01 September 2014

Items to Share: 31 August 2014

Education Focus
  • Inquiry | Webs of Substance 'As Pinker suggests with respect to maths, it is apparent that anything worth doing requires a lot of hard work which is not immediately rewarding. This is why people tend to do better in life if they can defer gratification. In addition, until you know something about an area of study then you are unlikely to find it particularly interesting. [...] Interest grows with knowledge. And it is one of progressive education’s deep ironies that the things children really do have an innate interest in – the existence of aliens, dinosaurs, battles, king and queens, foul diseases, space, whether there’s a God – tend to get displaced from Inquiry based programmes in favour of those wet paper towels.
  • Does It Help to Know History? [newyorker.com] '[T]he best argument for reading history is not that it will show us the right thing to do in one case or the other, but rather that it will show us why even doing the right thing rarely works out. The advantage of having a historical sense is not that it will lead you to some quarry of instructions, the way that Superman can regularly return to the Fortress of Solitude to get instructions from his dad, but that it will teach you that no such crystal cave exists. What history generally “teaches” is how hard it is for anyone to control it, including the people who think they’re making it.'
  • Individual Learning Plans: Scratching an old itch | Sam Shepherd '[W]hile there may be a little motivational/engagement value to target setting for some learners, there is actually very little in general educational literature supporting their use, and nothing at all in second language acquisition/learning theory which suggests that they have any value whatsoever. Simply: there is no evidence that target setting works.'
  • How to handle bullies [theconversation.com] 'The experts generally agreed on which were effective and ineffective strategies. There was consensus that the same strategies were appropriate for all types of bullying. They rated strategies such as talking to family members or professionals outside school, talking to teachers and counsellors at school and using the school’s anti-bullying and harassment policies and procedures as the most effective. [...] Least effective were denying that the bullying was happening, using drugs to avoid the pain or staying away from school. However, it was found that seriously bullied students reported they would not use the strategies the “experts” thought were effective. Instead, they would use strategies such as avoidance and denial.'
Other Business
  • Against Empathy | Boston Review (Paul Bloom) 'Most people see the benefits of empathy as too obvious to require justification. This is a mistake.' Useful distinction between cognitive empathy and emotional empathy.
  • How neuroscience is being used to spread quackery in business and education [theconversation.com] 'The phrase ["cargo-cult science"] has since been used to refer to various pseudo-scientific fields such as phrenology, neuro-linguistic programming, and the various kinds of alternative therapies. Practitioners of these disciplines may use scientific terms, and may even perform research, but their thinking and conclusions are nonetheless fundamentally scientifically flawed.
  • Environmental Enrichment May Help Treat Autism — and Help Us All - Scientific American 'After six months, all of the children were evaluated by assessors with no knowledge of their group assignment. We found that 42% of the enriched children showed a clinically significant improvement in their autism symptoms, according to the Childhood Autism Rating Scale, while only 7% of those receiving standard care did. In addition, the cognitive score of the enriched children (measured with the Leiter International Performance Scale – Revised) was more than 10 points higher than those receiving standard care. We have now repeated and extended the original study with many more children.' Yes, but; why publish in Scientific American, with no link to any peer-reviewed evidence?
 

