Posts tagged ‘background knowledge’

April 3, 2015

Some things about education have not changed

by Grace

While I disagree with the title of a recent Huffington Post article proclaiming that “Everything is Different Now” in parenting, I do agree that many things have changed.

•  A higher level of parent involvement is required for academic success.

In the old days, the primary educational duties for parents were reading to your kid and making sure they got into a good school. There was a high level of trust and respect for external authorities -you assumed that teachers and principals knew best and operated with the best interest of your son or daughter in mind.

With sophisticated Internet “research” projects assigned in elementary grades and developmentally inappropriate organizational skills required in middle school, the student whose parents don’t step in to offer hands-on guidance may easily be left behind academically.

•  A college degree offers diminished opportunity for a secure middle-class life.

In the old days, if your kid got into college they could probably find a job. These days it’s not just about grades, SAT scores, and college admissions-the level of young adult underemployment and debt suggests that bargain is broken.

•  Children are more sheltered and given less freedom to learn independence.

… there is a lot less unsupervised play and less unstructured summer roaming. Given rational safety concerns, most kids are more sheltered and scheduled and less like to explore and learn independence….

I disagree that this trend has been driven by “rational” concerns, unless he means the concerns that parents will run into trouble with CPS.

•  Learning options have expanded.

… There has been a linear increase in formal education options and an exponential explosion of informal learning options.

•  Higher education costs have exploded.

… The bad news is that most post-secondary education is more expensive than ever. The good news is that there are more options….


The message of the documentary film Most Likely to Succeed is that these and other changes cry out for “another transformation” in education.

“What I find shocking is that schools aren’t preparing our kids for life in the 21st Century. Surrounded by innovation, our education system is stuck in the 19th Century,” said Ted Dintersmith, producer of Most Likely to Succeed. “The skills and capabilities our kids need going forward are either ignored or outright trampled.” Ted’s movie outlines the broken bargain of a traditional college prep education and employability.

Dintersmith criticizes that students have to learn “regurgitated facts” and take traditional tests like the SAT.  He offers alternatives.

Invent a science experiment, write a creative essay, come up with an interesting historical perspective on an event they care about.

But facts are important.

The point that Dintersmith and others seems to miss is that facts serve as the basis for innovative scientific experiments and knowledgeable historical perspectives.  This inconvenient truth is at the core of the trouble with many education reforms.

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).”

———

Tom Vander Ark, “Everything is Different Now: Parenting for Powerful Learning”, Huffington Post, March 25, 2015.

Tom Vander Ark, “Most Likely To Succeed: A Film About What School Could Be”, Education Week, March 6, 2015.

Advertisements
December 12, 2014

‘it’s mostly facts that end up separating rich kids from poor kids’

by Grace

By teaching them “facts”, schools can make a difference in helping bring kids out of poverty.

——–

Facts, background knowledge, and content knowledge are all education-related terms that can be used interchangeably, and can be defined this way:

… the facts, concepts, theories, and principles that are taught and learned, rather than to related skills—such as reading, writing, or researching—that students also learn in academic courses.

———

When it comes down to it, E.D. Hirsch would argue that it’s mostly facts that end up separating rich kids from poor kids.

He says its facts like the meaning of “common denominator” or understanding what an “ombudsman” does or knowing who Geronimo was that offer many middle- and upper-class students—who learned the terms at home and in their community—a clear advantage in life, while their poorer peers often miss out on absorbing this basic cultural knowledge.

“Facts are what you need to read properly, and to learn more, and to communicate,” says Hirsch, author, founder of the Core Knowledge Foundation and professor emeritus of education and humanities at the University of Virginia.

In 1987, Hirsch wrote the book on teaching facts:  Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know.  It was hailed as innovative, but also criticized as being “elitist, Eurocentric and focused too heavily on rote memorization”.

Now, at 86, he’s seeing the teaching philosophies he’s championed for nearly 30 years becoming a basis for curriculum changes in schools across America.

Common Core Standards

The standards don’t dictate specifically what facts kids learn, but they do guide what students should generally be able to do in math and language arts, such as “establish a base of knowledge across a wide range of subject matter by engaging with works of quality and substance.”

Reading comprehension is dependent on background knowledge.

“There’s an enormous amount of data showing that background knowledge is absolutely vital to reading comprehension,” says Dan Willingham, a U.Va. psychology professor who says Hirsch’s concepts fall in line with current research on how the human brain learns. “Your understanding of text is dependent on what you already know about it.”

