Exploring the Social Imagination

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Western Social Imagination has left Education

Business Insider writer Kevin Donnelly wrote this yesterday, April 24 2015, as a commentary about education in the West. 

Seventy teachers from the UK were sent to Shanghai to study classroom methods to investigate why Chinese students perform so well. Upon their return, the teachers reported that much of China’s success came from teaching methods the UK has been moving away from for the past 40 years.

The Chinese favor a “chalk and talk” approach, whereas countries such as the UK, US, Australia and New Zealand have been moving away from this direct form of teaching to a more collaborative form of learning where students take greater control. Given China’s success in international tests, it seems we have been misguided in abandoning the traditional, teacher-directed method of learning where the teacher spends more time standing at the front of the class, directing learning and controlling classroom activities.

Debates about direct instruction versus inquiry learning have been ongoing for many years. Traditionally, classrooms have been organized with children sitting in rows with the teacher at the front of the room, directing learning and ensuring a disciplined classroom environment. This is known as direct instruction.
Beginning in the late 1960s and early ‘70s, teachers began to experiment with more innovative and experimental styles of teaching. These included basing learning on children’s interests, giving them more control over what happened in the classroom and getting rid of memorizing times tables and doing mental arithmetic. This approach is known as inquiry or discovery learning.

Based on this recent study of classrooms in the UK and China and a recent UK report titled What makes great teaching?, there is increasing evidence that these new-age education techniques, where teachers facilitate instead of teach and praise students on the basis that all must be winners, in open classrooms where what children learn is based on their immediate interests, lead to under-performance.

The UK report concludes that many of the approaches adopted in Australian education are counterproductive: Enthusiasm for discovery learning is not supported by research evidence, which broadly favors direct instruction. Especially during the early primary school years in areas like English and mathematics, teachers need to be explicit about what they teach and make better use of whole-class teaching. As noted by John Sweller, a cognitive psychologist from the University of New South Wales in the recent Final Report of the Review of the Australian National Curriculum: Initial instruction when dealing with new information should be explicit and direct.

Many in Australian education believe children are only really learning when they are active. As a result, teachers are told it is wrong to sit children at their desks and ask them to listen to what is being taught.
Again, the evidence proves otherwise. The UK report suggests that even when sitting and listening children are internalizing what is being taught. Learning can occur whether they are “active” or “passive”.
Often derided as “drill and kill” or making children “parrot” what is being taught, the UK report and other research suggests that memorization and rote learning are important classroom strategies, which all teachers should be familiar with.

The UK report states that teachers need to “encourage re-reading and highlighting to memorize key ideas”, while research in how children best learn concludes that some things, such as times tables and reciting rhymes, ballads and poems, must be memorised until they can be recalled automatically.

*Comment ~ Mmmm, when I was teaching, I was told that the above was too difficult for students (and that was at university here in the US); handwriting legibly is not required nor is making full sentences. I was told that such old fashioned ideas were no longer part of a post modern education. Why is that? I was informed that children/young adults have their own ideas about how to learn and teach themselves and they have their own ways of doing/expressing it. All I can say, its a bit too late to save those who were misdirected down such a cruel path; what future will they have now with so many better educated Chinese students to compete with in the real world of the social imagination???  Tragic...

As a sociologist who has lectured on the socialization process and the role of mother/father in it, I can say that parents in the US have been the biggest contributors to the dumbing down of America. They have spoiled their children. Still and all too often I hear "What do you feel like dear? And, if you don't want to, you don't have to."

Dr. EfGallion

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