Category Archives: Pedagogy

The goal of education

I came across this quotation from John W Gardener

“The ultimate goal of the educational system is to shift to the individual the burden of pursuing his own education. This will not be a widely shared pursuit until we get over our odd conviction that education is what goes on in school buildings and nowhere else.”

It made immediate sense to me. I even wrote it down in my little book of quotations.

I would modify it slightly.

“The ultimate goal of the educational system is to engender the habit of learning and seeking to understand throughout the rest of the life of the student.”

For my perspective that is a central factor to my career and life. I have learnt many new things since leaving College. Some of them entirely new to me, some of them building on previous knowledge.

I know that I do not understand somethings when first encountered; but I also know that if I apply myself and seek to learn I will understand and be able to master new things. This could be a new central heating system, a new way of laying out and formatting text and images on a web page, or how to complete a form to apply for a job.

Learning how to study, research, and analyse to gain knowledge and new skills is very important in life. School and college are one of the main inputs that push students from spoon fed children to self-aware, learning adults.

The Learning Pyramid: Myth!

I have been reading up on the The Learning Pyramid, attributed the National Training Laboratories (NTL) at Bethel, Maine. My tutor mentioned this when we were talking about peer based learning. He remembered that there was some interesting research on the different methods of instruction.

Here is a “version” of it. It has many variants.

The Learning Pyramid

However, the more I have looked at this simple and persuasive little diagram and the more I dig about the less good it seems. Here is a great little blog that attempts to find out more about it. This writer attempts to understand how such an unreferenced, unresearched piece of “wisdom” is repeated so often.

The best scholarly article I have found on this is James P Lalley and Robert H Miller “The Learning Pyramid: Does it point teachers in the wrong direction?” Education, Sep 2007 This article attempts to find out the origin of the Pyramid. The researchers also attempt a review of all the current research for each teaching type.

I would urge you to read it in full. But for the tl;dr crowd I have extracted two sections:

1. No reference found

‘Additional information regarding the pyramid raises questions of credibility. The National Training Laboratories, in response to an email request from a member of the Academic Computing Department at the College of Charleston in South Carolina, stated the following about the pyramid:

“It was developed and used by NTL Institute at our Bethel, Maine campus in the early sixties when we were still part of the National Education Association’s Adult Education Division. Yes, we believe it to be accurate – but no, we no longer have – nor can we find – the original research that supports the numbers. We get many inquiries every month about this – and many, many people have searched for the original research and have come up empty handed. We know that in 1954 a similar pyramid with slightly different numbers appeared on p. 43 of a book called Audio-Visual Methods in Teaching, published by the Edgar Dale Dryden Press in New York. Yet the Learning Pyramid as sucb seems to have been modified and always has been attributed to NTL Institute.” ‘

2. A continuum not a hierarchy

‘If we were to draw any conclusion based on the pyramid, it would be that the methods be thought of as on a continuum as opposed to in a hierarchy. Therefore, the less prior knowledge students have the more likely it is that effective methods would be found toward the direct instruction end of the continuum, and as students’ knowledge increased, they would be more
capable of learning with methods involving discussion and teaching. However, because learning is an ongoing process, this will not preclude that further learning will take place with more direct methods. Thus, even the most experienced learners, such as successful heart surgeons, could learn from a more experienced learner, a surgeon with a new technique, and the best
initial methods would likely be lecture/demonstration which would lead to practice by doing, and possibly teaching others. Not surprisingly, this retums us to the assertions of Dale (1946) and Dewey (1916) that for successful learning experiences, students need to experience a
variety of instructional methods and that direct instruction needs to be accompanied
by methods that further student understanding and recognize why what they are
learning is useful.’

The world is not so simple.

Well. What a surprise. The world is more complex than a simple diagram tries to make it.

The dangerous thing about “The Learning Pyramid” is that confirms what we all know about reading and listening to lectures. They are not only dull and boring, but now we learn they are useless too. Excellent. Let’s concentrate on more modern techniques that the Gradgrinds of Teaching would never use in the dusty classrooms. And off we skip.

24250063The best advice from research seems to be is to use a variety of methods. This is also echoed by research into learning and memory from the cognitive sciences.

I have been reading a modern summary of the learning sciences by Benedict Carey “How we learn.” The research highlighted in this book points out that learning is at its best when it is varied, regular and revisited. Memory is an amalgam of recall and stored information. We seem to store everything we do, along with the emotions and environment in which we study. The trick is is to improve recall and this is best done by studying the same information in different places and in different ways and this assists the recall process winnow out the facts from the noise of the environment.

It’s an excellent little read and has certainly changed my attitude to learning. And it is great to see that the Lalley and Miller study also concludes that variety works too.

 

Subject authority

This is a new concept for me. So I am really parking a link here with a quick description so I can come back to it later on.

The concept is that a teacher’s subject knowledge gives them the authority to teach a subject.

I first came across this idea when I was on my first day of teaching observation and I was talking to a teacher about my worries about my lack of knowledge of computer programming. An experienced teacher said in response that kids do detect a teacher’s depth of knowledge and problems can arise. It’s as if the little darlings are challenging teachers to be experts and if they find them wanting they start playing up.

