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

Thanks, David.
If anyone is interested I can send draft of paper for APA. It is similar to
my AERA address (but less interesting-- damned print!).

Sure, crappy instruction can come from "we pretend to teach they pretend to
learn" regimes. The examples I gave all have pretty good evidence in their
favor and in many cases detailed differentiation of what gets cut out as a
coherent program enters the sausage grinder.

While I am certainly willing to believe that people get into Universities
having acquired levels of learning that are very low ( I deal with transfer
students from California colleges, and direct admitees into UCSD who cannot
handle, for example, a book as complicated as *1984*, I do not believe that
it is a plausible account of the average Canadian university's entering

Apropos, however, of your point. Recent news reports concerning unemployment
indicate that there are a couple of hundred pretty well paid jobs going
begging in the US right now because there is a dearth of people who can
handle the work tasks. Not a new story -- one which puts many industries in
the business of paying new employees to learn a lot before they start

I'll read your paper with interest.

On Sat, Aug 14, 2010 at 3:44 PM, David H Kirshner <dkirsh@lsu.edu> wrote:

> Mike,
> Thanks for sharing that anecdote.
> Unfortunately there is a mirror image in reform teaching to the
> dysfunctional portrait you presented of direct instruction of procedures
> disconnected from meaning-making: engagement in activity with no vision
> on the teacher's part of what or how learning is to be supported. I
> think there is good evidence that the Math Wars in the US initiated not
> from ideological resistance (that came later), but from true horror
> stories of kids in dysfunctional reform classrooms, some of them getting
> to college unprepared as learners (getting into college is not always a
> sign of a successful K-12 learning experience). As a community, I don't
> think we've done a good job of articulating what it is that makes
> activity-based learning environments effective.
> This was the topic of my AERA paper in May, "The Incoherence of
> Contemporary Pedagogical Reform," which I attach in case anyone is
> interested. (The meat of the paper starts about half way through at the
> section titled "Theoretical Analysis.")
> David
> -----Original Message-----
> From: xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu [mailto:xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu]
> On Behalf Of mike cole
> Sent: Saturday, August 14, 2010 2:39 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
> 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?
> mike
> Two things struck me
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