap in ‘maths mindset’. Simply put, the data showed that British boys believe they can do well in maths; girls don’t.”

I was curious whether the claim was true and I checked PISA reports, summaries and Excel tables. She was right. Boys not only outperform girls in math but also have higher confidence and are more likely to pursue math-related careers. 

August 7, 2014

Play, Cognition, and Learning

It is difficult, if not impossible, to shed any bias when the word “play” in relation to children comes up. We played as children and that conjures some of our best childhood memories. We cannot fathom a world where children are not allowed to play. Nor should we.

However, the question raised these days on Twitter is not whether play is important to children, but to what extend it aids development and learning, and whether play-based pedagogies are justified in early years.

For that reason, I won’t discuss play through anthropological, historical or cultural lens. I am linking David Whitebread’s paper (The Importance of Play) and invite you to read it. Play is “ubiquitous among humans, both as children and as adults, and children’s play is consistently supported by adults in all societies and cultures. Cultural attitudes, transmitted to the children predominantly through the behavior of their parents, affect how much play is encouraged and supported, to what age individuals are regarded as children who are expected to play, and the extent to which adults play with children.”

I will focus on a review by Lillard et al that was published two years ago (2012) –The Impact of Pretend Play on Children’s Development: A Review of the Evidence. I chose this one because the findings are in dissonance with what most people believe(d). We all hear how play is “crucial” for the development of creativity, for instance. Well, according to the evidence, it is not.

May 11, 2014

Difficult vs. Easy, A Reply

This post is a reply to David Didau (@LearningSpy) – Squaring the Circle: Can Learning Be Easy and Hard?  I urge you to read it because it poses a very good question and he brings, as always, a lot of research to discuss this issue.

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Bjork’s work, that I introduced you to a year or two ago, tends to take over the educational debate, as Willingham’s work does.  Excessive cognitivism (or any other theory of learning) obstructs the bigger picture of learning because it focuses on a limited set of variables or just one in some cases – either internal (e.g. memory), relational (e.g. social learning), emotional, you name them.

Some points.

If performance (what the student does – writes an essay, draws a rectangular prism etc.) is a poor proxy for “learning” (Bjork), then it is quite difficult to *infer* the “learning“ that takes place (learning being an internal mechanism/process). Note that we cannot pinpoint with precision what the student “learned”: we can only deduce based on – surprise – performance. It follows then that we can only use this vehicle (performance) to assess student “learning”. Which gets me to the next question: what is learning then and how do you know?

April 28, 2014

Making the Learning Whole

In anticipation of my post 2 on education wars I needed to make a separate entry for David Perkins’s 7 principles of learning from his book Making the Learning Whole.

 

“Here are the two most popular answers to approaching complexity:

  1. ELEMENTS FIRST: Ramp into complexity gradually by learning elements now and putting them together later.
  2. LEARNING ABOUT: Learn about something to start with, rather than learning to do it.

February 9, 2014

Spelling Dosen’t Matter?

It is very likely that spelling wars will continue as they have for decades. That spelling matters… is a matter of perspective (and isn’t spelling such a nice way to play with language?…). Some claim spelling has become irrelevant. I much doubt that given the proliferation of social media platforms where writing is the main way of communication, but who am I to say? I am just a teacher and I still like my students to spell well. For a myriad of reasons.

Several approaches to teaching spelling were taken and if you wonder which one you should use I hope you will read about them all and make up your own mind. For far too long teacher autonomy and expertise have been undermined, and selection of practices has become a persuasion tactic or, worse, a war over what is “best”.

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Spelling is NOT arbitrary.

If the spelling of English words was based on a random variation then we would depend on rote and visual memorization alone – which is obviously not the case. It would take us perhaps a lifetime to memorize thousands of words – the sheer number of words in English language is paralyzing for anyone even dreaming of memorizing it. Patterns and connections can be found within any language system no matter how arbitrary it might seem on the surface (those who studied Linguistics like I did might have a good memory of Chomsky’s generative grammar or Halle’s generative phonology and their complex deep structures).

Researchers have estimated that the spellings of nearly 50% of the English words are predictable based on sound-letter correspondences that can be taught, and another 34% are predictable except for one sound.

“If other information such as word origin and word meaning are considered, only 4 percent of English words are truly irregular.” (Paul R. Hanna, Jean S. Hanna, Richard E. Hodges, and Edwin H. Rudolf, Jr., Phoneme-Grapheme Correspondences as Cues to Spelling Improvement, 1966).

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.

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).

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. 

October 27, 2013

Transfer of Learning

A quick, Sunday post.

“Transfer of learning occurs when learning in one context enhances a related performance in ANOTHER context. “ (David N. Perkins, Harvard Graduate School of Education)

Points:
1. Transfer is not ordinary learning.
Although “learning” as a psychological phenomenon does embed a minimal change (cognitively speaking) it differs from “transfer” in that it does not extend beyond its original context. Example: a student may show certain grammar skills on the English test (ordinary learning) but not in everyday speech (the hoped-for transfer). The student may solve the problems at the end of the chapter (ordinary learning) but not similar problems when they occur mixed with others at the end of the course (the hoped-for transfer).

2. Near versus far transfer.
Near transfer refers to transfer between very similar contexts. Example: in an exam the student solves similar types of problems s/he has previously practiced.
Far transfer implies application of knowledge and skills to problems or domains that seem remote (e.g. math and art, math and architecture etc.).