Archive for the ‘cognition’ Category

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I sat through an active presentation by Steven Turner in which he asked whether teaching for achievement or teaching for understanding is appropriate in public schools. In the current climate many of the participants at this session agreed that teaching for achievement as an isolated concept equates to teaching skills appropriate for testing with little or no evidence of transferability or sustainability. We also tended to agree that teaching for understanding led to students developing critical thinking, reflection, rigorous sense of internalization of knowledge. One participant argued that teaching for achievement meant teaching to a predetermined, external set of standards while teaching for understanding had no predetermined borders but is broadly focused on relevant issues and knowledge. What also developed from this discussion was a consensus that if one teaches for understanding this does not negate the need to teach the necessary skills required for particular understanding. The two are not mutually exclusive. Furthermore, the great irony is that when children are taught with understanding as the goal of the process test scores rise in a direct relationship to student engagement. If, however, children are taught only for achievement their test scores are erratic and, perhaps more importantly, students become resistant to school and schooling. Turner’s work is worthy of a second look and some follow-up studies as well.

In a second session, Steven J. Thornton and Keith C. Barton presented a paper entitled Why history education is impossible without social studies. This work suggests that teaching history as a separate academic discipline is impossible without relating the history being taught to the other social studies, areas of study that include economics, political science, sociology, psychology, anthropology, geography and the like. I was drawn to the session not only because of Thornton’s work, but by the title of their paper. I have been thinking about how to effectively link the social studies to teaching history as many social studies educators are doing but I simply assumed that history serves as the underlying foundation for the rest of the social studies. Thornton and Barton suggest a different relationship, one that understands history as the factual exemplar for the theoretical concepts endemic to the rest of the social studies. An example they gave is the American Revolution. One cannot understand the revolution without understanding the concept from political science of representation or the concept from economics of taxation. While a gross oversimplification, the point they are making is that political science and economics provide us with theoretical constructions while the narrative of the revolution transforms those abstractions into narrative reality. History, in this sense, is the exemplar that provides students with concrete examples of weighty though abstract concepts. I really liked this take on the problem raised.

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Seed Newsvine

This week the American Educational Research Association is holding its annual meeting in Chicago. This important conference brings together researchers and teachers from all areas of the spectrum of education and, as such, is one of the more exciting places to be as a professional educator. In this post I am going to summarize some of the more important points I heard today.

David Berliner spoke about the state of education in the United States today as a political space in which the ENDS of education have been taken away from professional educators and the MEANS of education have been corrupted by the reduction of knowing to a single test-score number. As test scores become the ENDS of education, primarily due to NCLB, then the MEANS of education become teaching to the test. When knowledge as an END is replaced by test scores then the only thing worth knowing is “is that going to be on the test?”

Another speaker argued that there is simply too much policy, policy layered upon policy upon policy. Fossilized reforms are something like geological layers as legislators fail to review either old policy prior to passage of new policy or evidence in support of policy legislation in the first place. The result is a web (more like a rabbit warren) of overlapping policies and legislation that boggles even the least capable minds.

Perhaps my favorite speaker argued that we do not live in an age of educational uncertainty. Quite the contrary, NCLB has placed a strangle hold on certainty. Schools are certain as to what programs count and what to teach in order to avoid the degradation of being labeled low performing. The problem is not certainty but faulty logic. NCLB is based on a confused logical structure where knowledge is reduced to test scores, schools are expected to solve social problems, and reading and math instruction are scripted and uniform across irregular contexts. This speaker called not for evidence based teaching as NCLB does, rather he argued that there ought to be EVIDENCE BASED LEGISLATION. I suggested to a colleague sitting next to me that perhaps those that pass the laws ought to be subject to the consequences of their own legislation. Congress ought to be forced to sit for say the 12th grade test. It was also suggested that no legislation be passed that does harm to anyone.

