Friday, March 21, 2008

learning evolves pyramid

The learning evolves pyramid is an attempt to develop a logo which summarises my core issues at the moment, something like this:

A creative education that critically evaluates what is fundamental and succeeds for the disadvantaged

This attempts to express that development of one side of policy should not be seen in isolation from other sides of policy. Rather than thinking in terms of polar absolutes the pyramid metaphor is about extracting and combining the best from different sorts of approaches.

eg. some people like to focus on creativity and pay less attention to what is fundamental knowledge or how to succeed with the disadvantaged. Hence they will gravitate to well off schools where students are already advantaged and those nitty gritty issues can be avoided

eg. some people focus on the disadvantaged but might pay less attention to creativity in education because they are focused on measurement (standardised testing) to ensure that the education is succeeding

eg. some people talk about "back to the basics" without seeming to realise that the fundamentals are not set in stone, that learning does evolve. eg. that maths can be learnt in new ways using computers with Scratch, logo etc. It is necessary to bring the fundamentals together with creativity to grasp that they do evolve

eg. with regard to learning theory some people see constructionist approaches (or other discovery or inquiry approaches) as polar opposites to behaviourist approaches, rather than the need to employ both, to walk the walk along a learning styles continuum

Fundamentals: basics, traditions, history, Enlightenment, language, maths, science, the non universals, the canon

Disadvantage: social class, early intervention, the gap between the haves and have nots, FOSS, OLPC, Teach for America, Teach for Australia

Creativity: visual programming, hard fun, Scratch, etoys, game maker, web apps (blogs, wikis etc.)

Learning evolves: constructionism, effortful study, concept mapping, various other learning theories some of which are summarised on the learning evolves wiki

This is a rough effort to express an overview of what I am on about at the moment.

Related: Noel Pearson's "radical centre" concept applied to education


Tony Forster said...

Good mental model, that pyramid.

More creativity: claymation, making videocasts, podcasting.

Do you believe that learning for the disadvantaged has to concentrate more on the fundamentals? Why would this be? Why would the disadvantaged not have the same need for fundamentals and creative expression, though at a lower level for both?

Bill Kerr said...

hi tony,

I think there is evidence that not very creative behaviourist approaches are necessary and do work for some learners

eg. Computer based drill and practice programs (developed to a fine art by Patrick Suppes in the 60s) do work and in particular they work best for disadvantaged students and schools! These programs do not work as well for middle class students! (Solomon, pp. 22 & 27)

Also the work by Jaime Escalante in a disadvantaged school seemed to be drill and skill, quite far from constructivism, and he was very successful. Watch the film Stand and Deliver if you get the chance

Also anecdotal evidence I have heard about what works for ADHD kids

Here is the real issue perhaps: what do Suppes, Escalante and Papert all have in common - they are all good mathematicians, they know their subject domain very well. So they are all successful even though the teaching methodologies of Suppes, Escalante appear to be the opposite of Paperts

Suppes and Escalante just accepted the traditional curriculum and taught it well, that puts them on the fundamental side of the pyramid.

Papert restructured our whole way of looking at maths and did that well. His approach encompasses both fundamentals and creativity and is far more interesting - but fewer people get it.

I think I need to improve my description of creativity - your question exposes deficiencies in the current description and also challenges the whole distinction b/w fundamentals and creativity. Are creative people just people who know the fundamentals really well? Perhaps.

Another possible interpretation here might be - it doesn't really matter what methodology the teacher uses - as long as they know deeply the subject and are happy with their methodology. The real problem with what passes for much of maths primary education is that the teachers don't understand and don't like maths themselves

See curriculum reform will not improve education without quality teachers
Professor Louden from the University of Western Australia notes that a “very large proportion of students [doing combined education degrees] cannot do grade 5 maths, because they have not learnt maths at school and they became primary teachers because it is something you can do without being any good at maths.”

Tony Forster said...

Thanks Bill
(Solomon, pp. 22 & 27) no link given
curriculum reform will not improve bad link

A couple of thoughts.
We have tended to use the terms disadvantaged groups and the bottom third of the class interchangably in past discussions. Are the needs of these 2 groups the same? Is it only the smarter kids and of them those who are also from the more affluent suburbs that really thrive with self directed learning? Why?

Secondly you refer to extremely successful instructionist programs in disadvantaged areas and suggest that its just the teacher using the mode that they are most comfortable with. This ignores that an individual teacher will adjust the teaching mode to the social background and ability level of the class, preferring instructionist methods for less competent students?

Bill Kerr said...

Cynthia Solomon, Computer Environments for Children: A Reflection on Theories on Learning and Education (1986)

She examines and compares 4 different ways to use computers in education (Suppes - drill and practice, Davis - Socratic, discovery, Dwyer - eclectic, heuristic, Papert - constructivist, Piagetian)

Cynthia Solomon is a colleague of Paperts.

Papert also refers to Suppes in his book The Children's Machine .

From my article about behaviourism (footnote 5):

The leading advocate of Computer Aided Instruction (CAI) in the USA has been Patrick Suppes. I was helped by Papert's non dogmatic appreciation of what Suppes was trying to achieve, as expressed in 'The Children's Machine':-

"The concept of CAI, for which Suppe's original work was the seminal model, has been criticised as using the computer as an expensive set of flash cards. Nothing could be further from Suppe's intention than any idea of mere repetitive rote. His theoretical approach had persuaded him that a correct theory of learning would allow the computer to generate, in a way that no set of flash cards could imitate, an optimal sequence of presentations based on the past history of the individual learner. At the same time the children's responses would provide significant data for the further development of the theory of learning. This was serious high science." (164)

Papert goes onto explore his reasons for rejecting Suppes approach which is an argument that Relationship is more central to how our minds develop rather than Logic. See Ch. 8 'Computerists' of 'The Children's Machine' for the full argument.

I then turned to Solomon who has documented Suppes work in greater detail and discovered something that was very interesting. Computer based drill and practice programs (developed to a fine art by Suppes) do work and in particular they work best for disadvantaged students and schools! These programs do not work as well for middle class students! (Solomon, pp. 22 & 27).

I interpret the finding by Suppes, as reported by Solomon, that CAI drill and practice assists the Disadvantaged but not the middle class students in this way:-

1. Middle class kids would be more likely to do their homework (put in the time at home to generate a significant number of parabolas so that the patterns would start to make sense) and so would not need the quick fix provided by a quadratics software program, so much.
2. Middle class kids question the system of School but are more likely to stay and perform within it. Disadvantaged kids are more likely to question the system, reject it and drop out of it, either physically or mentally.

In response to your second thought I found that I did have to adjust my teaching when I transitioned from a middle class school to a disadvantaged school. I describe aspects of this transition, which was intellectually traumatic - shifting towards behaviourism along the continuum - in the same essay (behaviourism ):
Paradoxically, I became uneasy about the success of the software, as I came to realise that I was using Behaviourist methods successfully. My uneasiness came from the fact that as a Logo enthusiast I am committed to a Constructionist educationally philosophy which is way down the other end of the spectrum of teaching methodologies from where Behaviourism lies. At one point I desperately thought to myself, "I have become Skinner, is there any way out?"

Bill Kerr said...

Fixing some bad links in my comments:

Curriculum reform will not improve education without quality teachers

Computer environments for children by Cynthia Solomon

thanks, Tony