I hope that everyone had a restful and fulfilling Fourth of July! I always welcome a mid-week holiday especially when it is extended through Sunday! I spent my Fourth with my husband, our kids, and an Italian couple. Basically we spent the day griping about the lack of efficiency in all things related to the Italian government. Shocking I know. It somehow made me appreciate a bit more what we do have despite all of the negative press coverage lately. It was not quite an Independence Day of my childhood in Massachusetts watching the Pops or attending a local patriotic celebration, but it was relaxing despite the rain. We all had a good time except for the poor dog who continues to be tortured by the neighbors lighting off fireworks.
This morning I had a wonderful opportunity to meet with an old colleague to swap teaching ideas. What was meant to be a quick coffee turned into three hours. Did I ever leave that coffee shop with some great tools for my toolbox.
Part A (Please respond to one of the following questions):
1. On page 63 Willingham has a section on Discovery Learning with Care. Discovery Based Learning (DBL) seems to be a hot buzz term in education right now along with Project Based Learning (PBL). Do you agree or disagree with the author on his ideas in this section? Why or why not?
2. On p. 58 Willingham writes, "When it comes to teaching, I think of it this way: The material I want students to actually learn is an answer to a question."
I am all for having kids answer E.Q.'s and know the "facts" however personally, I would rather have students question an answer. Perhaps this does not lend itself well to all disciplines however for me in the Social Studies I would rather see students stretching themselves and really questioning things on a deeper level.
What did you make of the above statement by Willingham?
Part B (All respond)
3. What is one thing in this chapter that made you rethink a particular lesson or your approach to planning?
Thank you for posing these questions, Shauna. I also found that section on discovery based learning interesting, primarily because that is one of the things that I am trying to learn more about this summer. Actually, project based learning is what I am investigating, which, based on Willingham's definition of discovery based learning, would seem to be somewhat different. Willingham' definition for discovery based learning would seem to suggest that the students have all of the control for the direction that his learning takes him, while in PBL, the teacher still has some ability to control the direction the project moves in. Perhaps I am wrong, and I am sure that someone out there will help to clear up and misunderstandings I may have.
As for your question, I disagree only because I don't think a conscientious teacher would allow any student to go too far down the wrong path without doing something along the way to put on the brakes. In either of these types of learning, the role of the teacher changes to be more of (sorry for the cliche) "the guide on the side," and the students takes at least some control of their own learning. If we are doing our jobs and monitoring student progress and asking the right questions of students as they are performing their research, then it would be difficult for students to get too far down the wrong path, not impossible, but difficult. We must work with our students to help them to discover whatever it is they are looking for, especially at the beginning to make sure that they are not going down the wrong path.
It was his discussion about what I want students to focus on when we are working of something that struck me the most. For whatever reason, many of students are stunned with what can happen with GoogleDocs when we use them for the first time. Fortunately, we do this in the computer lab, so that I am there to try and prevent them from completely forgetting why we are there, but still, it takes them some time to get over the, "wow, I am typing and two others are typing on the same page. That's so cool" phenomenon. However, as more and more teachers expose students to GoogleDocs (and other tools), that "wow" factor should begin to disappear, and their ability to use the tool as it was meant to be used will take over. So, while I read that section and immediately thought of times where it has happened in my room, I don't think that I am going to change how and why I use that tool. I will just try to be more proactive and get out in front of the "wow" factor, maybe by demonstrating how it works before they have a chance.
I'm going to respond to everything, but first, I think we might be working with different editions. The discovery learning section is on my page 71...
In any case, I agree with his points on discovery learning and think the same of PBL; only the most skilled teacher who knows the content far deeper than I think most teachers do can really be successful in guiding students to learn what we want them to learn with this method. I think it works well in some cases, but I don't think its the answer to students liking school.
As for the second question, I think that questioning an answer can be answering a question. I'm partial to essential questions that ask students to reconsider accepted knowledge (or usually, what is printed in the textbook). I was just looking through some state produced EQs for NYS and was super annoyed at the low level recall sorts of stuff the state called 'essential questions'--What were the causes and effects of European exploration? No thought there, I'd prefer that students try to 'question the answer' they are given in the textbook by asking them to consider the how the causes and effects conflict with each other for example. Anyway, I think its all semantics with the answer a question/question an answer. When we do a good job of getting kids to think in different ways about content we do both of those things.
And finally, I thought of a teacher who never does problem based learning or cooperative groups or stations or what have you and is overwhelmingly considered both the best and most challenging SS teacher by evey student. I've never heard a kid say they didn't like him or that they didn't learn from him. He is a fount of knowledge and an excellent story teller. He also runs a tight ship with a very strict structure to class. I finally have a way to describe why what he does works!
A1: While I have not done a PBL unit on my own, I have worked closely with a group of teachers planning/helping them do PBL in their class. It is not something that we have done all the time, but once or twice a year. I happen to be a strong proponent of PBL because it offers room for student choice, which increases interest and motivation in the learning process and Willingham acknowledges this. His next statement however, is one I disagree with: “An important downside, however, is that what students will think about is less predictable. … they may well explore mental paths that are not profitable… they may remember the incorrect discoveries.” He recommends that prompt feedback is necessary, like a computer program. For me, if a student is engaged in thinking, following the path that they think is correct or are interested in, learning occurs. Yes, the teacher needs to be part of the process, but even incorrect thinking/discovery is good. Very often you will remember the mistakes you made and the “advice” given, versus finding the right answer right away and not remembering it. When you have to struggle to find an answer, try a few incorrect ones etc, I feel the learning is more cemented in your memory. Of course this involves teacher feedback through the process, which is something that is built into PBL. Another thing that is built into PBL is a driving question that the students are answering, which is, I believe, a little different than discovery learning because you start them in a certain direction.
