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Influencing The Quality Of Education
Do we really believe that every child 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 held by many mainstream educators have resulted in ineffective and even harmful educational practices. How we view students and learning affects what we teach, how we teach, and ultimately student learning. Some teachers design the programs as if diversity did not exist; they are unaware or unaware of how their students’ backgrounds or contexts shape their learning styles and affect their success.
We prefer observation to traditional research pre- and post-tests and surveys as the best way to gather information about people. Observation helps discern the number and types of variables that impact 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 had previously shown.
A second mistaken belief held by many educators is that intelligence is a definable, measurable, and static entity. First, even psychometric experts themselves cannot agree on a common definition or theory of intelligence. Neither the instruments nor the quantification procedures used by IQ psychometricians could produce precise scientific results.
Moreover, the mental measure of intelligence is by no means a prerequisite for current academic success. No data set shows that any use of traditional IQ or mental measurement is linked to valid teaching and learning. Therefore, measuring IQ is a professionally meaningless ritual, a ritual with unnecessarily harmful consequences, which undermines professional thinking and action in negative ways, causing professionals to overlook successful strategies and approaches in matter of 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 immutable entity. This view is based on the belief that a person’s IQ is a fixed quantity that cannot increase. Those who hold this mistaken belief do not take the time to educate the learner because they do not believe that such education can have any effect on learning. As a result, teachers spend more time focusing on measuring ability and on standardized test scores than on developing curricula that help students grow. This practice can lead to overconfidence in test results as indicators of future success. While some educators use the results of tests such as the SAT and ACT to predict student success, these tests only show the degree to which students have been exposed to exam material.
A third misconception is the doubt that society has about the ability of all children to succeed. This misconception about student ability has led many to wonder if schools can improve learning. And yet, many schools succeed, regardless of IQ tests and popular opinion. Some schools have developed a rigorous and demanding program. The school day is longer than in other schools and students have to work hard to succeed. Since their inauguration, these schools have recorded gains of more than 48% in student scores on standardized tests. Teachers at these schools did not focus on what the IQ tests or background indicated about student success. We need to stop looking at why students and schools fail and instead look at how to work in each context to maximize success.
We are particularly concerned about how educational researchers confuse political issues with professional issues. 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 mislead educational researchers into attributing professional motivations 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 teaching occurs in the form of declarative or procedural knowledge. Declarative knowledge is information that is absorbed and understood – for example, the memorization of 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. The teaching of mathematics is half declarative and half procedural. Language arts instruction is three quarters procedural knowledge and one quarter declarative knowledge.
The next level in the hierarchy of human learning is metacognitive. At the metacognitive level, students reflect on 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 to learn. Does the learner persevere, seek clarity and push their own limits?
At the top of the hierarchy is the system of self where learners reflect on the impact of their beliefs on their learning. Belief systems have a powerful impact on what students learn. It is the level of students’ emotional involvement in their learning that determines its impact. Learners’ beliefs about themselves, others, and the world, as well as their own self-efficacy, all interact as they generate goals for their own learning.
If educators know how to dramatically increase learning, then why are students in many classrooms across the country performing so poorly? There are many reasons, including a lack of a solid philosophical foundation for mainstreaming innovations. Another is the lack of public support for change.
Teachers must make conscious choices about learning goals and then design lessons to elicit that learning. In many classrooms, teachers themselves are unclear about the learning they seek for students, so they may not be using the most effective teaching strategies. Indeed, it is often difficult to identify the type of knowledge that one wants. Research shows that teaching vocabulary through images and fuzzy definitions has the greatest impact on learning. Yet how do most teachers approach vocabulary teaching? By asking students to memorize definitions and use words in sentences. Likewise, using stories is the best strategy for teaching factual information or involving time sequences or cause and effect. Yet most teachers ask students to memorize dates instead.
The meta-analysis reveals that in terms of the hierarchy of learning, if students do not believe that 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 the goals of learning and the corresponding best teaching strategies, but also of how to influence students’ beliefs about their learning. Only then will effective teaching strategies result in much greater learning.
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