Dec 21, 2009

toward smarter teaching

It's winter break, which, of course, means two weeks for teachers to relax, unplug, unwind and... think about teaching.

1. Are you one of those "brain-based" teachers? If so, how much of your curriculum is based on reproducible empirical research, rather than intuition and anecdote?
For much of the last century, educators and many scientists believed that children could not learn math at all before the age of five, that their brains simply were not ready.

But recent research has turned that assumption on its head — that, and a host of other conventional wisdom about geometry, reading, language and self-control in class. The findings, mostly from a branch of research called cognitive neuroscience, are helping to clarify when young brains are best able to grasp fundamental concepts.

In one recent study, for instance, researchers found that most entering preschoolers could perform rudimentary division, by distributing candies among two or three play animals. In another, scientists found that the brain’s ability to link letter combinations with sounds may not be fully developed until age 11 — much later than many have assumed.
[Link via Venice Buhain.]

2. Speaking of assumptions, "learning styles" is another educational buzzword that seems intuitive, until you start testing your intuitions.
In almost every actual well-designed study, Mr. Pashler and his colleagues write in their paper, "Learning Styles: Concepts and Evidence," the pattern is similar: For a given lesson, one instructional technique turns out to be optimal for all groups of students, even though students with certain learning styles may not love that technique.
Read the whole thing to find out why, and why "learning styles" proponents aren't thrilled with Pashler's research. The strongest finding, which no one in educational research will dispute, is that single-mindedly employing the same teaching method--day after day, subject after subject--is pedagogically unsound.

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