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Partners for change
Holt's book reminds us that good teachers know or have intuited many of the things that researchers are now "discovering." Too often, when teachers and researchers have come together, teachers have tended to sit mutely absorbing the lectures of the neuroscientists as though the teachers had nothing to contribute. Many of the neuroscientists have projected this attitude, as well. However, there are thousands of teachers like John Holt whose insights into how young people learn have guided their teaching, though their colleagues and administrators often dismissed them as cranks. One of the most important benefits of today's research is that so much of it supports the wisdom of the trenches. The John Holts have found allies in the lab.
|Dr. Paul Yellin|
|"What we are hoping for is creating language, vocabulary, shared conversations, where we can help each other move forward in helping children... there's information out there that can help..." – Dr. Paul Yellin|
As partnerships and discussions replace one-way lectures, teachers and scientists are learning from each other as they search for places where neural imaging resonates with student behavior, and where science supports intuition. After all, finding these places is one of the contributions teachers can make to researchers. Teachers know when behavior does or does not support theory, and researchers need to know when their predictions pan out in the very unlababoratory-like conditions of real classrooms filled with all those messy individual differences embodied in actual students trying to function in uncontrolled (even out-of-control) conditions. (top)
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Teachers can also help scientists identify meaningful questions to guide research. For example, in two of the districts in the Upper Valley partnership, teachers identified an important issue that they were struggling to resolve: which of two approaches to teaching math and reading was the more effective. The researchers brought to the discussion neuroscientific data and their laboratory perspective; the teachers brought their experiences with students and the classroom realities that formed the basis of their current beliefs. Together, they found a way to discuss the issues without the usual level of tension and eventually resolved the issue. The conflict over whether to teach math using a curriculum based on procedures or a curriculum based on concepts, for example, disappeared as they developed a common language and realized that both approaches could be useful depending on the circumstances.
Teachers constantly struggle with questions that would benefit from data gathered from research. For example, when is a learning disability a learning disability? If learning means building new, increasingly complex neural networks—a process dependent on establishing conceptual connections between bits of knowledge (like the relationship between addition and multiplication)—why couldn't what seems to be a learning disability instead be a failure to make the critical connection on which the more complex skill or knowledge depends? What about rote learning? Is there a developmental period when memorization without real understanding might actually lay a foundation for superior future learning? What about discipline policies—crime and punishment? If the ability to make good choices (by simulating cause and effect) develops late in adolescence, what are the implications for how we punish young people for their misbehavior? How realistic are our expectations for their behavior? Has any research been conducted on whether experience or guided simulations can speed up brain development and, hence, the ability to make good choices? Why do so many young people make perfectly good choices and avoid the trouble that seems to dog some of their peers?