“There is fiction in the space between the lines on your page of memories” is the opening lyric in a beautiful song by TRACY CHAPMAN (1). We all have stories to tell. It is our human condition. But some are better in story telling than others. A good story is remembered and reiterated, and so is often the story-teller. There is some magic in telling a good story, nevertheless it can be learned. Narrative competence is a skill. Already at a young age you will find remarkable differences in story telling capacity in children. To express yourself in a narrative way demands structure and coherence, and more specifically cohesion of the fictional space you are creating. Good stories require all three of them. This too can be learned, best at an early age. Listening to children’s stories, for instance in Kindergarten when a teacher solicits reactions while opening the day at school may reveal the varieties in oral skill. Stories having a beginning, middle, and end appear next to a cascade of immediacies of reflection. But echoes of the mind must come forward in a clear lineup. It is then that the fiction in the narratively created space comes to life.
A systematic study on children’s’ narrative competence underlined that oral narrative practice is highly predictive of later competence in writing and written language proficiency. Especially, structure in oral narratives predicted written narratives but also coherence in stories. These two ingredients can be considered as organizers for the story teller to reflect upon and construct the story line.
Allowing children to speak up and have a floor to express their thoughts – in a structured manner – is something typical for the domain of education (2). What the study suggests is that instructional time for oral practice in emergent literacy will allow pupils to give format to their competence for later written productions. Story time generates space for children to produce well-thought-out phrasings of what they want to say. Because: “ you are not just telling stories”
Development in narrative competences from oral to written stories in five- to seven-year-old children. Giuliana Pinto, Christian Tarchi, Lucia Bigozzi Early Childhood Research Quaterly (2016) 36, 1-10. Elsevier
“All knowledge begins with the senses, and proceeds then to understanding…” Kant said that (Critique of Pure Reason (1781; 1787)(1). At that time it was a revelation. It merged combatting views on learning and understanding. But we still do not fully grasp the meaning, let alone the implications of that statement. Kant added a little extra to the statement that makes it even tougher: “ …and ends with reason”. Here is, comprised in one sentence, what energizes instruction, although admitted, a bit masked by the clouds high up the philosophical mountain. If we start at the foot of the mountain (our senses) the statement has much to do with how we teach our students and how students come to know the essentials of what they are supposed to learn. Scholastic approaches (originating in the Middle Ages – 2) govern still much of what we do in education. i.e., to teach the structural first as a solid layer of elementals and then trickle down to the details. We aim for coherence; i.e., it is about understanding, isn’t it? Still, it may not be the best way to operate.
In a study which used games to teach fundamental concepts in mechanics another view was exposed. The game set-up allowed for a searching and exploring behavior to make provisional steps and pilot approaches to get to experience mechanics laws. It was a fragmentary and piece-meal route to make sense of a subject. The authors speak of getting ‘a sense of mechanism’. i.e, actively and gradually dealing with the real world of objects to understand.
Knowledge we already have can block new understanding. We are trapped in our own ‘theories’ and often well-articulated notions about something. Learning then first becomes to have to discard the old. The alternate way is to build understandings from the case, the setting, the context that you can manipulate, or experiment with to gain gradually and continuously ideas of what it entails what you are learning. It is a kind of organic, distributive making sense of things. Knowledge comes in pieces (3).
Kant would smile, probably; and add: “Thoughts without content are empty, intuitions without concepts are blind”. Intricate, it is.
