Posts tagged ‘Daniel Willingham’

November 18, 2013

College students think they’re ready for the workplace, but employers disagree

by Grace

College students consider themselves well prepared for the workplace, but hiring managers disagree.

Nearly 80% of current college students say they’re “very” or “completely” prepared to put their organization skills to work, just 54% of hiring managers who’ve interviewed recent grads would agree, according to a survey of 2,001 U.S. college students and 1,000 hiring managers, conducted by Harris Interactive on behalf of education company Chegg. …

Some of the biggest disagreements are about the students’ ability to prioritize, write well, collaborate, persuade, manage projects, and communicate.

… The biggest mismatch came in students’ ability to communicate with bosses and clients—70% of students thought they were primed for the challenge; only 44% of recruiters agreed.

Schools don’t seem to be doing a good job of teaching critical thinking.

“The notion that college graduates exit universities and lack the ability to clearly organize and communicate information suggests institutions are failing to meet their mandate of forming critical thinkers,” according to the report’s author….

Ruth Brothers, consultant and former human-resources executive, believes students need “more hands-on, applied learning” and coaching on interview skills.

How about if schools focus more on teaching “factual knowledge”, which is “intimately intertwined” with critical thinking skills, as a way to close this job skills gap.

… Dan Willingham, a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia, is a leading expert on how students learn. “Data from the last thirty years leads to a conclusion that is not scientifically challengeable: thinking well requires knowing facts, and that’s true not only because you need something to think about,” Willingham has written. “The very processes that teachers care about most — critical thinking processes such as reasoning and problem solving — are intimately intertwined with factual knowledge that is stored in long-term memory (not just found in the environment).”

Interviewing skills may be the least of these students’ problems.

Related:  Five skills that will help you find and keep a job after college (Cost of College)

July 24, 2013

Quick Links – Children need facts to learn; parents read more to girls; a new blog

by Grace

‘Children can’t think if they don’t learn facts’ (The Daily Telegraph)

The academics who criticised rote learning are wrong – it is at the heart of all knowledge

Author and journalist Harry Mount responds to the professors of education who oppose Britain’s new national curriculum.  They claim it will ‘will place an overemphasis on memorising “endless lists of spelling, facts and rules”’, thereby robbing children of the “ability to think”‘.

Those academics think knowledge and thought are at war with each other in a zero-sum game; that you can’t have one without destroying the other. They say that rote learning is less important than “cognitive development, critical understanding and creativity”. How wrong they are – and how depressingly keen on the dreary, Latinate jargon of academese. You can’t be critical or creative, or develop, without knowing anything. Knowledge and thought aren’t chickens and eggs: knowledge always comes before a decent thought. Brilliant thinkers invariably know lots of things; and people who don’t know anything are usually stupid, unless they have had the cruel misfortune to have their natural intelligence stunted by an education system that prizes ignorance.

Daniel Willingham would further argue that we need “inflexible” knowledge , which is “memorizing with meaning”.  Rote knowledge, which is memorizing without meaning, is typically a precursor to flexible knowledge.

* * * * *

Why parents read more with their daughters

Girls get more reading time with their parents than boys do.

There Are Plenty of Reasons Why Parents May Read More With Their Daughters

One theory holds that girls might have a greater inclination toward such activities. (Theories suggesting innate differences between boys and girls and between men and women are hotly debated.) Another theory is that parents may be following cultural scripts and unconscious biases that suggest they should read with their daughters, and have active play with sons.

It is also possible, Baker says, that the costs of investing in cognitive activities is different when it comes to boys and girls. As an economist, he isn’t referring to cost in the sense of cash; he means cost in the sense of effort.

“It is just more costly to provide a unit of reading to a boy than to a girl because the boy doesn’t sit still, you know, doesn’t pay attention,” he says, “these sorts of things.”

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Check out a new blog.

My son recently launched a new blog.  Occam’s Razor Scooter “is dedicated to news, pop culture, sports, and whatever else the author finds interesting”.  Politics is a particular focus, with a regularly updated guide to next year’s US Senate elections.  And the blog’s “dog of the day” feature is worth checking just for a daily smile.

20130717.COCDogOfDay1

January 16, 2013

Quick Links – Public pensions don’t work so well; New York education reform report; Googling still might be making us stupid

by Grace

◊◊◊  How public pensions work

It’s not pretty:

Politicians around the country have demonstrated complete inability to manage pensions effectively. They promise big benefits, don’t tax voters enough to pay for them, and then invest the money in fly by night, risky Wall Street schemes (with big fees for their banking cronies and contributors) in the hopes that a few big wins and aggressive moves will cover the funding gap.

