English Summer Town

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Revolutions in Teaching and Thinking

The following article comes from the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching (http://www.carnegiefoundation.org/). The webpage has several interesting articles and forums on the advancement of teaching, in particular in the ¨Perspectives¨ section. Take a look if you would like!

Throwing Out the Baby with the Bath Water
by Lloyd Bond

In his classic The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, physicist Thomas Kuhn argued that scientific revolutions are characterized by a completely new world view that is incompatible with what it replaced. In this sense, scientific revolutions are non-cumulative; rather than build on what has gone before, they jettison completely the assumptions and premises of the theories they replace. Darwin’s theory of evolution did not tweak the prevailing notion of a static, instantaneously created natural world not essentially different from what we see today. The Origin of Species threw out the notion entirely and replaced it with a living world evolving over eons of time through natural selection. The heliocentric structure of the solar system proposed by Copernicus (and refined by Kepler and Newton) did not build on Ptolemy’s elaborate geocentric model; it dismissed it out of hand, and in so doing changed forever the way we view our place in the universe.

On a less lofty scale, educational reforms often propose similarly radical new world views. In its original incarnation, the "whole language" movement in reading instruction dismissed "phonics" as a misguided way to introduce young learners to the written word. It was argued that children should be immersed in actual text with associated visuals and discussion. The ability to spell and read with understanding would come in due time. The "new math" reform of the 1960s rejected practice and drill on the "times tables" as a mindless activity that turned young learners off from mathematics. Tom Lehrer, the professional mathematician turned occasional cabaret performer, summed up the entire approach with his quip that the important idea underlying new math is "to understand what you are doing, rather than to get the right answer."

"Traditionalists" were deeply skeptical of these reforms, and with good reason; many of the innovations were based on faulty premises. There was precious little hard-nosed, empirical evidence to buttress the exalted claims on behalf of the new approaches to instruction. Moreover, the vast majority of elementary school teachers were ill-prepared, especially in mathematics, to handle the innovations. The net result, if one believes the traditionalists, was a generation of young people, the majority of whom could neither spell, read, nor perform simple mathematical operations. And the reaction by the public, the press, and elected officials was predictable: a call across the nation during the 1970s and 1980s for "back to basics" instruction and a proliferation of minimum competency standards for promotion and high school graduation.

Over the past quarter century, cognitive scientists, working closely with teachers in actual classrooms, have introduced a measure of sanity to the sometimes vitriolic debates. Studies of the development and nature of expertise in an ever-increasing variety of areas—from reading and writing to mathematics and electronics, from physics and piano playing to baseball knowledge and chess—indicate that with proper instruction and practice, proficiency develops from novice to expert in an orderly way and is characterized by a sequence of more or less distinct stages.

Briefly, these studies demonstrate that proficiency and expertise are predicated upon five fundamental principles: (1) newly learned information is processed through a series of "memory registers," each of which is subject to different limitations and each capable of different kinds of storage and processing; (2) proficiency depends critically upon the acquisition of "automaticity," the capacity to respond automatically to certain components of complex tasks, such as number facts and words in context, thus reducing the processing load of working memory; (3) problem-solving ability and the ability to read with understanding are not mysterious competencies that some persons possess and other do not, but rather depend upon a specific, prerequisite knowledge base that can be acquired by most people; (4) expertise in a given domain (mathematics or chess, for example) depends crucially upon how relevant knowledge is organized and stored in long-term memory; and (5) proficient performance is either retarded or facilitated by how problems and text are represented internally.

It turns out that traditionalists and reformers were both right in their own way, but both were overzealous in their devotion to a particular mode of instruction and in their blanket dismissal of the competing point of view. The drill and practice advocates of early mathematics instruction, and to a lesser extent the phonics advocates of reading instruction, appreciated the importance of the second principle above, that certain, "low level" skills must become second nature in order for higher-level performance to emerge. But they often failed to follow through with tasks that engage and challenge. For their part, the new math and whole language advocates failed to fully appreciate the critical enabling role of automaticity, sometimes with disastrous results. Nor did they fully accept what we now know to be true—that automaticity develops only through continued practice distributed over appropriate intervals.

Throwing out the baby with the bath water may well characterize scientific revolutions, but in the world of education and schooling, where new claims must be tempered with the wisdom of practice, progress is rarely made in such spectacular fashion.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Pretty sеctіon of content. Ι just stumblеԁ upοn уour sіte and іn aсcessіon capіtal to say that I
асquire actuallу enјoyed account
your blog poѕts. Any ωаy I will be subѕcribіng on your feeds and eνen І achievement
you acсess persіstently rapidly.

Feel freе to ѕuгf to my web site; bucket truck for sale
Here is my homepage : find bucket trucks for sale

12:27 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Іt's hard to find educated people about this subject, however, you sound like you know what you'ге talking about!

Μy page tens machines

5:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I simply could not gο аωау youг site prіοг to suggeѕting that I
eхtremеly lovеd the standard informаtion a
ρеrson ρroνide in your guеsts?

Is gonnа be agaіn frequently to checκ up on
new рosts

Here is my blog ... Athletes Use tens Units

7:21 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Superb pоst however Ι was wanting to knoω if you could
write a litte moгe οn this tоpic?
Ӏ'd be very thankful if you could elaborate a little bit more. Many thanks!

Here is my web-site tens therapy

6:04 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Do you mind іf I quοtе а cоuple of уour articleѕ as lοng аѕ Ӏ provide credit anԁ ѕources baсk to youг webpаge?
Ϻy wеbsite iѕ in thе exact ѕamе aгеa οf interеst as уourѕ anԁ my
useгs woulԁ tгulу benefіt from a lot of thе
information you proviԁe hеre. Ρlеаse
let me knoω if this оκ wіth you. Aрprecіate it!

Heге iѕ mу blοg рoѕt taxi irving
My webpage > irving tx cab

1:38 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ι just likе the helρful іnfo you supply
to уour articles. I'll bookmark your blog and test again right here regularly. I am fairly sure I will learn many new stuff proper here! Best of luck for the following!

my webpage :: dallas seo

2:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you like swimming in swimming pools during the summer and spring, take the time to safeguard your own hair prior to showing up in the h2o. Possibly relax your own hair in normal drinking water to dissuade the absorption of chlorinated water, or use a taking a bath limit to protect yourself from drying out out your sensitive hair. Your hair will thanks for it. [url=http://www.ss12w12ws.info]Appenffk8dti[/url]

11:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Should your friends own iPads way too, it is possible to talk about your complete music and online video library together. Open your iTunes app and and switch on your home expressing work. You also need to enter your Apple inc Identification from the audio and video menus of your own apple ipad tablet. To get into a shared local library, wide open a tunes or video clip application and choose more. You are going to then have accessibility to a long list of shared libraries. [url=http://www.ss12w12ws.info]Microecw2347[/url]

2:04 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Are you experiencing ants in your cooking area? Nice and clean this space and take care not to leave crumbs of meals just about anywhere. Spray the ants with some soap and water and place some minty teas luggage and cucumber leaves while watching crevices they come from. You may also mist some freshly squeezed lemon juice on the ants' path. [url=http://www.x21w12w21.info]Cort5y656e[/url]

1:13 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home