Sunday, March 23, 2008

iterating the learning pyramid

earlier post: learning evolves pyramid

The first one is a repeat and the other two are new iterations

The pyramid is a thinking tool to provide a big picture framework about what I see as important for the future of education

Identify the important knowledge and deliver it in an engaging way so that it connects to all, including those who are disempowered through their social class

The idea behind the pyramid heuristic is that we shouldn't be too polar in our thinking. Too much polarity is what seems to go wrong in much policy formulation and argument.

eg. No child left behind (NCLB) in the USA by all accounts has failed through its emphasis on addressing disadvantage in such a way that reduces successful, creative teachers to tears - and drives them out of the profession

eg. the use of Game Maker software is good for engagement of many but can easily capitulate to a relatively impoverished knowledge agenda (make games) in practice

Some notes about the changes in the iterations:

Fundamentals can be misleading because it may be impossible to pin down fundamentals. Our beliefs about what is fundamental change as our knowledge increases. eg. proof in geometry was seen as fundamental for thousands of years after Euclid but is not seen as so important now (can be elaborated)

Creativity is a hard to define word. I think that engagement or emotion represents more what the real debates in education are about. Is school about teaching the basics seriously, or is it about engaging students? Some schools now define their main mission as "Students enjoy school". I have the feeling that some teachers are afraid to challenge kids intellectually through fear that they won't enjoy it (and it's hard work for the teacher).

Social class is more inclusive than only focusing on the disadvantaged. Power is more general again but might obscure the importance of social class in society in general.

Technology is missing from the pyramid. It's a subset of knowledge, which is a can of worms in itself. Computer technology is 50 years old. The Enlightenment provides the basis for modernity and is 300 years old. (obligatory remarks about the shallowness of the web2.0 movement omitted here)

The pyramid is open to many interpretations. It's meant to be a thinking and discussion tool. The important thing is to avoid polar opposites and the pyramid is useful here.


Anonymous said...

NCLB is I think a tough subject to deal with. The intention was to provide some objective measure of schools so that people and the government could tell which schools were performing well, and which were not--to take it more out of the subjective realm. At the same time it's had unintended consequences, I think because it didn't take the complexities of schools into account. Even the Education Secretary admitted that it's not the best law they could come up with. She said in fact that it was a compromise. The Bush Admin. couldn't get everything it wanted in the law. Some give had to be given to what the Teachers unions wanted in order for it to get passed. It has provisions that strike some (like me) as sheer idiocy, like testing foreign students even though they know no English. Schools can't refuse admittance to them, because policy dictates that they take all comers. If a school's score goes down because of an influx of non-English speakers, people get fired. Teachers feel like they're losing control of their environment. They're victims of circumstances beyond their control, and it doesn't make sense to them.

The tests could be improved in terms of what they test. I think the problems you see with NCLB actually have less to do with the standardized tests, and more to do with the rules surrounding them.

Perhaps what's flawed about NCLB is it has cookie-cutter policies that apply no matter what's ailing the school.

What might work better is more of a transparency-feedback strategy. Instead of imposing consequences on schools that score badly on the tests, expose the scores they get and the benchmarks they're expected to meet, and let parents and the community judge for themselves whether they think corrective action needs to be taken. The state can offer remedies that can be put in motion if members of the community want to pursue them.

Secondly, it seems to me one thing that could be corrected that would get rid of a glaring problem is get rid of the ridiculous rule saying that non-English speaking students will get tested the same way on the same schedule as English-proficient students. This would prevent some of the angst that's being generated by NCLB.

I can see some shortcomings with standardized tests, but I don't have an aversion to them. I remember participating in standardized tests when I was in public school, 25 years ago. They were also multiple choice, fill-in-the-bubble tests. The difference was they were mandated by the state (Colorado), and they were given to inform the schools and parents about how well we were learning. No consequences were imposed no matter what the scores were. I didn't have a sense that my schools were teaching to the test. They taught whichever way they thought was best. I was in a reasonably well performing school district though. I could tell this because as a child I was moved to different schools on occasion, and I could see a difference from one school to the next in terms of teaching style, and what was taught.

Bill Kerr said...

hi mark,

I spent a bit of time tonight searching for information about the NCLB policy. There are many critics and I gather that major reforms are now underway, although some regard it as beyond reform.

What I'm really searching for here (my broader agenda) is this --> Is there a positive role to be played by some form of standardised testing?

I have also been wondering about PISA, the OECD international comparative tests.

What I found out is that PISA is claimed to measure ability to apply knowledge, not just ability to recall knowledge (one of the criticisms of NCLB testing)

I'm thinking about what standardised tests really do measure - when the claim is made that Finland has the world's number one education system (based on PISA test results) what does this actually mean?

If interested you can read some of the PISA sample question interactively here