Pratim Sengupta, Kara D. Krinks & Douglas B. Clark (2015): Learning to Deflect: Conceptual Change in Physics During Digital Game Play, Journal of the Learning Sciences, 24:4, 638-674,
To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10508406.2015.1082912
Taylor & Francis Group, LLC ISSN: 1050-8406 print / 1532-7809 online
School – Home – Work; a trinity. After school you go home and do your homework. It is as old as the way to Rom. There is a lot to be said about the merits of doing homework, and a lot against it (1). Agreed upon is that it is not being liked by students. But that is not really a valid argument because anyone nowadays brings work to home. One may not like it; it is, however, a necessity of life today. In this sense homework prepares for a future at work, one could say. A pragmatic reason for homework is that not everything can be treated to the full during school-time. So, working on assignments at home is a kind of overflow of learning into another arena. Strangely enough this argument is not very popular. More widely adopted are statements like: it is good to practice, some repetition might be useful; preparation for what is to come; extra time benefits learning; transfer occurs when learning in a different context (2) . Next to: it keeps them of the street; it is good to create a study attitude, and it can be motivating to do assignments in your own pace and time. So, where lies the truth about doing homework?
A study helps to clarify the issue. In a carefully controlled design having a large groups of students, three types of home work conditions were compared using mathematics assignments to work on. In a practice condition students were asked to complete assignments that had been worked upon in the classroom before. In an preparation class the students had to learn the topics to be covered in the next lesson. In an extension treatment transfer of learning to new tasks was promoted by giving additional more in-depth assignments’ of what was treated in the lesson. It turned out that the extension treatment resulted in higher math grades. The authors attributed this to the higher cognitive demands the treatment placed on learning.
The implicit warning made by the study is clear. Do not give homework to kill time with boring, repetitive assignments on what was done already in the classroom but initiate to keep on learning. Doing your homework needs close attention, not cutting corners. Homework is not something additional, something extra. It is more like what has been done at school. But one might wonder then: if you can do at home what is done at school why or what do we need schools for then?
Does homework design matter? The role of homework’s purpose in student mathematics achievement by Pedro Rosário, José Carlos Núñez, Guillermo Vallejo, Jennifer Cunha, Tânia Nunes, Rosa Mourão, Ricardo Pinto. IN: Contemporary Educational Psychology 43 (2015) 10–24.
http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cedpsych.2015.08.001 0361-476X/© 2015 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
A decade or so ago the expression “I have liked…” would have sounded a bit weird. But thanks to Facebook we are now ‘liking’ all the time: giving our evaluations and opinions about what others do. There is even market value in doing that. No matter what we really think or understand about the issue “liking” has become a true democratic tool that allows everyone to express a verdict. No matter the variety, depth and multi-perspectivity of your opinion you “like’ by one token only, all included. You can ‘like’: music, sites, books, persons, institutions…; even teachers?
Student evaluations of their instruction and teaching experiences are liked by many: principals, district or state school officers, parents, and to some degree even by students who have to fill in forms almost after any course they take (1) . Admitted: these forms are a bit more sophisticated in the degree of their likings than thumbs up or down- they use Likert scales instead (what’ s in a name). Now, if you want to be liked (do teachers want to be liked or….?) at least you would want the evaluation to be fair and transparent. But what is more important (certainly in performing professions) you like to have feedback. Not appraising judgments but assessments for learning.
The cited study gauged student evaluations of their teaching experiences using the format of: stop, start, continue (i.e., what a teacher should avoid, improve, and keep on using). It turned out that this review method was more liked by students (than giving a written reflective evaluation) and on top of that led to greater depth of feedback (more meaningful comments to the teacher).
What about this feedback? It is provided to the teacher but there it halts. Feedback, according to Assessment for Learning theorists (2) , must be processed in order to have effect. It is just like instruction itself. Something must be done with it. Now, most evaluation and review methods fall short of instructional value. Nevertheless, they could provide a wonderful opportunity to achieve precisely that. In this case, for instance, by having a post instruction meeting of teacher and students to review what went well or remained difficult to grasp in the teaching just experienced. Such a post lesson conversation would contribute to learning of students and of teachers. Strange that we hardly do it. Certainly a waste of feedback information .
