‘Opposites attract’ may sound as a plausible advice used in dating site commercials but would be a questionable approach in education. As a deeply moral enterprise education values sensitivity in teaching and instruction to be adaptive to the learner. This must be since we proclaim that the learner is at the center of the whole enterprise. A crude “pass or fail’; “attained or not”; “true or false” is unlike and in contrast with (good) teaching and (deep) learning (1). “There will always be another approach to reach a good solution” might be the typical reaction by a teacher when a pupil gets stuck in a difficult assignment. Indeed, trying in (a) different way(s) may contribute to consolidation of a learning result. `That is at least what Herbart in his teaching pedagogy advocated (2). There is no good or bad in learning; only multiple ways in which a learning process unfolds to reach acceptable outcomes (3). If this is true than there is no case to be made for teaching aimed at avoiding mistakes. It may be even be a good strategy to create mishaps, perhaps.
So, what to think of a research study in case based learning that offered a course in writing in which both good and bad examples of texts were presented? The assumption was that by contrasting exemplars learners would focus on the essential elements of a good writing piece. It turned out that this contrasting approach was successful in creating good stories by the learners. Students were better able to identify the weak parts in their own writing.
It certainly could be the case that analyzing good and bad exemplars elicits an active comparison and processing. The idea is being advocated quite strongly currently (1). And it may be true that in this way students develop a concrete and fuller understanding of what key criteria are in the assessment of their work. But why then did students learn most about the weak parts of their writing? Is focusing on the “good and the bad” a good strategy? Or is it more that capturing similarities and differences, looking for generalizations, and synthesizing key elements describe the learning process more adequately? It may be not so much the meeting of good and bad but the get-together of multiple perspectives which laid open insights that prospered students.
Contrasting case instruction can improve self-assessment of writing, by Xiaodong Lin Siegler, David Shaenfield, & Anastasia D. Elder. In: Education Tech Research Dev (2015) 63:517–537.
Published online: 20 June 2015, Association for Educational Communications and Technology 2015
Link: DOI 10.1007/s11423-015-9390-9
One of the most successful and effective teaching method goes by the name of “Direct Instruction” short DI. (1) . But it has a bad press. DI stands for introducing a clearly delineated instructional task that will be taught by a teacher, mostly to the whole class, offering plenty of exercises and practicing opportunities, followed by meticulous feedback on results. What is wrong with that? DI was introduced in the sixties of the last century and has since then a long standing history of versions and improvements. It has been implemented in all kinds of subject areas , for different age groups of students, cultural background, and countries all over the world. And it works (2). Several reasons are given as to why: time to learn, immediate feedback, teacher control, opportunity to practice, mastery goals, and also a caring teaching environment (warmth). In that respect DI includes many of the ingredients of a wealth of teaching effect studies.
So what is the complaint? This was carefully sorted out by an Australian study looking for the arguments against DI. Adversaries claim that DI is not suited for all children, it does not address creativity and critical thinking, students do not like it, there are other ways of teaching, and teachers are degraded as technicians.
Now this may all be true (or not, we simply lack the backing evidence of most critiques). Setting aside for a moment the nature and content of critiques and turning to who are issuing the critique would reveal that it comes mostly from educationalist (more specifically educational psychologist in motivation theory). DI is a trusted teaching method for many others: trainers in vocations and organizations, teachers in developing countries, therapists in health care, and coaches in sports. So, we have the strange situation of a teaching method developed by educationalists but then denounces by them, despite the success it has. All would agree on one thing though. DI typically maximizes instruction time – teachers and students are really on task. The core of DI is engagement with the task. When teacher and students do this in a deliberate way, what would be wrong with that?
Source of this article:
Fiona McMullen & Alison Madelaine (2014) Why is there so much resistance to Direct Instruction?, Australian Journal of Learning Difficulties, 19:2, 137-151, DOI:10.1080/19404158.2014.962065
To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/19404158.2014.962065
Children are parents’ pride, especially when children are doing well at school. Therefore, the ultimate function of schools is to make parents proud. Overall, parents seem to be quite satisfied with the school they send their kids (schools get a small plus)(1) . Once a school is selected for their child, which is mainly based on school test scores and school safety, parents’ judgment of school quality is primarily guided by adequate information they receive from the school about their children (2). Next in the parents’ view, school quality is determined by the degree to which parents are involved in the school and how well they communicate with teachers. This social emotional tie seems far more important than adequacy of school resources, or how effective the school is managed.