Finally, a speaker argued that education cannot be reduced to a model that corresponds in any way to producing widgets in a factory. By that logic FedX Delivers–Teachers Teach holds supreme. The fact is, however, that teachers do not exist, only teachers in a context exist and only in that context can teachers navigate through the murky waters that make up the classroom. Teaching is not something that can be planned except in broad brush terms if only because the unexpected is bound to happen at any moment of the day. Teachers are not tutor technicians preparing their students for tests. In the end, high stakes testing is blocking effective implementation of curriculum that encourages students to solve problems, to think about difficult problems, to rigorously reflect on ideas and concepts, and to remain curious about the world in which we all live. American educators for years have been critical of the centralization of European and Asian educational systems. The irony is that Europe and Asian nations are becoming decentralized as the United States moves toward a centralized national system of education.

I expect to be NCLB’d out by the end of the week. More to come later.

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Study Says Tools Don’t Raise Scores
This report from the Washingtonpost.com

Educational software, a $2 billion-a-year industry that has become the darling of school systems across the country, has no significant impact on student performance, according to a study by the U.S. Department of Education.

The long-awaited report amounts to a rebuke of educational technology, a business whose growth has been spurred by schools desperate for ways to meet the testing mandates of President Bush’s No Child Left Behind law.

Oh my, another chink in the armor of NCLB. I am not surprised. Technology is worthy of many things–a teacher it is not! Without technology this blog would not be possible, critical exploration of deep space, research into drug development, and so much more would simply not be possible. But, sitting a child in front of a computer to do drill and kill is no different than handing the same child a worksheet. It numbs the brain. It kills curiosity.

Not too very long ago my then 6 year old grandson was visiting me from his home in Phoenix. Because he was missing a couple of days of school, his 1st grade teacher supplied him with multiple worksheet assignments. He balked at doing this homework. When I asked him why he said, “Poppa, it is really stupid work. I know how to do it all so it is just a waste of my time–time I could be spending with you and grandma.” Aside from the fact that he will grow up to be a diplomat, his analysis was right on. In fact, it was a waste of his time. If a 6-year-old child knows this and can articulate his knowing this well something tells me the DOE did not have to pay for an expensive study.

We have known for some time that drill and skill worksheets don’t work at any age for any topic. What does work is to engage children as curious, inquiring learners. It is a grand Deweyan myth but he could have said this, “If you want kids to learn about volume and container size, send them out to the sandbox with different size buckets and have them play in the sand. Then come back to the classroom and discuss what they did in the sandbox.” Learning through experience works. It engages kids in ways that involve their natural curiosity so that what is learned is retained. Beating them over the head with drivel simply gets lost as the children get lost in the process.

But NCLB pushes notions of basic skills for reading and math. Curiously, nothing is ever said about what one does with the skills acquired. What are the real world applications of having a set of skills that one has not been able to internalize because they hold no interest.

If technology is to be effective as a classroom tool then it must be seen as interactive, messy, and authentic. Not some pre-programmed worksheet model that crushes children in the process.

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Study gives teachers barely passing grade in classroom

The findings, published today in the weekly magazine Science, take teachers to task for spending too much time on basic reading and math skills and not enough on problem-solving, reasoning, science and social studies. They also suggest that U.S. education focuses too much on teacher qualifications and not enough on teachers being engaging and supportive. (emphasis added)

Why would such a conclusion surprise anyone? Given the constraints of NCLB and the emphasis on basic skills as the fundamental outcome of the entire process of education, is it any wonder that teachers spend far too much time on basic reading and math skills and not enough time on the stuff that actually matters to educated people? I am not surprised at all. What I am scandalized about, however, is that the research team led by Robert Pianta of the University of Virginia doesn’t address the core of the problem–NCLB as bad school policy. Rather, the research team lead by Pianta choose to engage in teacher bashing because teachers are an easy target. Better the National Institutes of Health, the funders of the study, should look at the underlying cause for schools reducing curriculum to only the basic skills that are tested. But, why kid myself. The NIH is a federal agency under the ultimate control of the Bush Administration; heaven only knows this group couldn’t stand for NCLB to look bad. Denial, Mr. President, ain’t just a river in Africa. Time to come out of the shadows and into the light and see that the emperor really has no clothes.

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The link leads you to a post by Treavor on his blog that is absolutely worth the look. The video clip from YouTube poses some interesting and disturbing questions that need to be addressed in the United States but, because of the hegemonic views of the current administration, the diffidence paid to global capitalism, and the blind faith in positivism and the implications attached thereto it seems that we are not even beginning to think about the issues raised.

Are Schools Preparing Children for the Future?

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