B: Willingham spends time discussing the power of stories, which I agree with. Only I really wish I was a better storyteller; I tend to stick to the facts too much with little of the embellishment that makes a good story (kind of like our textbooks). I read through his directions on how to create a good story and still don’t feel I would succeed, and though I love historical fiction, they would take too long to read out loud in class. Therefore, my goal will be to look for interesting, short stories that I can incorporate into my lessons.
Again, a quick digression on something Willingham said. On page 57 (above figure 12), Willingham said “10 or 15 minutes of a 75-minute class is spent setting up the goal...It’s all about elucidating the central conflict in the story.” I think he’s right on the money with his estimate that it often takes close to 15 minutes to just lay out where you are going, especially when you are embarking on an entirely new topic. We want kids to ‘connect the dots’ and setting up what they are about to dive into helps them make sense of a new concept.. [I won’t say much about his comment on a “75 minute class”. Does anyone out there have 75 minutes??]
A2: I think Willingham’s statement about learning an answer to a question will depend on how you structure your EQs. Consider EQs that are narrow in scope, simply asking the students for “the” cause or “the major” reason for an event. If that is the case then, yes, I think students will hunt for ‘the’ answer and give it back to you. If we stick (for the moment) to teacher-generated EQs, I think we can get more student-driven interest and research by constructing EQs that ask evaluative/comparative questions. For example, in grade 7, we do a lesson on women-run businesses in African countries. Our lesson focuses on several aspects of these businesses, but each is important because they improve their community (and not just by bringing in money). When we start, I ask students to focus on the impact each of these businesses have on their community. Our driving question is: “Which business does the most good for the community? Explain which one you would choose – and provide reasons why your choice is the best.”
In this case, each business does a lot for their respective communities, so the ‘answer’ is really based on how well the student can compare/contrast s/he has learned and articulate that in their response. Willingham’s “answer to a question” statement got me a bit concerned, because I’ve seen students devolve into searching the text for ‘the answer’ instead of analyzing the information they are taking in.
B: Willingham’s idea of approaching lessons with an eye toward a conflict is a good one. I’ve seen it work in some cases, but his examples and comments have me rethinking some of the lessons in which the students have a hard/slow time connecting with the topic at hand. I need to go back and see how I can draw this out - or at least mix up the introduction - so that they have something to ponder as they begin the main activity.
For most of my career I have taught on 90 minute blocks.
Willingham's main idea in chapter 3 is that we remember what we think about. I guess that is true, but only in a limited sense. Clearly all of us also remember things we've never really thought much about, hence the huge advertising industry that has developed over the past 100+ years to bath us in information, much as a fish is bathed in water. We don't focus on ads (in fact most of us are certain that we pay little attention to them), yet still the cumulative effect of their presence in our lives is such that they shape our behavior. We come to want the things they offer without considering the alternatives or making conscious choices.
Then there is the issue of false memories, explored most powerfully in the work of Elisabeth Loftus, whose research shows how we come to remember and act on things that never happened to us.
I agree with you, Shauna, in that I too would rather have students question answers rather than learn facts and answer EQs. One significant problem I have with learning facts is that I am never sure whose facts I should ask students to learn. When E.D. Hirsch first published Cultural Literacy in 1988 to tell us what we needed to know to function successfully in our society, it was almost immediately followed by the book Multicultural Literacy, which listed a completely different set of need-to-know facts for successful living. Then in the 1990s, there was the bloody debate over the national history standards put forward by Gary Nash's History Standards Project. Nash describes what happened in this riveting 1997 essay, http://www-personal.umich.edu/~mlassite/discussions261/nash.html
To me, it is much more important to have students learn to examine where facts come from, and how to evaluate and validate them, than it is to have them store them in memory.
Thinking more about chapter 3, I'm also concerned that as social studies teachers we all too frequently test to find out what students remember about what we want them to know, rather than attempting to find out what they've learned from us. When I taught I focused on teaching skills, and when I tested for content, it was mostly open ended essays that allowed students to tell me what they remembered from the activities they'd participated in and the reading they'd done. For example, one of my 11th grade US History final exams was:
You are part of a NASA team which is preparing messages to be carried by an unmanned craft into deep space. You are currently scripting a film that will be viewed any aliens coming into contact with the craft. As the only person on the team who knows anything about U.S. History, you have been told to prepare a script to give these beings your perception of what Americans are like. You have decided that the easiest way to do this is to reenact a series of historical events, each one showing a different aspect of the American character.
Prepare a list of at least 10 events you would choose to film. Briefly outline what you would show in each segment, and explain what you'd want the aliens to understand about Americans after viewing it. Go on to list the events you think I'd choose to film if I were writing the script, and explain why you think I'd choose those particular things.
Bill, I totally agree. Although I am an "AP person" I have never been a fan of bubble testing ever. I love the British system because it tests what kids know versus what they don't know.
Thanks for mentioning the British system, Shauna. I know very little about it, but it sounds as if I need to learn more.
Very well said, Molly. I guess it will come as no surprise that I agree with you completely.
I am curious to hear your comments on the first question for Chapter 4 as it directly relates to this comment. No rush, just looking forward to the discussion.