Hey Mike Coole,
I for one would very much like to see a draft of your APA paper, if
I'm trying to figure out how your Canadian interlocutor comes to the
inference that the collaborative learning per se, as it were, is
"intellectual Borax", stripping students of their attention spans.
could such a thing work, in principle, I wonder? Seems more likely
in any case, that having had first-hand experience with successful
using collaboration and other more activity-based methods gives
healthy skepticism about the value of "direct instruction for its
especially when the latter is manifested in the form of a
not-very-skillfully-executed lecture. What, precisely, does my
pay attention to a badly designed lecture say about my attention
this woman, one wonders, really have her "scientific thinking cap"
coming to these conclusions?
As for good ol' calculus, it just so happens that I have a personal
-- a slightly sad one -- to tell. I was as happy as a clam, learning
calculus quite successfully as an "autodidact" during my senior
year of high
school, and I entered college very much excited to take a "Real
Course" taught by a Real Calculus Professor so I could really go
forward in this wonderful subject. As it turned out, Direct
Calculus, in my freshman year in college, all but killed my love of
mathematics; I barely survived the course, escaping with a C+,
to this day as my lowest grade ever in a math course or any other
(OK, I also got a C+ in an Anthro course, but that's it). My love
mathematics survived, thankfully ... but it really didn't come all
back until I taught myself group theory approximately eight years
Freshman Calculus Direct Instruction Disaster.
There does seem to be some very strongly entrenched pedagogical
the effect that Some Subjects Require Direct Instruction, or at
Subjects Necessitate More Direct Instruction Than Others, but it's
been clear to me what the provenance of this folklore is, or what
of it is based on. I certainly don't buy any of it; and in the
calculus, a strongly favored example used to illustrate the
folklore by its
advocates (I think of Al Manaster from UCSD lecturing me about
this, no pun
intended), I have direct personal evidence strongly to the contrary.
On Aug 14, 2010, at 4:01 PM, mike cole wrote:
If anyone is interested I can send draft of paper for APA. It is
my AERA address (but less interesting-- damned print!).
Sure, crappy instruction can come from "we pretend to teach they
learn" regimes. The examples I gave all have pretty good evidence
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
having acquired levels of learning that are very low ( I deal with
students from California colleges, and direct admitees into UCSD
handle, for example, a book as complicated as *1984*, I do not
it is a plausible account of the average Canadian university's
Apropos, however, of your point. Recent news reports concerning
indicate that there are a couple of hundred pretty well paid jobs
begging in the US right now because there is a dearth of people who
handle the work tasks. Not a new story -- one which puts many
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 <email@example.com>
Thanks for sharing that anecdote.
Unfortunately there is a mirror image in reform teaching to the
dysfunctional portrait you presented of direct instruction of
disconnected from meaning-making: engagement in activity with no
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
from ideological resistance (that came later), but from true horror
stories of kids in dysfunctional reform classrooms, some of them
to college unprepared as learners (getting into college is not
sign of a successful K-12 learning experience). As a community, I
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
section titled "Theoretical Analysis.")
From: firstname.lastname@example.org [mailto:xmca-
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
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
gain traction against recitation scrips and direct instruction. A
general finding was that when implemented as designers intend, such
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
she agreed with all I said, and thank you, etc. She began by saying
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
of students who are great at collaborative learning, but it appears
them of their attention spans. And, doesn't a subject like calculus
These comments/questions knocked me over. I have long disliked the
of short attention span in school kids, which appears to masquerade
often as a proxy for "the kids will not sit still and control
doing stuff they do not understand and do not understand why they
But I never expected that the the charge of "reduced attention spans"
be attributed to college students (who have succeeded in getting in
college, after all) with the causal factor inducing this "deficit"
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
made to subordinate procedural knowledge to knowledge of the
motives for learning.
I think I was experiencing exactly the challenges confronting the
really interesting and successful innovators in education (we might
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
are rapidly deconstructed once they leave the home ground.
Anyone else have observations of this kind?
Two things struck me
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