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Influencing The Quality Of Education
Do we really believe that all children can succeed? How does the view that a child’s potential is limited affect our ability to reach that child and inhibit their growth and academic success? The largely unexplored, and in some cases erroneous, beliefs of many mainstream educators have resulted in ineffective and even harmful educational practice. How we view students and learning affects what we teach, how we teach, and ultimately student learning. Some teachers design curricula as if diversity does not exist; they ignore or are not aware of how their students’ backgrounds or contexts shape their learning styles and affect their outcomes.
We prefer observation to traditional research pre- and post-tests and surveys as the best means of gathering information about people. Observation makes it possible to discern the number and types of variables that affect learning in a particular context. For example, observation of infants and young children has shown that they are able to process information at a much more complex and abstract level than other forms of research have previously demonstrated.
A second misconception held by many educators is that intelligence is a static, measurable, and definable entity. First, not even psychometric experts themselves can agree on a common definition or theory of intelligence. Neither the instruments nor the quantification procedures used by IQ psychometrists could produce scientifically accurate results.
Also, the mental measure of intelligence is by no means a prerequisite for current success in school. There is no evidence that any use of traditional IQ or mental measurement is linked to valid teaching and learning. Therefore, IQ measurement is a professionally meaningless ritual, a ritual with unnecessarily harmful consequences, which undermines professional thinking and action in a negative way, causing professionals to overlook strategies and successful approaches in education. It is a ritual that shapes the student’s self-image in a negative way.
Some educators make the mistake of thinking that intelligence is a fixed and unchanging entity. This point of view is based on the belief that your IQ is a fixed amount that cannot grow. Those who hold this mistaken belief do not take the time to nurture the learner because they do not believe that nurturing can have any effect on learning. As a result, teachers spend more time focusing on measuring ability and standardized test scores than on developing curricula that help students grow. This practice can lead to an overreliance on test scores as indicators of future success. Although some educators use test scores like the SAT and ACT to predict student success, these tests only show the degree to which students have been exposed to the test material.
A third misconception is society’s doubt about the ability of all children to succeed. This misconception about student ability has led many to question whether schools can improve learning. However, there are many schools that succeed regardless of what IQ tests and popular opinion might predict. Some schools have developed a rigorous and demanding curriculum. The school day is longer than in other schools, and students are expected to work hard to succeed. Since opening, these schools have seen student achievement gains of more than 48 percent on standardized tests. Teachers in these schools did not focus on what IQ tests or context indicated about student success. We need to stop examining why students and schools fail and study how to work in each context to maximize success.
We are particularly concerned about how education researchers confuse political issues with practitioners. Educators waste time developing standards against which to measure students, when they should be working to foster student growth. Confusing politics with professionalism can also confuse educational researchers into assigning professional motives to people who actually have a political agenda.
Does instruction really make a difference in student learning? The cognitive system represents the lowest level of learning. This is the level at which most classroom instruction occurs in the form of declarative or procedural knowledge. Declarative knowledge is information that is absorbed and understood, for example, memorizing historical dates. On the other hand, procedural knowledge can be described as skills or processes that students master, for example, using the process of scientific inquiry.
In most classrooms today, the teaching of science, geography and history is heavily weighted with declarative knowledge. Math instruction is roughly half declarative and half procedural. Teaching language arts includes three quarters of procedural knowledge and one quarter of declarative knowledge.
The next level in the hierarchy of human learning is metacognitive. At the metacognitive level, students think about their learning. They set goals for their learning, assess the resources they need, determine their own learning strategies and monitor their own progress. Another broad area of the metacognitive system is the learner’s disposition toward learning. Does the learner persevere, seek clarity and overcome their own limits?
At the end of the hierarchy is the self-system where learners think about how their beliefs affect their learning. Belief systems have a powerful impact on what students learn. It is the level of emotional involvement of students with their learning that determines its impact. Students’ beliefs about themselves, others, and the world, as well as their own personal efficacy, interact as they generate goals for their own learning.
If educators know how to dramatically increase learning, why are students in many of the nation’s classrooms performing so poorly? There are many reasons, including the lack of sound philosophical foundations for incorporating innovations. Another is the lack of public support for change.
Teachers must make conscious decisions about learning objectives and then design lessons to achieve that learning. In many classrooms, teachers themselves are unclear about the student learning they are seeking, so they may not be using the most effective instructional strategies. In fact, it is often difficult to identify the type of knowledge that is desired. Research shows that teaching vocabulary using fuzzy images and definitions has the greatest impact on learning. However, how do most teachers approach teaching vocabulary? Have students memorize definitions and use words in sentences. Similarly, using stories is the best strategy for teaching information that is factual or that involves time or cause-and-effect sequences. However, most teachers ask students to memorize dates.
The meta-analysis reveals that in terms of the learning hierarchy, if students do not believe they can learn or that learning is important to them, no instructional strategy will produce effective, long-term learning. Teachers need to be aware not only of learning goals and the best corresponding instructional strategies, but also of how to influence students’ beliefs about their learning. Only then will effective educational strategies lead to significantly greater learning.
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