We know quite a lot about what makes a school stand out in the view of parents. Conclusion?: It is not just school average test scores. This is true for parents from different backgrounds and with children of all abilities (3). A nice illustration is found in a study on offering bilingual education in the school to raise academic level/ opportunity of English speaking students. “Nice…” parents seem to be thinking but first comes how well my children will learn from good instruction on standard curriculum subjects (quality of instruction gets a 52% and how safe a learning environment is for my kids comes second with 22%) .
“Nice…”one could rejoin, but what about the object of parents’ pride? It turns out that children’s’ self-reported happiness and satisfaction with their learning environment is unrelated to average test results in their school (4) : children are just as happy in schools where average test scores are low as in schools where average test scores are high. So, parents’ satisfaction with school quality is not strongly related with their children’s’ enjoyment of school. A noteworthy circumstance. The thing is that a child’s happiness and enjoyment with the school affects learning results – which makes the circle round again. Satisfaction/parent, quality/school, happiness/child and learning: a strong loop.
Lisa M. Dorner (2015) From global jobs to safe spaces: the diverse discourses that sell multilingual schooling in the USA, In: Current Issues in Language Planning, 16:1-2, 114-131,
To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14664208.2014.947013
Hearing your favorite piece of music play is a joy of recognition. The melody is familiar and brings back good memories. The sound is detected almost instantly. Probably you have been listening to that piece quite a few times before it got such a high ranked status. To appreciate things surely takes a while. But there is more to it. A short example about tooth brushing to illustrate this: every morning the same ritual: taking your toothbrush and start brushing. Someday, by whatever circumstance, you are offered to try out a new type of brushing tool. Amazed about that whole new sensation you confess it is different and start using the new one from then on. It happens. What happened is an opportunity to break out of the obvious and the ‘taken for granted’, and you ‘differentiated’. It occurs all too often that we stick to things, actions, and thoughts that are familiar to us but learning to appreciate means to let them stand out against other options and possibilities, like in the sensation informed decision to use a new brushing tool. Appreciation begins with focusing; to make a figure-ground distinction (1) .
Does this work for learning (to appreciate) a theory as well? Students in teacher education are confronted with several theories of learning to guide their teaching but will there ever be a faithful adoption of a deliberate way of understanding teaching or are theories of learning an indifferent bulk of concepts not particularly relevant to understand one’s teaching actions(2) ?
A study by Swedish scholars used a carefully designed instructional procedure to acquaint students of teaching with a particular model of teaching. The key of their stepwise procedure was to focus on (by varying) the relevant differences between theories. In this way (and students had to give three subsequent teaching lessons to experience relevant features of the model) they learned to appreciate what mattered (the content) and what distracted from an understanding.
What stands out here as crucial is the gradual and deliberate looking for critical aspects (i.e., focusing on what matters) and that this may take a while. Things are not that evident the first time we look at it. Unfortunately we do not often have the opportunity the study provided; to go over our actions more than once (or even three times). Nevertheless, focusing in more detail how we understand things may definitely bring about a more mindful approach. It is especially the educative setting that allows us to do this and go over our actions once again. It is good to note then that learning (a theory) does not materialize at once but takes effect after a prolonged encounter.
Göran Brante, Mona Holmqvist Olander, Per-Ola Holmquist & Marta Palla (2015):
Theorising teaching and learning: pre-service teachers’ theoretical awareness of learning, European Journal of Teacher Education, 38:1, 102-118,
To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/02619768.2014.902437
Summarizing the piece
Referencing the issue
“I can do…; I will do …” These two considerations indicate quite nicely how we make a tradeoff in our decision to start an activity or not. And most of the time it works quite well; that is, to keep away our fear of failure and our sense of mastery high. But what if we have low self-esteem in our own abilities and a ‘learned helplessness’ relationship with the environment in which we live. Certainly there will be a big chance we land at the bottom of our expectations. It is a kind of downhill race: faster and faster we are going to believe: I cannot do; therefore I will not do…. In education this regression is disastrous. And some of our students are experiencing precisely this; low expectations, low self-esteem. The downhill race is called marginalization.
David, the boy from the cited study, was such a marginalized student with quite a history of ‘behavior problems’ while staying in normal schools. Following his learning trajectory at an alternative school it was quite remarkable to see how positive connections worked. Teachers who believe in David, addressing his needs, and providing support so that David could master educational tasks were critical, as well as peer contacts who were not negatively shaping his sense of worth and ability but connected to him on an equal basis . Drawing from expectancy value theory (1) the study shows that positive connection with teachers and peers facilitates interest in learning and openness to instruction, thus “shaping David’s subjective task values”.
