Sunday, July 5, 2015

How People Learn (a little summer book study)

As the world still slows down (a little, just a little) in July, maybe a real book is possible?  Sally Kilgore lured me out of consumer law and into education 28 years ago, and Sally says I need to read How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School. So, over the next few weeks, I'm going to dig in.

The book "synthesizes the scientific basis of learning," drawing on the wide body of research that was available in 1999. It will, of course, be out of date on some issues, but from the chapters I've read so far, it's clearly dealing in large concepts supported by many studies. Those ideas are sure to have been refined in the intervening years, but few are likely to have been overturned.

So, to begin.

Three key findings are highlighted in the introduction:
1. Students come to the classroom with preconceptions about how the world works. If their initial understanding is not engaged, they may fail to grasp the new concepts and information that are taught, or they may learn them for purposes of a test but revert to their preconceptions outside the classroom. 
2. To develop competence in an area of inquiry, students must: (a) have a deep foundation of factual knowledge, (b) understand facts and ideas in the context of a conceptual framework, and (c) organize knowledge in ways that facilitate retrieval and application.
3. A "metacognitive" approach to instruction can help students learn to take control of their own learning by defining learning goals and monitoring their progress in achieving them.
All of these ideas are familiar to me in one sense and ripe for thoughtful exploration at another.

The challenge of preconceptions was central to a very long lunch with Brent McKim in 2007 or 2008. My understanding of that idea is still fragile, tied to  physics in particular, so I'm looking forward to a developing a broader, as well as deeper, understanding.

The competence issue, with its attention to deep knowledge and strong frameworks, puts a deeper foundation under the string of early PrichBlog posts (here and here, here and here) on how reading requires knowledge, which I usually link to the work of E.D. Hirsch on cultural literacy. Again, looking forward to going deeper.

And reading the definition of metacognitive work, I suddenly understand that it's deeply tied to what Kentucky educators mean by "assessment for learning" or "the Stiggins work" (PrichBlog roundup here). Roger Marcum gets the hat tip for pulling me into that discussion, and it'll be great to get the foundational thinking on an approach valued so widely across the commonwealth.

I'll share as I go, interspersed with PrichBlog's usual diet of data and news, and I'd love questions and comments as they occur to our wonderful PrichBlog readers.

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