Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Minimal Guidance during instruction can work

This is a rebuttal of:
Why Minimal Guidance During Instruction Does Not Work: An Analysis of the Failure of Constructivist, Discovery, Problem-Based, Experiential, and Inquiry-Based Teaching (pdf)

Their argument is that inquiry learning approaches:
…ignore both the structures that constitute human cognitive architecture and evidence from empirical studies over the past half century that consistently indicate that minimally-guided instruction is less effective and less efficient than instructional approaches that place a strong emphasis on guidance of the student learning process. (Kirschner et al (2006).
There is commentary by artichoke at this wag the dog blog entry and also at this wiki entry which provoked some critical discussion. Read both arti's original and the comments.

also go here for gel papers: gel = guided experiential learning.
there are quite a few papers that look interesting, including one on the role of deliberate practice in the role of acquiring expertise, which I agree with, Ericsson

the contradiction b/w the Kirschner and Ericsson papers is resolved thus
constructionism / constructivism does work provided it helps to motivate individuals in effortful study - constructionism can achieve this more readily than other methods, not for all, but does work for those who become motivated - the teacher needs to be expert and understand what is happening

constructionism as developed by Papert et al is a method of subtle (environmental) intervention, yes, there is scaffolding but it is relatively unobtrusive - with scaffolding being removed (the teacher getting out the way and letting students create) where appropriate - other approaches may not enable able students to flourish in this way, they may always keep students chained up

the point is that constructivism used in this way is a form of guided experiental learning, it is just that the method of guidance is much more sophisticated and can create more interesting / enjoyable classroom environments, for both students and teachers

this was certainly explained clearly by Harel and Papert - only Papert's 1980 book Mindstorms is cited in the references, a lot of very good research is ignored in this "authoritative" study

constructionism / discovery learning does not work as some sort of generalised "weeties for the brain" in traditional School environments - however, the claim that children often learn more (through play) before they come to school than they learn at school ought to be not forgotten in thinking these issues through:
"Games are... the most ancient and timehonored (sic) vehicle for education. They are the original educational technology, the natural one, having received the seal of approval of natural selection. We don’t see mother lions lecturing cubs at the chalkboard; we don’t see senior lions writing their memoirs for posterity. In light of this, the question, ‘Can games have educational value?’ becomes absurd. It is not games but schools that are the newfangled notion, the untested fad, the violator of tradition. Game-playing is a vital educational function for any creature capable of learning." (Crawford 1982)
the bit in Kirschner et al about long term memory I think is refuted in this paper, The Expert Mind. Read the section on chunking, particularly the last couple of paragraphs:
"Ericsson also cites studies of physicians who clearly put information into long-term memory and take it out again in ways that enable them to make diagnoses. Perhaps Ericsson's most homely example, though, comes from reading. In a 1995 study he and Walter Kintsch of the University of Colorado found that interrupting highly proficient readers hardly slowed their reentry to a text; in the end, they lost only a few seconds. The researchers explained these findings by recourse to a structure they called long-term working memory, an almost oxymoronic coinage because it assigns to long-term memory the one thing that had always been defined as incompatible with it: thinking. But brain-imaging studies done in 2001 at the University of Konstanz in Germany provide support for the theory by showing that expert chess players activate long-term memory much more than novices do.

Fernand Gobet of Brunel University in London champions a rival theory, devised with Simon in the late 1990s. It extends the idea of chunks by invoking highly characteristic and very large patterns consisting of perhaps a dozen chess pieces. Such a template, as they call it, would have a number of slots into which the master could plug such variables as a pawn or a bishop. A template might exist, say, for the concept of "the isolated queen's-pawn position from the Nimzo-Indian Defense," and a master might change a slot by reclassifying it as the same position "minus the dark-squared bishops." To resort again to the poetic analogy, it would be a bit like memorizing a riff on "Mary had a little lamb" by substituting rhyming equivalents at certain slots, such as "Larry" for "Mary," "pool" for "school" and so on. Anyone who knows the original template should be able to fix the altered one in memory in a trice."
Finally, Papert on instructionism, pedagogy and constructionism:
"The word instructionism is intended to mean something rather different from pedagogy, or the art of teaching. It is to be read on a more ideological or programmatic level as expressing the belief that the route to better learning must be the improvement of instruction - if School is less than perfect, why then, you know what to do: Teach better. Constructionism is one of a family of educational philosophies that denies this "obvious truth." It does not call in question the value of instruction as such ... The constructionist attitude to teaching is not at all dismissive because it is minimalist - the goal is to teach in such a way as to produce the most learning for the least teaching ... an African proverb: If a man is hungry you can give him a fish, but it is better to give him a line and teach him to catch fish himself"
(The Children's Machine, 139)
Kirschner et al say "Minimal Guidance During Instruction Does Not Work" No qualification there, in that headline grabbing dogma. I say, it can work, but you need good teaching materials and an expert teacher.


