When I was in college earning my education degree, most of the research on learning came out of behavioral psychology: Pavlov, Thorndike, and Skinner. We learned how to mold our students’ skills and behaviors through drill and practice, rewards, and punishments. Instructional techniques were built around how to train students to become fluent in the reading and computation skills they would need to be successful in life.
Then, about ten years later, when I was doing advanced graduate work and earning my certificate in curriculum design, we learned that learning wasn’t quite as cut and dried as that. Curriculum shouldn’t be compartmentalized, it should be integrated. Instruction shouldn’t be skill-driven, it should incorporate higher level thinking. Assessments shouldn’t be designed around discrete facts, they should be authentic. At the time we read an interview with Lauren Resnick, a major researcher into learning and how it works. (The article is available free to ASCD members.)
I recently came across the article again, and although it is now twenty years old, Resnick’s comments are thought-provoking, not the least because much of what she said then still has not become widespread in the field.
Teaching practices really haven’t caught up either, because our schools aren’t structured to facilitate it.
It’s not enough to stay comfortable with what we know how to do. If I keep teaching the way I’ve always taught, I can’t bring my practice up to date with 1980’s research, let alone what is happening in 2009. I don’t think we can even afford to say, “the system isn’t set up for it, so why bother?” Find ways inside the structure to start making changes toward a more student-centered, thinking- and problem-solving-oriented approach.
How are you making this happen in your classroom? What are the struggles you’re facing? How can we work together to overcome the challenges?
Brandt, R. (December 1988/January 1989). On learning research: A conversation with Lauren Resnick. Educational Leadership, 46 (4), 12-16.