It is also the subject of this book, Authority and the Teacher, by William Kitchen,  I found being reviewed in spiked

The central premise of his book is his claim that ‘the development of knowledge 
requires a submission to the authority of a master expert: the teacher’. Kitchen argues that it is the teacher’s authority that makes imparting knowledge possible; in the 
absence of authority, teaching becomes simply facilitation and knowledge becomes 
inaccessible. He is careful to delineate authority from power, and he locates teachers’ authority within their own subject knowledge, which in turn is substantiated and held in check through membership of a disciplinary community. Without ‘the authority of the community and the practice,’ he argues, the notion of ‘correctness’ loses its meaning 
and there is no longer any sense to the passing of educational judgements.

Those words “simply facilitation” bring back memories of teaching some classes in Spain. We were instructed to only teach conversation and not to do grammar. And I remember one class of adults who got me into a mess when we started talking about the conditionals. It was then that I realised I did not know my English grammar sufficiently well and I started to struggle and get confused by my lack of knowledge of English grammar. Not a nice experience!

I also remember what my frind Gavin said to me when he heard I was going to train to be a teacher. He sent me an email telling me about three teachers he remembered from his time at school. He recalled their individual teaching styles and subject knowledge of French. He remembered a primary school head who let him study French, instead of other subjects. He  particularly his A level teacher who taught him how French was really spoken. Gavin went on to be a French / English translator.

He was inspired by these teachers’ knowledge of the subject and their inspired methods to teach it.

Seven myths about education – Daisy Christodoulou

This little book – Seven Myths about Education – has received some attention from reviewers – herehere and here and appears to have caused a minor stir.

I have managed to get a copy from the library and have read the intro and first two chapters.

I will give my reaction to the books message later.

For now I want to deal with how the book deals with evidence and theory. This book has been accused of putting up straw men to easily knock down. And in the reviews above you will find elements of those accusations.

So I was prepared for a book that might annoy me with an over simplistic positioning of the myth makers. And what I got was a much better thing. Each chapter is neatly organised into three parts:

  1. Theoretical evidence
  2. Modern practice
  3. Why is it a myth?

Part three is all about evidence from cognitive sciences, and psychology. And this is what most attracts me. There seems to be a growing cross disciplinary subject called “learning sciences“. And what struck me is that the evidence from the first section is from writers who had no evidence but their experience – they were working at time when there was no scientific study. Great thinkers like Rosseau, Dickens, Dewey, and Freire were writing cogent and persuasive arguments based on their experience and analysis of contemporary education and classrooms.

Compare this to cognitive scientists, memory scientists and others who attempt to tease out how we actually remember things, and how we think. I have been reading another book that reviews the current work on “How we learn” which demonstrates that the learning sciences are growing rapidly and counter so many of our commonly accepted ideas about study and learning.

One of the best lines from the the Seven Myths book is the scrambled egg metaphor by E D Hirsch: “who sees the relationship between knowledge and skills as being like a scrambled eff. You cannot unscramble an egg, and you cannot unscramble knowledge from skills.

Which in turn reminds me of the jam being stirred into a rice pudding image from the wonderfully thought provoking play Arcadia by Tom Stoppard. (I wonder if Hirsch borrowed the idea from Stoppard and who in turn Stoppard stole it from?)

And this is what pedagogy needs. We need to shed the thinkers who used only the evidence of their experience. Anecdote is not evidence. The subject of how we think cannot be left to an individual’s experience of their own thinking. All the studies and books I have read about the cognitive sciences generally echo the fact that our thought processes are not transparent to our conscious brains. A scientific basis is required, on which we can build an evidence based craft of teaching.

 

How to make teaching great.

I have made it a rule of mine to ignore internet articles that say something like “Seven reasons..” or “Five great…” or “Nine things…”.

Articles that promise short, sharp lists of things are link bait. And like most link bait tactics it works, you are tempted to click. Though when you get to taste the articles they contain slim content, are easy to read, and usually disappoint. So I generally ignore articles listing things.

Unfortunately I have to ignore my rule because I am interested in reading about teaching. So with a little trepidation I clicked on this link – Seven ‘great’ teaching methods not backed up by evidence. And as the article was on the theConversation.com website made me think it was going to better than something I found on yahoo and its paler imitators.

And it was interesting, and better still, it had a link to substantial report – What makes great teaching. There is even a summary of the report –  How to make teaching great – for those who don’t want to plough through the 57 page report.

And then I started digging around a bit more and discovered that there is a book that has a very similar title Seven Myths About Education by Daisy Christodoulou and also book review A Perspective of ‘Seven Myths’

I have not read and digested all of these resources. My quick skim reading has left me with the impression that all these writers favour direct knowledge led teaching by subject matter experts. They generally agree that there is no such thing as an abstract skill. All skill and knowledge are interwoven – though that leaves me wondering is there not such a thing as a transferable skill.

Thus far I using this post as a bookmark. I have the book on order from the library and I am going to print out the Sutton report – sometimes known as print and disregard.

My initial thoughts is that I am not experienced in the background of this debate. It is all new to me. There seems to be two broad camps in education. What I will characterise as traditional teaching and method teaching. The traditionalists prefer teacher lead teaching, explaning, testing, assessing, scaffolding etc. The method teachers prefer discover led learning, group activities, gamification etc.

Hmmm… a lot to digest.