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RE: [xmca] The Grip of "Direct Instruction"

Mike, maybe this experience resonates: I've recently begun writing the occasional op-ed piece for the Atlanta paper. One is at http://www.ajc.com/opinion/teachers-cant-be-judged-539080.html and questions how Arne Duncan's testing agenda will actually attract the quality teachers he desires rather than drive them out of the classroom. I've gotten some interesting replies, among them the belief that "We have to have something" to serve as a national assessment. My response tends to be, "Really? Even if it's terrible?" If situated learning matters, then why have assessments that are not only national, but god-awful?

-----Original Message-----
From: xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu [mailto:xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu] On Behalf Of mike cole
Sent: Saturday, August 14, 2010 3:39 PM
To: eXtended Mind, Culture,Activity
Subject: [xmca] The Grip of "Direct Instruction"

Yesterday I presented a longish paper at the American Psych Association
meetings here in San Diego.
A lot of it was about what here I would refer to as "activity-based"
curriculum projects -- their virtues, problems, and apparent inability to
gain traction against recitation scrips and direct instruction. A major
general finding was that when implemented as designers intend, such program
work, but they tend quickly to be undermined by teachers who strongly
believe that direct instruction on elements not under control of a
meaningful whole is THE only way to be effective.

A person from Canada posed a question after prefacing her remarks by saying
she agreed with all I said, and thank you, etc. She began by saying that in
Canada such approaches had gained a lot of
traction in k-12 education, but they were causing a problem at the
university level. She phrased the problem roughly as follows: "We get a lot
of students who are great at collaborative learning, but it appears to strip
them of their attention spans. And, doesn't a subject like calculus REQUIRE
direct instruction?"

These comments/questions knocked me over. I have long disliked the discourse
of short attention span in school kids, which appears to masquerade far too
often as a proxy for "the kids will not sit still and control themselves
doing stuff they do not understand and do not understand why they should try
to understand."
But I never expected that the the charge of "reduced attention spans" would
be attributed to college students (who have succeeded in getting in to
college, after all) with the causal factor inducing this "deficit" being
that their former (successful) modes of learning engendered by
activity-centered instruction). Moreover, I was surprised that anyone
believes that calculus can be taught by "direct instruction" with no effort
made to subordinate procedural knowledge to knowledge of the potential
motives for learning.

I think I was experiencing exactly the challenges confronting the many
really interesting and successful innovators in education (we might start
here with Dewey, but I have in mind modern scholars) who want to make
education a meaningful process to students but who find that their efforts
are rapidly deconstructed once they leave the home ground.

Anyone else have observations of this kind?

Two things struck me
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