25 August 2014

Items to Share: 24 August 2014

Education Focus
  • On observation rubrics [Pragmatic Education] 'The problem is, we are asking the wrong question. Debates over ‘what makes a good teacher?’ and ‘what makes an outstanding teacher?’ or even ‘what makes good teaching?’ are circular. There are as many possible answers as there are teachers in the world. Instead, we should be asking: how can observations most help improve our teaching? Not by grading or quantifying or judging. Observations most improve teaching when they are disconnected from performance management, appraisal and pay, and only formative. Observations most help when they are low-stakes, frequent and give one clear, prioritised, next-step piece of feedback.'
  • Curriculum Matters | Webs of Substance 'I am deeply skeptical about attempts to teach children to learn how to learn by emphasising their ‘learning muscles’ or exhorting them to have a ‘growth mindset’ or whatever. What is clear is that an excellent preparation for learning new things in the future is to acquire plenty of knowledge in the present. We then have mental landscapes into which to slot and assimilate the new knowledge when it comes along.'
  • The Future of College? - The Atlantic 'The system had bugs—it crashed once, and some of the video lagged—but overall it worked well, and felt decidedly unlike a normal classroom. For one thing, it was exhausting: a continuous period of forced engagement, with no relief in the form of time when my attention could flag or I could doodle in a notebook undetected. Instead, my focus was directed relentlessly by the platform, and because it looked like my professor and fellow edu-nauts were staring at me, I was reluctant to ever let my gaze stray from the screen. [...]. I was forced, in effect, to learn. If this was the education of the future, it seemed vaguely fascistic. Good, but fascistic.' The Minerva initiative
  • What Do You Do on the First Day of Class? | Vitae 'The first day of class always ended right after we did our introductions. Students were much more talkative on the way out than they were on the way in, so I guess that was a good sign. As an added bonus, I used the note cards to call roll for a few weeks until I memorized their names. It’s much easier to remember the name of a student when you know she likes Wes Anderson movies.'
  • Why Students Should Own Their Educational Data – Wired Campus - Blogs - The Chronicle of Higher Education 'It’s not that people don’t have particular habits and styles of learning. Intuitively of course that sounds right. I prefer visual information over other kinds. [Learning style theory] comes from analyzing a population and trying to parse out different ways of learning over a population. But when you apply it to one individual it doesn’t hold. You can’t start with averages, it doesn’t work. We couldn’t do better approaches to individuals back in the day because we just didn’t have enough data.
  • BBC Radio 4 - The Educators - Episode guide This is shaping up to be an interesting series: Sarah Montague interviews eight figures prominent in education thinking at the moment; first up is Sir Ken (still a bit vague), followed by John Hattie—who is not that far from Ken in the final analysis. Well worth listening to.
  • Draft bill of research rights for educators - Daniel Willingham 'When I talk to educators about research, their most common complaint (by a long shot) is that they are asked to implement new interventions (a curriculum, a pedagogical technique, a software product, whatever), and are offered no reason to do so other than a breezy “all the research supports it.” The phrase is used as a blunt instrument to silence questions. As a scientist I find this infuriating because it abuses what ought to be a serious claim—research backs this—and in so doing devalues research.'
  • We try to fix too many social problems through exams [theconversation.com] (Dennis Hayes) '[R]ecent governments have seen education as the place to engage in social engineering to solve a range of social and political problems. These include everything from radicalisation, obesity, homophobia, smoking, binge drinking, drug taking, criminality, anti-social behaviour and saving the planet. [...] That strategy, which results from the inability of politicians to resolve those problems in the grown-up world, has led to education being seen as more important than it is.'
  • How a bigger purpose can motivate students to learn: [Carnegie News]: 'A few years ago, psychologist David Yeager and his colleagues noticed something interesting while interviewing high school students in the San Francisco Bay Area about their hopes, dreams and life goals. It was no surprise that students often said that making money, attaining fame or pursuing a career that they enjoyed were important to them. But many of them also spoke of additionally wanting to make a positive impact on their community or society — such as by becoming a doctor to take care of people, or a pastor who “makes a difference.” What’s more, the teens with these “pro-social” types of goals tended to rate their schoolwork as more personally meaningful.'
Other Business (mainly about writing and grammar again)
  • What’s Up With That: Why It’s So Hard to Catch Your Own Typos | Science | WIRED 'You have finally finished writing your article. You’ve sweat over your choice of words and agonized about the best way to arrange them to effectively get your point across. You comb for errors, and by the time you publish you are absolutely certain that not a single typo survived. But, the first thing your readers notice isn’t your carefully crafted message, it’s the misspelled word in the fourth sentence.'
  • Steven Pinker: 10 'grammar rules' it's OK to break (sometimes) | Books | The Guardian 'How can you distinguish the legitimate concerns of a careful writer from the folklore and superstitions? These are the questions to ask. Does the rule merely extend the logic of an intuitive grammatical phenomenon to more complicated cases, such as avoiding the agreement error in "The impact of the cuts have not been felt"? Do careful writers who inadvertently flout the rule agree, when the breach is pointed out, that something has gone wrong? Has the rule been respected by the best writers in the past? Is it respected by careful writers in the present?'
  • 250 years of English grammar usage advice: HUGE database includes history of "hopefully" and others '[N]ewer usage guides tend to discuss a greater number of usage problems than older ones do. This suggests that more usage problems are "discovered" than disappear, either by being "forgotten" about or resolved. Furthermore, the database mainly contains usage problems relating to grammatical issues rather than word-choice or spelling. It seems then, that grammatical issues don’t easily "go out of fashion," something that happens more easily with problems of word choice, spelling or pronunciation.'
  • APA Style Blog: How to Use the New DOI Format in APA Style 'Have you noticed that references in most recently published journal articles end with a string of numbers and letters? That odd-looking item is the article’s digital object identifier (DOI), and it may just be the most important part of the reference. The DOI is like a digital fingerprint: Each article receives a unique one at birth, and it can be used to identify the article throughout its lifespan, no matter where it goes.'