The new standards are promising, but success depends on proper implementation.

As for how Common Core standards might change what students learn in schools, Hirsch says he’ll reserve any enthusiasm for when he sees how the standards are put into place.

———

Carrie Madren, “The Facts of the Matter”, University of Virginia Magazine, Winter 2014.

September 25, 2014

Seven myths of education are hobbling education reform

by Grace

Author Daisy Christodoulou argues that the “chief barriers to effective school reform are not the usual accused: bad teacher unions, low teacher quality, burdensome government dictates”, but instead are the Seven Myths about Education:

1 – Facts prevent understanding
2 – Teacher-led instruction is passive
3 – The 21st century fundamentally changes everything
4 – You can always just look it up
5 – We should teach transferable skills
6 – Projects and activities are the best way to learn
7 – Teaching knowledge is indoctrination

E. D. Hirsch, Jr. points out the relevance of these myths today, with the nationwide embrace of Common Core Standards that comes after the failure of No Child Left Behind reform.

Ms. Christodoulou’s book indirectly explains these tragic, unintended consequences of NCLB, especially the poor results in reading. It was primarily the way that educators responded to the accountability provisions of NCLB that induced the failure. American educators, dutifully following the seven myths, regard reading as a skill that could be employed without relevant knowledge; in preparation for the tests, they spent many wasted school days on ad hoc content and instruction in “strategies.” If educators had been less captivated by anti-knowledge myths, they could have met the requirements of NCLB, and made adequate yearly progress for all groups. The failure was not in the law but in the myths.

While Hirsch focuses most on reading skills and how CCS employ ‘the same superficial, content-indifferent activities, given new labels like “text complexity” and “reading strategies”‘, the entire list of myths is in play to doom the latest reform efforts.

… If the Common Core standards fail as NCLB did, it will not be because the standards themselves are defective. It will be because our schools are completely dominated by the seven myths analyzed by Daisy Christodoulou….

Despite some rhetoric to the contrary, CCS implementation continues the educational establishment’s crusade against “knowing things” and “being taught things”.  Instead, in accordance with the seven myths it downplays outside knowledge and encourages a “discovery-oriented” approach instead of direct instruction.

———

E. D. Hirsch, Jr.,  “A Game-Changing Education Book from England”, Huffington Post, 06/27/2013.

April 24, 2014

‘Reading ability is very topic dependent’

by Grace

E.D. Hirsch explains why “reading scores on standardized tests flatten out in 12th grade”.

… “Reading ability is very topic dependent.”  Given two passages of equal difficulty in syntax and vocabulary, the same reader will comprehend one better than the other if the reader knows something about the subject matter of the one and little about that of the other.  The idea of a general reading ability that functions independently of what is read is “a misleading abstraction,” Hirsch says.  If a reading test has ten passages with 8-10 questions on each, the same student will perform variably from one to the next depending on background knowledge.  It’s an arbitrary system.  If, by chance, you did volunteer clean-up work one summer and one of the passages concerns how cities and towns dispose of their trash, you will fly through it.  A passage on a sport you never played, though, will slow you down, even though passage difficulty is the same.

Here is the explanation for divergent trends among 4th– and 12th-graders.  Passages for older students are more knowledge-intensive than those for younger students.

Schools changed from a “knowledge intensive” curriculum to a “test-prep” curriculum.

… A cumulative, knowledge-oriented curriculum will, over time, produce higher verbal abilities than a test-prep curriculum.  Over 13 years of knowledge-intensive schooling, students, including disadvantaged ones, can learn quite a lot about a lot of topics, greatly increasing their ability to make high scores on a reading test, and making them ready for college or a career.

Will Common Core Standards make a difference?

The solution is simple, yet far-reaching.  We need the reading curriculum to be more knowledge-aimed and less skill-based.  Hirsch: “A cumulative knowledge-oriented curriculum will, over time, produce higher verbal abilities than a test-prep curriculum.”  That means more set content and common readings in English, history, and civics, a sharper determination of “cultural literacy” (to use the title that made Hirsch famous), a narrower and more coherent curriculum.

Botched implementation?

The biggest question seems to be how well CCS will be implemented.  Among the many problematic issues surrounding CCS so far, there seems to be general agreement of a “botched” implementation.

———

Mark Bauerlein, “The Test Score Solution”, Minding the Campus, October 15, 2013.

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)

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’

%d bloggers like this: