Learning ‘myths’ — or not

Answer Sheet’s Valerie Strauss lists Seven misconceptions about how students learn, which she links to “standardized test-based public school reform.”  The list, which came from the Independent Curriculum Group web site, is based on “21st-century science,” Strauss alleges.

First comes the “myth” that “Basic Facts Come Before Deep Learning.”

This one translates roughly as, “Students must do the boring stuff before they can do the interesting stuff.” Or, “Students must memorize before they can be allowed to think.” In truth, students are most likely to achieve long-term mastery of basic facts in the context of engaging, student-directed learning.

I don’t think anyone argues that students shouldn’t think till they’ve memorized a bunch of facts. People do argue that students think more intelligently — more deeply or critically, if you prefer — if they have a base of knowledge.

Perhaps Dan Willingham, a cognitive scientist, will take it up on his new blog.

Some of the other myths are straw men, such as “Rigorous Education Means a Teacher Talking” or  ”Covering It Means Teaching It”  or “A Quiet Classroom Means Good Learning.”

But it’s possible fogies think “Teaching to Student Interests Means Dumbing It Down” or “Acceleration Means Rigor.”  The devil is in the details.

“Traditional Schooling Prepares Students for Life” is her final myth/straw man.

Listening to teachers and studying for tests has little to do with life in the world of work. People in the work world create, manage, evaluate, communicate, and collaborate.

My traditional schooling in the mid-20th century  included a lot more than listening to teachers and studying for tests. I did a lot of reading, writing, discussing and even some collaborating. I learned workforce skills too, such as meeting deadlines, adapting to authority figures, dealing with boredom, typing. At more progressive schools, would I have spent more time “engaged” and less time reading under my desk?

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