Alice Hoon, Emily Oliver, Kasia Szpakowska & Philip Newton (2015). Use of the ‘Stop, Start, Continue’ method is associated with the production of constructive qualitativefeedback by students in higher education, In: Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 40:5,755-767, DOI: 10.1080/02602938.2014.956282
To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/02602938.2014.956282
“When something is too hard to do, it is not worth trying” is a cunning advice by Homer Simpson. But learning is trying (to understand…, to master…), so should learning be made easy to do? It probably would, in Springfield. A learning task can be hard to do for some, and easy for others, depending on prerequisite skill available and prior knowledge in place. Nothing new here. But would a little help to make achieving more easily really help? Say by making the learning task more: organized, schematized, contextualized, visualized..? Cognitive Load Theory (1) says it will. Its main hunch is that learners cannot capture too much in their heads. Full is full. New information will simply not be processed when too many items are to be addressed at the same time. Therefore a learning task should be presented in an orderly fashion. By default this Theory places heavy stress on the proper introduction, presentation and arrangement of instructional materials. Learners can lean back, one might think, because the burden of learning is in the materials. Blame it on the materials – Homer would have liked this (“Better them then me”).
Is it working? A study looked into this following Cognitive Load Theory by presenting a self instructional learning module on mastering spreadsheet software. Special attention was given to the design of materials to reduce work memory load by visualizing and organizing the content to be learned. It turned out that the effects on retention of what was to be learned were nil.
Of course there is nothing wrong with an emphasis on the art of design of instructional materials, on the contrary. This is excellently demonstrated in many of the modern foreign language teaching methods which make use of a whole range of design tools to introduce sturdy content (2). Learners are engaged in a multiplicity of activities; be it: rehearsing, looking up, listening, practicing, exploring. In order to grasp knowledge and attain skill activity of a learner is required. Actually a lot of it when we look at most content to be taught. It does not come easy as the adage expertise research tells us: Practice, practice, practice is what it takes (3). “Come again” would be an apt motto in a Springfield learning center. It is not only what is on the plate but how it is consumed, that makes the dish.
Chiek Pin Ong & Zaidatun Tasir (2015). Self-instructional module based on cognitive load theory: a study on information retention among trainee teachers In: Education Tech Research Dev (2015) 63:499–515
Published online: 8 May 2015, Association for Educational Communications and Technology 2015.
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
The Idea Behind This Blog
School-time can be a great time, at least it should be. I believe “sed scholea discimus” much more than life normally offers. School-time is there to bring a person the opportunity of cognitive and moral advancement, at least it should. School-time for life-time, would that be a delight or an horror? – that is the issue we are confronted with in school practice.
My quest is to bring together “ grounded” knowledge about thought-provoking moments and remarkable places where students and teachers interact to explore, discover, inquire, and build knowledge together with the intent to achieve higher levels of understanding (yes, teachers too).
Such knowledge is already widespread available (in journals, internet-sites, education studies, teacher records). It is just for the taking. But content needs a form. I will, therefore, take a didactical stance as the most suited way to bring forward lessons learned by others, and will frame them as “emblemata”
An emblemata is a didactical and moral (!) display of a “wisdom of practice”, consisted of a picture, a motto, and a subscription. The picture often represents the allegorical by referring to the outside world (context, if you like); the motto captures the lesson and wisdom entailed in the lesson learnt; and the ‘subscriptio’ contains the substance; in this case, the study conducted, the story told, the autobiography shared. Emblemata, once popular, are great formats in taking a perspective and disclosing multiple layers of interpretation.
It is my intent to collect interesting pieces of work available on the Internet dealing with “school-time” for everyone to absorb, review, reflect upon or just to be entertained.
The blog may be considered to be an emblemata itself: borrowing the motto from a poem by the narrative and highly didactic poet Wordsworth called “The Prelude”. The picture(s) signify the age old tradition of teaching and the scholarship that goes together with that profession which is contrasted on the opposite end with a picture signifying the eagerness and wonder on part of the pupils entrusted to a period of schooling and learning.