Anonymous said...

I loved the Expert Mind link Bill - The drosophila of cognitive science - poetic wonder if SC has read this.

The ideas in chunking are also valuable to my thinking - which is suffering from too many ideas this week - I am overwhelmed and think fondly back to last week when my only struggle was how to position the Flickr badge in the wiki

There is an article in the 16 September New Scientist 2006 - "How to be a Genius" p40 which validates your arguments about the importance of deliberate practice .

Sustained focused effort is needed to achieve extraordinary mastery stuff
Even the genius of Tiger Woods had to be laboriously constructed."

Bill Kerr said...

here's a link to the new scientist article mentioned by arti, how to be a genius

it is saying that:
1) hard work, focused effort (effortful study), is most important
2) supportive environment, mentoring is also very important
3) natural ability (genetics) has some importance but is not so important as the first two

I think the section in the article about environment, encouragement and mentoring is important. We can't actually force anyone to work hard but we can help build supportive environments that might encourage this to happen. The Chinese writer Lu Hsun pointed out that beautiful flowers require good soil:

"Study so intense requires resources - time and space to work, teachers to mentor - and the subjects of Bloom's study, like most elite performers, almost invariably enjoyed plentiful support in their formative years. Bloom, in fact, came to see great talent as less an individual trait than a creation of environment and encouragement. "We were looking for exceptional kids," he said, "and what we found were exceptional conditions." He was intrigued to find that few of the study's subjects had shown special promise when they first took up the fields they later excelled in, and most harboured no early ambition for stellar achievement. Rather, they were encouraged as children in a general way to explore and learn, then supported in more focused ways as they began to develop an area they particularly liked. Another retrospective study, of leading scientists, similarly found that most came from homes where learning was revered for its own sake.

Finally, most retrospective studies, including Bloom's, have found that almost all high achievers were blessed with at least one crucial mentor as they neared maturity. When Subotnik looked at music students at New York's elite Juilliard School and winners of the high-school-level Westinghouse Science Talent Search, he found that the Juilliard students generally realised their potential more fully because they had one-on-one relationships with mentors who prepared them for the challenges they would face after their studies ended. Most of the Westinghouse winners, on the other hand, went on to colleges where they failed to find mentors to nurture their talent and guide them through rough spots. Only half ended up pursuing science, and few of them with distinction."

As well as chunking (grouping details and concepts into patterns) the article also suggests there is something else involved:

"Apart from chunking, the elite also learn to identify quickly which bits of information in a changing situation to store in working memory so that they can use them later. This lets them create a continually updated mental model far more complex than that used by someone less practised, allowing them to see subtler dynamics and deeper relationships."

This reminds me of Papert's principle, mentioned in Minsky's book, Society of Mind (10.4):

"Some of the most crucial steps in mental growth are based not simply on acquiring new skills, but on acquiring new administrative ways to use what one already knows"

There is some discussion of these issues at my learningEvolves wiki, follow the links from the learning theories menu page

dan dempsey said...

It seems to me that when we approach this in the context of teaching 5th grade math in a large public school system and are thinking about a general plan of action for the district that
Kirschner-Sweller-Clark are spot on.

In fact the data from "Reform Math" efforts in Seattle reveals that minimally guided instruction is an abysmal failure.

To improve a system requires the intelligent application of relevant data.
-- W. Edwards Deming (1900-1993)