Thursday, June 8, 2017

Deeper Learning Is By Discovery, Not Delivery


We've been talking about Bloom's Taxonomy and critical thinking for as long as I've been an educator. And yet we still have work to do to get kids cognitively engaged in classrooms. We can't seem to shake the traditional methods that turn education into a delivery system, rather than a powerful engine of discovery and inquiry.

So much of the conventional wisdom is wrong. For instance, many teachers believe we should teach the basics and then if we have time, include opportunities for critical thinking. Our assessments are often organized that way. Most of the items will be recall/knowledge level questions with one or two performance events or critical thinking tasks at the end. It seems like critical thinking is always an after thought.

In my first year of teaching, I remember one of my mentors gave me this advice, "Make them (the students) think." And that's exactly what we need to do. We need to design learning that involves students in making meaning, not just accepting information. If we want students to get deeper understanding and enjoy learning, that is what we must do.

Here are some of the differences in approaching education as a delivery system vs. a discovery system.

Delivery

1. Students are expected to accept information (textbook, lecture, study packet, notes, etc).

2. Learning is impersonal and disconnected. 

3. Understanding is limited to what was taught.

4. The teacher is doing much of the thinking and explaining.

5. Learning is measured by right and wrong answers.

6. The teacher mostly decides the direction of learning.

7. Teaches step-by-step problem solving (at best).

8. Relies on compliance, following instructions, rules.

9. Passive, receiving, accepting, memorizing type of learning.


Discovery

1. Students are making meaning of information (thinking critically and creatively).

2. It connects to the learner's interest, aptitude, experience, and even their personality.

3. Understanding often results in new ideas.

4. The student is forced to assume more cognitive load. 

5. Learning is measured by the quality of your thinking (and ultimately quality thinking will result in right answers).

6. The students' questions help determine the direction of the learning.

7. Teaches students to activate their reasoning skills to solve problems.

8. Relies on curiosity, interests, and exploration.

9. Active, reasoning, questioning, connecting, synthesizing type of learning.

There are numerous advantages to discovery learning. Students will remember more of the facts and fundamentals of the discipline when they learn this way. They will have more context to connect ideas and make learning stick. They will also develop skills as independent learners, something that will serve them well their whole life.

And it doesn't have to be complicated. Although I'm a big fan of project-based learning, we can make students think in simple ways without an extended project. Sometimes the simplest teacher moves are the most effective. Try this: Wait longer after you ask a question before you accept a student answer. Then, wait longer after the student responds to the question before you say anything. Instead of saying the answer is right or wrong, ask, "And why do you think that?" 

This summer I challenge you to think about how a lesson could be better next year. How could you improve your lesson design so that learning becomes more discovery and less delivery?

Question: What tips would you share for making students think? How do you achieve cognitive engagement? Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter. Your suggestions are like gold!

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