18 August 2014

Items to Share: 17 August 2014


Education Focus
  • Motivating Students: Should Effort Count? | Faculty Focus '[H]ere’s what’s troubling me. Most students want to get grades with the least amount of effort. If they can get an A or B with an hour or two of studying once a week, or by doing nothing until the night before the exam or paper is due, that’s how much effort they’ll make. Unless students fall madly in love with the content, most won’t expend any more energy than they need to.'
  • The Beef with Personal and Social Development | Sam Shepherd 'I’m not averse to changing behaviour: it could easily be argued that that is the whole reason for education. I’m not averse to telling students things they need to do in order to become better language learners, nor to requiring behaviour change in the context of an ESOL classroom. However, PSD seemed, both explicitly and implicitly to be about conscious lifestyle changes based on a specific socio-cultural viewpoint.'
  • Students learn more if they'll need to teach others | Futurity '“When compared to learners expecting a test, learners expecting to teach recalled more material correctly, they organized their recall more effectively, and they had better memory for especially important information,” says John Nestojko, a researcher in psychology at Washington University in St. Louis.'
  • First impressions in the higher ed classroom [teachinginhighered.com] 'First impressions in the higher ed classroom are crucial. There is even some indication that students’ perceptions on the first day will be almost identical to how they will eventually assess the professor on the final course evaluation. Here are a few ideas for starting the semester strong:'
  • Brain training games won't help children do better at school [theconversation.com] 'Darren Dunning and colleagues at the University of Cambridge gave seven to nine-year-olds up to 25 sessions of either CogMed working memory training or active control tasks. Then they measured whether training improved performance on additional measures of working memory, and broader skills including mathematics, reading, writing and classroom-based skills (such as following instructions). They found improvements on working memory. Crucially, however, these improvements did not extend to improvements on any of the broader skills.'  
Other Business
  • What’s Up With That: Why It’s So Hard to Catch Your Own Typos | Science | WIRED  'You have finally finished writing your article. You’ve sweat [sic] over your choice of words and agonized about the best way to arrange them to effectively get your point across. You comb for errors, and by the time you publish you are absolutely certain that not a single typo survived. But, the first thing your readers notice isn’t your carefully crafted message, it’s the misspelled word in the fourth sentence.' 

  • Talking therapies can harm too – here's what to look out for [theconversation.com] 'People seeking therapy should always talk to a practitioner who provides good quality treatment that’s appropriate to their needs. Because research shows that even the innocuous-sounding “talking therapies” (essentially counselling and psychotherapy) can be harmful for some when they’re unsuitable.'
Writing
  • Steven Pinker: 10 'grammar rules' it's OK to break (sometimes) | Books | The Guardian 'How can you distinguish the legitimate concerns of a careful writer from the folklore and superstitions? These are the questions to ask. Does the rule merely extend the logic of an intuitive grammatical phenomenon to more complicated cases, such as avoiding the agreement error in "The impact of the cuts have not been felt"? Do careful writers who inadvertently flout the rule agree, when the breach is pointed out, that something has gone wrong? Has the rule been respected by the best writers in the past? Is it respected by careful writers in the present?'
  • 250 years of English grammar usage advice: HUGE database includes history of hopefully and others '[N]ewer usage guides tend to discuss a greater number of usage problems than older ones do. This suggests that more usage problems are "discovered" than disappear, either by being "forgotten" about or resolved. Furthermore, the database mainly contains usage problems relating to grammatical issues rather than word-choice or spelling. It seems then, that grammatical issues don’t easily "go out of fashion," something that happens more easily with problems of word choice, spelling or pronunciation.'
  • The Case for Conversational Writing | Vitae  'I’ve heard some of my college-level colleagues [complain] that students don’t know how to write academic prose. [...] Why should they? The fact that they’re students, and that they’re operating in an academic environment, does not make them academics. Nor will more than a fraction of them go on to become academics, thank goodness. The overwhelming majority won’t be writing academic prose in their professional lives, so why should we be teaching it to them in college, much less high school?'

12 August 2014

On the Curse of Knowledge

"It goes by many names, and many psychologists have rediscovered versions of it, including defective Theory of Mind, egocentrism, hindsight bias, and false consensus. They're all versions of an infirmity afflicting every member of our species, namely that it's hard to imagine what it's like not to know something that you do know."
(Steven Pinker, 9 June 2014)
In some measure, the curse of knowledge is the dark side of threshold concepts. Not of course that all knowledge comes into that category by any means, but TCs are where people get stuck, and hence where the curse of knowledge is most potent.