Those are Walter Russell Mead’s words, written upon learning that the New York City comptroller proposed “taking New York’s pension money and investing it in mortgages, loans, and infrastructure projects” to help in the recovery after Hurricane Sandy.  On the surface this might seem like a good idea.

But the temptations and pitfalls are huge. Let local politicians get the idea that pension funds are pots of money that can be invested in pet projects, and it won’t take long before bad things start to happen. The potential for conflict of interest is just too high for this to be a good idea.


◊◊◊  New York State – Governor Cuomo Education Reform Commission released its preliminary report this month.

The report has generated complaints that it includes big ideas with no specifics about funding.

The gubernatorial panel established to recommend a host of education reforms and priorities produced a series of ideas that Gov. Andrew Cuomo himself earlier today admitted would be a heavy lift.

The proposals announced by commission chairman Dick Parsons would expand pre-K and Kindergarten to a full day, lengthen the school year and create a so-called “bar exam” to ensure teacher competency.

Unless they first make fundamental reforms in curriculum and teaching, I would not want my kids to be captives of the public schools for any longer than the 180 days required today.

The report also recommends consolidating schools and districts to save money, an old idea that has repeatedly met strong resistance in many areas.  The idea of “making schools a hub for health care and social services” is a pipe dream given the aversion to raising taxes in the current economic environment.


◊◊◊  ‘Does Constant Googling Really Make You Stupid?’ [Excerpt] (Scientific American)

From Twentysomething: Why Do Young Adults Seem Stuck? by Robin Marantz Henig & Samantha Henig

Preliminary data suggest that all those tweets, status updates and other digital distractions may actually stave off cognitive decline

A small study of 24 older adults found that frequent Googling “appears to enhance brain circuitry”.  However, it seems a wild leap to conclude from this that it enhances “sophisticated thinking and higher-order cognition”.

… Google, it seems, might be doing something different to the brains of digital natives, creating a new set of neural connections and engaging young brains in an unprecedented way. With their brains thus wired, Millennials might be using the web as a vehicle for sophisticated thinking and higher-order cognition. And they might be even more mentally engaged while online than their elders are while reading a book.

I don’t doubt Googling and other digital activities that vie for our attention are changing our brain circuitry.  But there is scant evidence that today’s “continuous partial attention” is making us smarter.  The fact is we need focused attention and a broad base of knowledge before we can become critical thinkers.

Indeed, evidence from cognitive science challenges the notion that skills can exist independent of factual knowledge. Dan Willingham, a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia, is a leading expert on how students learn. “Data from the last thirty years leads to a conclusion that is not scientifically challengeable: thinking well requires knowing facts, and that’s true not only because you need something to think about,” Willingham has written. “The very processes that teachers care about most — critical thinking processes such as reasoning and problem solving — are intimately intertwined with factual knowledge that is stored in long-term memory (not just found in the environment).”

April 13, 2012

Using the Internet is ‘supereasy’, but ‘deep reading, advanced math, scientific reasoning’ is hard

by Grace

‘Digital Literacy’ Will Never Replace The Traditional Kind

I would like K-12 schools to focus more on teaching background knowledge and traditional competencies instead of spending so much time teaching so-called 21st century skills.

… But that’s not how an increasingly powerful faction within education sees the matter. They are the champions of “new literacies” — or “21st century skills” or “digital literacy” or a number of other faddish-sounding concepts. In their view, skills trump knowledge, developing “literacies” is more important than learning mere content, and all facts are now Googleable and therefore unworthy of committing to memory.

Students need a broad base of knowledge before they can become critical thinkers.

Indeed, evidence from cognitive science challenges the notion that skills can exist independent of factual knowledge. Dan Willingham, a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia, is a leading expert on how students learn. “Data from the last thirty years leads to a conclusion that is not scientifically challengeable: thinking well requires knowing facts, and that’s true not only because you need something to think about,” Willingham has written. “The very processes that teachers care about most — critical thinking processes such as reasoning and problem solving — are intimately intertwined with factual knowledge that is stored in long-term memory (not just found in the environment).”

iPads are not a prerequisite for innovation, collaboration, and evaluation.

