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Gaining some perspective
All this insight into learning and the momentum toward filling Dewey's vision of real lab schools makes this an exciting time to be in education. However, we must not let the fanfare and the cheering diminish the voices of the many teachers who, long before the fMRI supported their discoveries, challenged the same traditional assumptions and practices.
|Dr. Todd Rose|
|"We've got to do a better job of recognizing just the natural variability that kids bring to the table and designing school environments that deal with..." – Dr. Todd Rose|
If you are of a certain age, you can go to your bookshelves and find the old Dell paperback (95 cents) of John Holt's 1964 book, How Children Fail. Holt was a teacher. Like many teachers, he drew his inferences and conclusions not from brain images but from the behavior of the students with whom he worked. The similarities between his insights and the implications of today's research are striking:
- The connection between emotion and learning, the importance of emotional relevance: "[What I was teaching] did not meet any felt intellectual need. ... The only answer that really sticks in a child's mind is the answer to a question that he asked or might ask of himself."
- The effect of fear on thinking and learning: "What I now see for the first time is the mechanism by which fear destroys intelligence, the way it affects a child's whole way of looking at, thinking about, and dealing with life. So we have two problems, not one: to stop children from being afraid and then to break them of the bad thinking habits into which their fears have driven them. ... What is most surprising of all is how much fear there is in school."
- The importance of attention and developing students' metacognitive skills: "Most of us have very imperfect control over our (top)
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- attention. ... Part of being a good student is learning to be aware of that state of one's own mind and the degree of one's own understanding."
- The relation of context (scaffolding) to performance: "Would [my students] have discovered [the answer] if I had not paved the way with leading questions? Hard to tell."
- How grades (scores) come to replace learning: "We wanted them to figure out how to balance the beam, and introduced scoring as a matter of motivation. But they outsmarted us, and figured out ways to get a good score that had nothing to do with whether the beam balanced or not."
- The importance of regression (still confused with failure) in learning: "... perhaps we should see that failure is honorable and constructive rather than humiliating." "A baby does not react to failure as an adult does, or even a five-year-old, because she has not yet been made to feel that failure is shame."
- The need to link new learning to the real-world understandings brought to the classroom by different learners: "Between what he was studying for chemistry and the real world, the world of his senses and common sense, there was no connection."
- Issues of homework and rigor: "I have noticed many times that when the workload of the class is light, kids are willing to do some thinking, to take the time to figure things out; when the workload is heavy the 'I-don't-get-it' begins to sound, the thinking stops, they expect us to show them everything. Thus one ironical consequence of the drive for the so-called higher standards in schools is that the children are too busy to think."
- The danger of emphasizing coverage and testing as opposed to constructing conceptual understanding: "We do not consider that a child may be unable to learn because he does not grasp the fundamental nature of the symbols he is working with. ... [These children] would not be in the spot they were in if, all along the line, their teachers had been concerned to build slowly and solidly, instead of trying to make it look as if the children knew all the material that was supposed to be covered."
- The need to understand the knowledge and skills the learner brings to the classroom: "The reason this poor child has learned hardly anything in six years of school is that no one ever began where she was."
- And the great hoax of schools embedded in the emphasis on rote learning: "Even [young children] learn that what most teachers want and reward are not knowledge and understanding but the appearance of them."