More or less, we know the entailed message already, of course. What is so striking from the study is David’s voice in the matter (2). Not just the quote in the title of the study “Go over there and look at the pictures…” but other locations in the article as well express the pupil’ s eagerness and willingness to act. “With some help I can, and then I will do“ seems to be what he is saying. ‘Knowing you can’ is a stronghold position in teaching and learning so quintessential that it has probably been overlooked too many times (See Page Observation no. 1)
Marnie Best, Deborah Price & Faye McCallum (2015), ‘Go over there and look at the pictures in the book’: an investigation of educational marginalisation, social interactions and achievement motivation in an alternative middle school setting
International Journal of Inclusive Education, 19:4, 422-434,
To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13603116.2014.935815
Falling in love with one’s own views is potentially harmful; especially if one wants to act upon them. But how does one avoid becoming Pygmalion? Certainly not by ignoring blind spots. Not to see the obvious can occur easily when one operates too long, too isolated in the same mode of conduct. Every profession, teaching not excluded, falls into the deception of not seeing “The Elephant in The Room”. For that reason we have our professional development programs, one might say. However knowledge and reflection, and even sharing of experiences are not enough. So, how to proceed then?
The cited article acknowledges the detrimental effects of working solo as a professional and designed a PD program within which teachers learned to look at instructional events more closely. Video clips (cases) were shown to which the teachers had to react and interpret them from the view point of raising the task involvement of students. The program was quite successful in that teachers became observant of what was going on in instructional events and could make sense of what they saw.
Video (training) is known to be a powerful instrument in teacher change (1) . Showing video clips of other teachers or, even stronger, confronting teachers with their own classroom videos, either discussed individually or in a group of teachers (being familiar with each other or not) are operative modes of confronting the Elephant in the Room.
Learning to look and notice (2) is what videos are excellent at. But Pygmalion knew that the act of looking can be a deceiving thing. One looks at what one wants to see. Chasing the Elephant away would require to stir up prevalent modes of conduct, not just views. In that respect the tearing down of solo performance, to which the article took position, is an addition to the professional development program that proved its worth.
Learning to See Teaching in New Ways: A Foundation for Maintaining Cognitive Demand by Miray Tekkumru Kisa & Mary Kay Stein
American Educational Research Journal, February 2015, Vol. 52, No. 1, pp. 105–136
www.DOI: 10.3102/0002831214549452 ; AERA. http://aerj.aera.net
Looking into a mirror for a critical inspection, we do it many times a day. No harm in knowing how we are doing. It is a private thing and we do not allow many others to know what we know, unless of course we have a “trusted other” who may peek: “Mirror, mirror on the wall who is the most fairy of them all”. There is a painting by Manet of Olympia, a goddess of beautiful perfection showing how she waves aside a mirror that is handed to her. She knows she is perfect, no need for further assessment. But we mortals alas need to be informed how we are doing. A Trusted Other is more than welcome.
And there are helping agents who are willing to hold a mirror. The study cited found that more than 90% of the teachers supported student self-assessment and were willing to deploy it in their classrooms. This is an exceptionally positive outcome, and according to the authors a reassuring finding for fostering learning in students. Such a high favoritism on part of teachers for self-assessment needs to be explained and the article gives 5 plausible backgrounds: (1) positive experience, (2) high belief in students, (3) willingness to include, (4) advantages and (5) attending courses.
Still the feeling remains: why are teachers so positive? What is it that brings them to embrace it. It cannot be that students are doing their job, i.,e. assessing grades. Or that teachers get tired of pointing out the same defects in study behaviors over and over again. There must be a deeper level to the self-reports explaining why. I can only guess, but it must have something to do with the teaching profession itself, since almost all teachers in the survey agree. Probably it has to do with being a pedagogue (1) , a trusted other whose main incentive it is to foster understandings, to hold a mirror. I wonder if it was not apparent somewhere in the self reports: the pride of teaching.
Teachers’ reasons for using self-assessment: a survey self-report of Spanish teachers
Ernesto Panadero, Gavin Brown & Matthew Courtney
In: Assessment in Education Principles, Policy & Practice, 21:4, 365-383,
To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/0969594X.2014.919247
Education requires participation. If not, how else would one benefit from it? But what if circumstance, conditions, and, or prerequisites are hindering a full involvement? In urban areas school drop out can rise up to 54%! (1); young people, 18 years old, are leaving formal education without any certification. This can amount to 45%. But numbers do not tell the whole story here. It is the sad deduction that an opportunity was failed and a talent was lost. Education must be for all.