There is no doubt that the students of today, and the workers of tomorrow, will need to innovate, collaborate and evaluate, to name three of the “21st century skills” so dear to digital literacy enthusiasts. But such skills can’t be separated from the knowledge that gives rise to them. To innovate, you have to know what came before. To collaborate, you have to contribute knowledge to the joint venture. And to evaluate, you have to compare new information against knowledge you’ve already mastered. Nor is there any reason that these skills must be learned or practiced in the context of technology. Critical thinking is crucial, but English students engage in it whenever they parse a line of poetry or analyze the motives of an unreliable narrator. Collaboration is key, but it can be effectively fostered in the glee club or on the athletic field. Whatever is specific to the technological tools we use right now — and these tools are bound to change in any case — is designed to be easy to learn and simple to use.

Using the Internet is “supereasy” compared to “deep reading, advanced math, scientific reasoning”, which are hard.  Schools need to focus on providing expert instruction for the hard stuff.


Related:  Wikipedia co-founder says we need to memorize things, not just ‘Google it’

March 16, 2012

Core Knowledge nonfiction curriculum proves better than ‘balanced literacy’

by Grace

Children in New York City who learned to read using an experimental curriculum that emphasized nonfiction texts outperformed those at other schools that used methods that have been encouraged since the Bloomberg administration’s early days, according to a new study to be released Monday….

The less-effective curriculum, used in most public schools today, is called “balanced literacy”.  The approach that proved more effective in this study is part of the Core Knowledge program, designed by E.D. Hirsch, Jr.

Under the balanced literacy approach, which was used by seven of the comparison schools and remains the most popular method of teaching reading in the city’s schools, children are encouraged to develop a love of reading by choosing books that are of interest to them. Teachers spend less time directing instruction, and more time overseeing students as they work together.

Reading nonfiction writing is the key component of the Core Knowledge curriculum, which is based on the theory that children raised reading storybooks will lack the necessary background and vocabulary to understand history and science texts. While the curriculum allows children to read fiction, it also calls on them to knowledgeably discuss weather patterns, the solar system, and how ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia compare.

This principal still prefers balanced literacy for higher income students, believing Core Knowledge is only better for poor children.

“I like balanced literacy, I do; I think that it works well, especially for children who are coming into school having been read to every single day,” said Katie Grady, principal … “For my children, who are economically disadvantaged, they needed something more, and the Core Knowledge pilot had it,” Ms. Grady said….

A friend from a nearby school district pointed out that many middle- and upper-class parents would also prefer Core Knowledge for their own children.  She understands, as a college instructor married to a college professor, that even well-educated parents want their public schools to maintain high standards. Core Knowledge’s emphasis on nonfiction, historical fiction and classic literature is in contrast to balanced literacy’s focus on contemporary literature that is considered more “relevant” to students.  The young adult (YA) sections of libraries are well stocked with this genre, typified by stories of teen anguish and social injustice.

One example of such YA literature is The Outsiders, a young adult novel with a 5.1 reading level that has become a standard assignment in many middle schools. It doesn’t hurt that showing the movie version in class is an ideal way for teachers to fulfill mandated multimedia “21st century” skills instruction.  It sounds like a good time for students, but I agree with my friend when she expresses what she would have preferred for her son who attended public school out here in the affluent suburbs.

If we’d had the Core Knowledge sequence, he could have read The Outsiders for fun here at home while reading Longfellow, Dickinson, and Langston Hughes with his teacher at school.

Rich or poor, highly educated or high school dropout, it seems parents must often do much of the heavy lifting in content instruction while the schools are doing the fun “relevant” projects in the classroom.

Related:  Schools will use tracking and more nonfiction reading to improve achievement

September 22, 2011

Hirsch explains cause of decline in SAT scores is content-light instruction

by Grace

Average SAT scores fell this year, with critical reading results declining to the lowest on record.  E.D. Hirsch writes that the main cause is a move away from content-rich instruction in the elementary grades.

The decline has led some commentators to embrace demographic determinism — the idea that the verbal scores of disadvantaged students will not significantly rise until we overcome poverty. But that explanation does not account for the huge drop in verbal scores across socioeconomic groups in the 1970s.

The most credible analyses have shown that the chief causes were not demographics or TV watching, but vast curricular changes, especially in the critical early grades. In the decades before the Great Verbal Decline, a content-rich elementary school experience evolved into a content-light, skills-based, test-centered approach.

