Contemporary Learning Environments and Effective Teaching
Researchers content that the goals of education in today’s world have changed necessitating a change to the ways that learning and teaching occurs in this environments (Bransford, Brown & Cocking, 2000; Friesen, 2009; Sawyer, 2006, 2008, 2014; Stone Wiske, 1998). In creating the conditions for learning within these contemporary learning environments, teachers require a deep understanding of the discipline or field of knowledge, as well as an equally thorough understanding of the kinds of teaching tasks and activities that help students achieve deep levels of understanding (Bransford, Brown & Cocking, 2000; Friesen, 2009; Ladwig, Smith, Gore, Amosa & Griffiths, 2007; Newmann, Bryk & Nagaoka, 2001; Newmann, King & Carmichael, 2007; Sawyer, 2006, 2008, 2014).
|Learning Knowledge Deeply (Findings from Cognitive Science)||Traditional Practices (Instructionism)|
|Deep learning requires that learners relate new ideas and concepts to previous knowledge and experience.||Learners treat course material as unrelated to what they already know.|
|Deep learning requires that learners integrate their knowledge into interrelated conceptual systems.||Learners treat course material as disconnected bits of knowledge.|
|Deep learning requires that learners look for patterns and underlying principles.||Learners memorize facts and carry out procedures without understanding how or why.|
|Deep learning requires that learners evaluate new ideas and relate them to conclusions.||Learners have difficulty making sense of new ideas that are different from what they encountered in the textbook.|
|Deep learning requires that learners understand the process of dialogue through which knowledge is created and can examine the logic of an argument critically.||Learners treat facts and procedures as static knowledge, handed down from an all-knowing authority.|
|Deep learning requires that learners reflect on their own understanding and their own process of learning.||Learners memorize without reflecting on the purpose or on their own learning strategies.|
Based on the findings from a multi-year research and development study initiative What did you do in school today? (Willms, Friesen & Milton, 2009), Friesen (2009) developed a resource to guide teachers as they develop teaching practices to sponsor deep understanding in students. Some teachers in schools across Alberta are using the document Teaching Effectiveness: A Framework and Rubric to develop and strengthen their pedagogical practices. The five principles of effective teaching are:
- Teachers are designers of learning
- Work students are asked to undertake is worth their time and attention
- Assessment practices improve students learning and guide teaching
- Teachers foster a variety of interdependent relationships
- Teachers improve their practice in the company of peers
Research conducted for the National Board for Teacher Standards (NBPTS) found that expert teachers were adept at shifting their students’ work products over from surface to deep response requirements. The students of such teachers were found working on tasks likely to promote deep conceptual understanding for the majority of class time. The overall findings were as follows:
- Expert teachers possess pedagogical content knowledge that is far more flexibly and innovatively employed in instruction.
- Expert teachers are more able to improvise and so alter instruction in response to contextual features of the classroom situation.
- Expert teachers understand at a deeper level the reasons for individual student success and failure on a given task.
- Expert teachers’ understanding of the students is such that they are more able to provide developmentally appropriate learning tasks that engage, challenge, and even intrigue students without boring or overwhelming them—they know ‘where to next’.
- Expert teachers are more able to anticipate and plan for difficulties students are likely to encounter with new concepts.
- Expert teachers can more easily improvise when things do not run smoothly.
- Expert teachers are more able to generate accurate hypotheses about the causes of student success and failure.
- Expert teachers bring a distinct passion to their work (Hattie, 2009, p.261).
Authentic Intellectual Work
Newmann et al., (1996) conducted a large study evaluating elementary, middle, and high schools that had implemented authentic pedagogy and authentic academic performance approaches in their mathematics and social studies classrooms. They sought to determine to what extent student achievement improved in schools with high levels of authentic pedagogy involving higher-order thinking, deep-knowledge approaches, and connections to the world beyond the classroom. The research team observed 504 lessons, analyzed 234 assessment tasks, and systematically sampled student work. The researchers found that environments with high levels of authentic pedagogy led to higher academic achievement among all students. They concluded that differences between high- and low-performing students greatly decreased when students who were normally low achieving were offered authentic pedagogy and assessments.
In another study examining 2,128 students in 23 schools in Chicago, Newmann et al. (2001) found that students instructed in mathematics and writing organized around more authentic work made higher-than-normal gains on standardized tests. They defined authentic intellectual work as follows:
Authentic intellectual work involves original application of knowledge and skills, rather than just routine use of facts and procedures. It also entails disciplined inquiry into the details of a particular problem and results in a product or presentation that has meaning or value beyond success in school. We summarize these distinctive characteristics of authentic intellectual work as construction of knowledge, through the use of disciplined inquiry, to produce discourse, products, or performances that have value beyond school. (pp.14-15)
To determine the effectiveness of this approach on learning (Ladwig et al., 2007; Newmann, Bryk & Nagaoka, 2001; Newmann, King & Carmichael, 2007) examined the level of authentic intellectual work in writing and mathematics assignments in Grades 3, 6, and 8 classrooms. After examining the quality of the assignments against the quality of student work, they correlated this data with students’ scores on standardized tests. Students in classrooms where teachers had
The Disciplinary Mind
“Students must see information not as an end in itself or as a stepping stone to more advanced types of information, but rather a means to a better practice” (Gardner, 2006, p.30). He contends that the vital reason for work in disciplinary knowledge is the learner gains deeper understanding and in turn that deeper understanding become a yearning.
Gardner (2006) identifies four steps to creating a disciplined mind:
- Identify truly important topics or concepts within the discipline.
- Spend a significant amount of time on this topic.
- Approach the topic in a number of different ways.
- Set up performances of understanding and give students opportunities to perform their understandings under a variety of conditions (pp.32-34).