Posts tagged ‘understanding’

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)

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.).

August 26, 2013

Reading Strategies Are Great. Not.

Well, well, well. That is so unnerving. What? The reading strategies that are so faithfully and dutifully used across the U.S. are to be blamed for the low reading scores in the past decades? (tenth grade U.S. students scoring 15th in reading among 27 developed countries)

The reasons are explored in a challenging read (challenging in that it clashes with the “progressive” views), The Knowledge Deficit by E. D. Hirsch. I won’t go into detail about the book (read it, even if you disagree with his views) but I will focus on a few clarifications Hirsch makes in regards to reading that I find very useful for any teacher.

Consider the following paragraph:

“In eukaryotes, RNA polymerase, and therefore the initiation of transcription, requires the presence of a core promoter sequence in the DNA. Promoters are regions of DNA that promote transcription and, in eukaryotes, are found at -30, -75, and -90 base pairs upstream from the start site of transcription. Core promoters are sequences within the promoter that are essential for transcription initiation. RNA polymerase is able to bind to core promoters in the presence of various specific transcription factors.”

How much did you understand of it? 50%? 40%? Less? Wait. You are an intellectual. How could you not? After all, you can decode (phonologically) all the words. You know the punctuation marks. You know grammar, too.

The problem? You lack the knowledge (background knowledge) that is critical to comprehend such a text (I selected it from An Introduction to Molecular Biology ).

This is exactly what E.D. Hirsch argues for (and I must say, having a lot of research to link to and nearly 20 pages of notes): comprehension is not a strategy problem but a knowledge problem.

July 27, 2013

Misconceptions About Critical Thinking


Critical thinking. It is perhaps the second most used phrase these days (first being “creativity”). Everyone uses it, especially in the context of (can I smile here?) “21st-century skills” ideology.  I am always intrigued by two categories of things: those that everyone seems to agree on – the obvious, the visible, the collective agreement, the mainstream, the trend – and the those that few seem to question – the hidden, the assumed, the overlooked, the forgotten.

As such I started reading and rereading. Among other articles, one caught my eye: Common Misconceptions of Critical Thinking. Because I do not want to simplify the issue I urge you to read it in full (and because the original PDF is quite difficult to read due to formatting I made a new one – see below).

The authors begin by deconstructing the three main views on critical thinking  – as skills (the most widely-held), as mental processes and as procedures (these found at the more pragmatic level, that is, in teaching strategies we employ).

Critical thinking

April 1, 2013

Expert-Novice Gap (1)

This is the title of one interesting chapter in G. Wiggins’ and J. McTighe’s book Understanding by Design that had me thinking (like all chapters, but I will post as  read).

“Our work as designers is complicated by the gap between expert and novice. What we as adults understand and appreciate seems of self-evident value and interest. But to the student the same idea can seem opaque, abstract- without meaning or value.

(Thus)… in addition to knowing our subject we need to know the students – know what will need uncoverage from THEIR point of view. “

I won’t elaborate much but I think it is one of the most difficult tasks we have as teachers. The very breadth (and presumably depth) of our knowledge can act as a barrier to understanding the struggle a student might experience or the lack of interest some students show. It is challenging to assume what might trigger curiosity, to anticipate what might be too complex or confusing to a wide range of learners, and to set all this against curricular requirements.