Education ∪ Math ∪ Technology

Day: June 9, 2012 (page 1 of 1)

What it feels like to learn to read

Where is My Bat? – Marathi


I’m in the middle of reading John Holt’s "How Children Learn" and almost hidden in one section of the book is a fabulous professional development activity for teachers.

"One day I took a sheet of printing in some Indian language, and tried to find the words that occurred most often on the page. It was amazingly difficult. At first the page looked like nothing but a jumble of strange shapes. Even when I was concentrating on one short, common word, it took a long time before I could recognize that word at sight and pick it out of the others. Often I would go right by it without noticing it." ~ John Holt, How Children Learn (1982), p136

I think that every teacher (or parent) who teaches children how to read should have this experience. In fact, if I could find a way to translate this experience into all of the other subject areas, I certainly would. The experience of feeling what it is like to be a complete novice learning something is incredibly valuable. We too often think that because we said something, our students will remember it, or will have learned it.

"We are so used to the feeling of knowing what we know, or think we know, that we forget what it is like to learn something new and strange. We tend to divide up the world of facts and ideas into two classes, things we know and things we don’t know, and assume that any particular fact moves instantly from "unknown" to "known." ~ John Holt, How Children Learn (1982), p136

I’ve embedded a children’s book (licenced under a Creative Commons license from a very interesting organization). I recommend taking the time to try and figure out what the story is, and what some of the words might mean. You can try this activity out alone, with a friend, or as a professional development activity with your staff. If you find a way to create a similar activity for science, math, or any other subject area, please let me know.

Try reading this book yourself so you get the experience of what it is to learn something challenging and new. I’ll try it as well, and let’s compare notes.

Why people often do not accept the research

Via the @BCAMT email list-serve:

"[T]here is an interesting (and disturbing) literature on situations in which information does not change prior biases or decisions. The word I have seen is ‘motivated reasoning’.

Interestingly, I ran into a problem of ‘motivated reasoning’ with a class of future teachers. The question is: when would research about the teaching and learning of mathematics change their classroom practices. A common response to articles, given some practice in critiquing research, was:\

– if I agree with the conclusion, the article was reliable;
– if I disagree with the conclusion, then here are x reasons why the article was not reliable and I should not change my practices!" 

Dr. Walter Whiteley

Dr. Whiteley works with pre-service teachers, and would like me to point out that they are still in the middle of articulating their own personal theories of how learning and education work, thus they lack experience in schools from the other side of the desk. It is therefore possible that this is an issue isolated to pre-service teachers.

On the other hand, I have seen people vehemently defending a position that has no merit simply because they are unwilling (or unable) to see that the evidence is mounted against them. I have also noticed many times that months later, this person has changed their perspective, sometimes claiming that the opposite to what they had previously believed was their belief the whole time, so maybe that argument influences their thinking later, and they are more willing to change on their own.

It takes enormous strength of will to remind ourselves of our cognitive biases, and act against our instinct to defend our mistakes. I can’t say I’ve succeeded at this all that much. Does anyone?