One respect in which knowledge can be troublesome, according to Perkins (2006), emerges when it is irreversible; once you know how to read (any given script, of course) it is impossible not to read. And correspondingly difficult to imagine what it is like to be unable to read. (It is a salutory exercise to take a piece of writing in an unfamiliar script such as cyrillic or arabic, together with a crib sheet, and just to try and sound it out—never mind the sense.)

And of course the curse of knowledge is especially problematic for teachers, because they need to see the world to a certain extent through their students' eyes, and to understand their ignorance. It's generally considered to be bad practice—and of course it is—but we have all at some time or another had to teach something we are not very familiar with. In its most extreme form it is a matter of keeping one chapter ahead of the students in the textbook. And just sometimes it works remarkably well, because you can recall yesterday when you too were wrestling with where to put what in double-entry book-keeping...

In my very early days in further education, I remember a conversation in the canteen when an older colleague posed the question whether it was possible to know your subject too well to be able to teach it effectively.  And of course it is. Willingham (see here) points out that the expert does not learn or use their knowledge in the same way as the novice—that is one reason why it does not make sense to teach "thinking skills" in the absence of a knowledge base on which to exercise them.

But it is our job to get alongside the novice and first to understand how he sees the world, in order to alter that understanding. And that is where knowledge is a curse.

Or a handicap*. We expect and encourage students to overcome their handicaps; without getting too airy-fairy about this, we can learn through overcoming our own.



See also: Wieman C (2007) "The “Curse of Knowledge,” or Why Intuition About Teaching Often Fails" APS News November 2007 (Volume 16, Number 10)

Perkins D. (2006) "Constructivism and troublesome knowledge" in J. H. F. Meyer & R. Land (eds.) Overcoming Barriers to Student Understanding: Threshold Concepts and Troublesome Knowledge, pp.33-47. London; Routledge

* PC alert!  The current rhetoric deprecates "handicap", but here it is the best term I can think of. Think of it in respect of sport, and racing in particular.

11 August 2014

Items to share: 10 August 2014

Education Focus
  • Knowledge is what you think with | Webs of Substance 'Instead of spending serious consideration on improving the teaching of content knowledge, we have been sold a classic bait-and-switch. Yes, there is a problem with students forgetting things or forming misconceptions or failing to link ideas or finding things a bit boring. This is all true. But the solution is not to stop bothering to teach content in favour of some ill-defined, vague and frankly soulless load of old nonsense.'
  • Closing the feedback loop | You're the Teacher [ubc.ca] 'Remembering [a] situation [when I denied some feedback] helped put me into the mindset of students receiving critical feedback [...] and not believ[ing] it, getting angry, indignant, even lashing out. When that happens you are not even allowing yourself to think that the feedback might be true; since it doesn’t fit with who you think you are, your own evaluation of the quality of your work, the truth must be that whoever said that is simply wrong.'
  • The Rise of the Helicopter Teacher [chronicle.com] 'Teaching and parenting share this in common: In both relationships, the goal is to produce independent and self-sufficient human beings. The risk that helicopter parents run is that they will raise children so coddled that they have a hard time functioning on their own in the larger world. So too with the way we have infantilized our students. Afraid or unwilling to challenge them, we pass them through with perfectly good grades but without much of a sense of how to work on their own or think for themselves.'
  • Let’s stop trying to teach students critical thinking [theconversation.com] '“Critical theories” are “uncritical theories”. When some theory has the prefix “critical” it requires the uncritical acceptance of a certain political perspective. Critical theory, critical race theory, critical race philosophy, critical realism, critical reflective practice all explicitly have political aims.' [Discuss!]
  • Humanizing Academic Citation – Lingua Franca - Blogs - The Chronicle of Higher Education 'For years now I have been talking with graduate students about what it means to be entering the academic conversation in their field or subfield. “All your work has to do,” I tell them, “is further the conversation one useful step.” This goal, I think, feels more manageable than, say, “solving the problem,” and it has helped more than one student I know get over writer’s block with an essay or dissertation chapter. The goal of most academic scholarship is not, after all, to end the conversation.'
  • Teacher competence [teachinginhighered.com] 'Every single time I get on a plane I’m really glad that the plane is not being flown by someone who just always loved planes.' Teacher quoted in review of Elizabeth Green's new book about preparing teachers better (W. W. Norton and Co.)
Other Business