Daniel Willingham on this subject:

More:

How Knowledge Helps – It Speeds and Strengthens Reading Comprehension, Learning—and Thinking

(Cross-posted at Kitchen Table Math)

July 29, 2011

Wikipedia co-founder says we need to memorize things, not just ‘Google it’

by Grace

Joanne Jacobs posted about a recent study that suggests “there is less need to remember” because people are outsourcing memory to the Internet.  This reminded me of the irony in Wikipedia co-founder Larry Sanger’s disagreement with this notion that “the instant availability of information online makes the memorization of facts unnecessary or less necessary“.  In writing this, Sanger appears to be channeling Daniel Willingham, William Klemm and other scientists who support the idea that a rich base of knowledge is the foundation for critical thinking and creative problem solving.

I like the way Jacobs explained it.

The more you know, the easier it is to seek out new information, evaluate it and do something with it.  And remember it.

Here is Sanger’s take.

Whenever I encounter yet another instance of educationists’ arguments against “memorizing,” the following rather abstract yet simple thought springs to my philosopher’s mind: Surely the only way to know something is to have memorized it. How can I be said to know something that I do not remember? So being opposed to memorizing has always sounded to me like being opposed to knowledge. I realize this argument likely seems glib. The thing educationists object to, of course, is not the remembering or even the memorizing but rather the memorizing by rote — that is, by dull repetition and often without experience or understanding.

In a December 2008 interview, Don Tapscott, a popular writer on the subject of the Internet and society, argued that the Internet is now “the fountain of knowledge” and that students need not memorize particular facts such as historical dates. …This view is common enough among the Wikipedia users I have come across; they sometimes declare that since the free online encyclopedia is so huge and easy to use, they feel less pressure to commit “trivia” to memory….

But to claim that the Internet allows us to learn less, or that it makes memorizing less important, is to belie any profound grasp of the nature of knowledge. Finding out a fact about a topic with a search in Wolfram Alpha, for example, is very different indeed from knowing about and understanding the topic. Having a well-understood fact ready to recall is far different from merely getting an unfamiliar answer to a question. Reading a few sentences in Wikipedia about some theories on the causes of the Great Depression does not mean that one thereby knows or understands this topic. Being able to read (or view) anything quickly on a topic can provide one with information, but actually having a knowledge of or understanding about the topic will always require critical study. The Internet will never change that.

Moreover, if you read an answer to a question, you usually need fairly substantial background knowledge to interpret the answer….

To possess a substantial understanding of a field requires not just memorizing the facts and figures that are used by everyone in the field but also practicing, using, and internalizing those basics. To return to my “glib” argument, surely the only way to begin to know something is to have memorized it.

(This is an update of a previous post:  Wikipedia co-founder argues for the importance of ‘memorizing facts’)

June 14, 2011

Problems with study that claims groups are better than lectures for learning

by Grace

Last month the NY Times reported on a study that showed interactive group instruction is superior to traditional lectures.

In one of the initiative’s most visible studies, Dr. Wieman’s team reports that students in an introductory college physics course did especially well on an exam after attending experimental, collaborative classes during the 12th week of the course. By contrast, students taking the same course from another instructor — who did not use the experimental approach and continued with lectures as usual — scored much lower on the same exam.

Not so fast.

Yet experts who reviewed the new report cautioned that it was not convincing enough to change teaching. The study has a variety of limitations, they said, some because of the difficulty of doing research in the dude-I-slept-through-class world of the freshman year of college, and others because of the study’s design. “The whole issue of how to draw on basic science and apply it in classrooms is a whole lot more complicated than they’re letting on,” said Daniel Willingham, a psychology professor at the University of Virginia.

Dr. Willingham said that, among other concerns, the study was not controlled enough to tell which of the changes in teaching might have accounted for the difference in students’ scores.

Here are Dr. Willingham’s candid comments from his Facebook page.

There were a lot of problems with this study. The two methods compared were each tested in just ONE classroom–so no way of knowing whether the observed effects were just due to the teacher. The “group learning” condition was taught by a new teacher–the “lecture” was the same professor as had been teaching all semester. The critical test was opt-in, and lots of students decided not to take it–and the proportions were unequal across conditions. The study was a mess. I can’t imagine why Science published it….

Studies like this are fine for what they are–they are really more pilot studies, or they could be useful as qualitative research. (I think qualitative research *is* really quite useful.) But it didn’t have the strengths of qualitative research and was pitched as a quantitative study.

Other reports about this study:

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