Sunday, July 22, 2012

theory of instruction confronts theory of mind

A research question arising from consideration of Direct Instruction

 My current research question:
Why is Zig Engelmann's Direct Instruction (DI), a comprehensively trialled educational theory of instruction based on logical inference with rigorous empirical checks on performance and curriculum design successful in practice given that our minds apparently develop through a process of fluid analogies, as argued by Artificial Intelligence researchers Marvin Minsky and Douglas Hofstadter?

There appears to be convincing evidence for the success of DI in practice. Zig  Engelmann has put Chapter 5: Follow Through Evaluation of his book, Teaching Needy Kids in our Backward System, on line which provides a blow by blow account of how Project Follow Through findings were suppressed by "progressives" back in the 1970s

Here are some conflicting statements from the different schools of thought on logical thinking:

 Engelmann and Carnine. Could John Stuart Mill have saved our schools? (2011)
“If the examples presented to teach something are capable of generating only one inference or meaning, that is what all learners will learn, regardless of other differences among individual learners (9) … From our perspective, the most fundamental fact about the learner's mind is that it is totally logical in its learning operations. This is directly inferred from the learner's most elementary performance” (57)
Marvin Minsky, Society Of Mind (1987)
“Logical Thinking The popular but unsound theory that much of human reasoning proceeds in accord with clear-cut rules that lead to foolproof conclusions. In my view, we employ logical reasoning only in special forms of adult thought, which are used mainly to summarise what has already been discovered. Most of our ordinary mental work – that is, our commonsense reasoning – is based more on 'thinking by analogy' - that is, applying to our present circumstances our representations of seemingly similar previous experiences” (329)
I have been thinking about this question and discussing it with whoever is willing to discuss it. I can provide further reading references as an addition to this blog post for anyone who requests that. If anyone reading this feels they have an answer or relevant references then please post them in comments.

I'm not happy until I've theorised a learning approach and I become a little obsessive until I feel I've got to the bottom of it. From what I've read a theory of logical empiricism is incomplete when evaluated with a modern theory of mind. That doesn't mean that DI doesn't work - the evidence seems compelling - but it still worries me because there might be hidden implications for some aspects of learning.