"I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power." - Thomas Jefferson 1820

"There is a growing technology of testing that permits us now to do in nanoseconds things that we shouldn't be doing at all." - Dr. Gerald Bracey author of Rotten Apples in Education

Search This Blog

Friday, December 7, 2012

Process vs. Content - Finding The Perfect Balance

I think in the big picture of life, I tend to believe Buddha got it right. Balance is the key or, as Franklin said, all things in moderation. Education, the process of passing present knowledge on to the next generation, is looking for this balance between teaching process and teaching content. The scales had been tipped towards content but, in the name of reform, they are now tipping more heavily toward process with Common Core. In the American tradition of, if a little is good a lot is great, we are moving almost exclusively towards process. This puts us out of balance which causes problems both now and later.

One teacher explained, "Instead of focusing on teaching facts, we teach students how to gather, articulate, and make inferences from facts in order to create arguments and conclusions."

In Fairfield Connecticut, where they are already working towards Common Core Standards and Assessments, their curriculum emphasizes critical thinking and collaborative learning or "inquiry-based instructional method," rather than memorization. One teacher put it this way, "We are moving from downloading to coaching." This is process over content.  Children learn mainly in groups with an emphasis on problem solving through experimentation.

How is this new focus on process working for students and teachers, the ones we really should be paying attention to? According to a group of parents who met with school officials because their children were coming home in tears, not so good.  One man said, “For the first time, I have three children who are struggling in math.”

Because of the emphasis on group-learning time, teachers are having to walk around the classroom, checking in with the students and directing their inquiry process without showing them a working process to solve the problem. The Superintendent noted that this is actually harder work for teachers. It also takes longer for everyone in the class to master the required skills.

And how is this working out for the students of Fairfield according to their test scores? Fairfield students scored much better than the state average on 10th grade state-wide exams, but scored below other towns in Fairfield’s DRG, or economic reference group. The focus on process has meant that students, who previously had few problems in math, are so frustrated they are now in tears and the teachers are having to work harder, all so scores could actually fall. The school system says they are attempting to remedy this. 

Certainly at the end of their schooling we want chidlren to be able to address novel real world problems by using the skills they have acquired and assimilated in school.  The question teachers and parents are asking is, "Are the early school years the place to focus on this skill?"

In the Spring 2012 American Educator, which is put out by the American Federation of Teachers, three experts in education weighed in on this question.  Richard E. Clark, Director of the Center for Cognitive Psychology at USC, Paul A. Kirschner, professor of educational psychology at the Centre for Learning Sciences and Technologies at the Open University of the Netherlands, and John Sweller, emeritus professor at the University of New South Wales concluded that, “inquiry based learning,” which goes by many other names, works for those who are already expert in a subject, but not for those who are novices, because the novices have no basis of knowledge from which to solve the problem. "The past half century of empirical research has provided overwhelming and unambiguous evidence that, for everyone but experts, partial guidance during instruction is significantly less effective and efficient than full guidance."

Is there any role for discovery learning, or problem based learning or similar partial guidance learning methods in K-12? If we listen to Buddha the answer is yes.  This is what science fairs are for - for children to take on a problem and discover a solution on their own. Placing a bunch of manipulatives on the table in front of five third graders and asking them to figure out the answer to 5x4 is not an efficient or effective way to teach multiplication. It is not the way most teachers would want to teach multiplication. So why are we tipping the scales in this direction?

No comments:

Post a Comment

Keep it clean and constructive. We reserve the right to delete comments that are profane, off topic, or spam.

Site Meter