The author of the study cited, J. Smyth, wrote a review on the position of schooling in poor areas. Between the lines you feel anger and astonishment about current practices and failing results when it comes to participation of students.
When it comes to the debate on disadvantaged students and socio-economic inequality there is often fierce and sometimes offensive discussion in which the role of research is quite often misused. One quote in this either-or fashion: “Pisa evidence suggests that child poverty has less impact on children’s test results in the UK than it does on average in the 66 countries that participated in the survey. Perhaps Britain’s under-performance has more to do with low teacher standards”.(3). Especially the transition in argumentation needs to be noted here.
The author having a long research engagement in the issue of poverty and education notes there is more to it than the eyes meet at first glance. Stimulating and qualified teachers, student emancipatory action which is embedded in a local community makes education and schooling worthwhile to them again. It is the concerted action of all three that counts. (tongue in cheek: teachers could make the real difference here).
Improving schools in poor areas: It’s not about the organisation, structures and privatisation, stupid!
Improving Schools 2014, Vol. 17(3) 231–240
www.sagepub.co.uk/journals ; www.DOI: 10.1177/1365480214556418
The above picture was taken from a sculpture by Yue Minjun
How did the great explorers from the past (Stanley, Amundsen, Scott…) proceed? Did they know precisely in advance what to look for and where to go? Or was it joy in the endeavor and challenge itself that drove them? Searching, exploring can be fun. The thing is: without some sort of a plan you will be lost soon. Even more so; without some prior knowledge of what to look for, and how to interpret what you find you will end up nowhere. This is nicely illustrated in the conversation Socrates had with a slave boy called Meno. Trying to explain a problem to someone without any prior familiarity with it is doomed to fail and Plato (who documented the conversation) interprets this as learning not being a matter of discovering something new but rather of recollecting something the soul knew before birth but has since forgotten.
I wondered if this would apply to the study cited. Students having a strong mastery orientation (“want to learn”) no doubt must have encountered difficulty when the task is relatively new (and all good instructional tasks should be). Having adequate problem solving strategies helps to approach the task but may not necessarily be enough to conquer the task. Therefore, just exploring could put them off track (with considerable consequences for the teacher to bring them back on track again) .
Put otherwise : there is a third compass needed in completing the travel: 1) learning style/preference/approach/orientation of the student (1) ; next to 2) task specific, instruction based problem solving strategies (2) , next to 3) student prior knowledge gained from previous instruction. I suppose exploration will be successful within already familiar tasks (just following Plato here) .
Exploring in a performance orientation simply is counterintuitive for these students. For them a task which is not dealt before in previous instruction should be taught first (building up prior knowledge); then relevant strategies might work to cope with the task.
In order to travel a landscape you need a goal (an orientation), a plan (previous knowledge), and a route (problem solving strategies); but having all three is no guarantee you get there.
Achievement motivation and knowledge development during exploratory learning by Daniel A. De Caro, Marci S. De Caro , Bethany Rittle-Johnson Learning and Individual Differences 37 (2015) 13–26.
Link: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.lindif.2014.10.0151041-6080 /© 2014 Published by Elsevier Inc.
Learning can be faked. Does not everyone recall at least one awkward moment when you said that everything was understood, clear, and copied but in fact it was not? Not all learning is straightforward or productive from the start. One needs time to grasp the gist of things, and people differ in this respect. When all learning must be visible and laid open for evaluation, i.e., be explicit, few of us would dare to explore, try out, and ask for help. We simply need the experience of probing (1).
The study cited looks at organizational places where learning can be done informally and casually. The authors provide us with a handy tool (a matrix) to identify spots that give rise to learning achievements. They mention three processes that govern these spots: reflection, sharing, and being innovate.
Considering these processes more closely reveals that in fact they are making the informal explicit – the upper right corner of my diagram. And that is fine; it is a prominent way of learning (2). The tool offered in the article would also apply, I guess, for the lower left corner: for instance, in making symposia resourceful.
But let us not forget there are more wonderful spots at which learning occurs (the non-shaded areas for instance). I would plead for learning as a play-ground – the upper left(3): to discover, walk around, inquire, and seek for emerging understandings. Being able to appreciate that the end-results can be put on hold (for a while) could add much to the value learning has for all of us.
Organisational learning as an emerging process: The generative role of digital tools in informal learning practices by Stefano Za, Paolo Spagnoletti and Andrea North-Samardzic
British Journal of Educational Technology, Vol 45, No 6, 2014, 1023–1035