Education in Ireland

Perspectives on the Irish education system distilled through the crucible of experience,leavened with the empirical wisdom of the perpetual student!

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Teaching for Understanding

We all endorse the concept of teaching for understanding. Understanding is defined as the capacity for using current knowledge to illuminate new problems or unanticipated issues.
We can differentiate between two types of disciplines:
1. Classical academic disciplines and
2. Regular practice with feedback in applying habits of mind that yield understanding

Disciplines are approaches made by scholars over the centuries to address essential questions, issues and phenomenon drawn from the natural and human worlds: they include methods of inquiry, concepts, theoretical frameworks, symbol images and mental models. Defining disciplinary boundaries is a complex epistemological and sociological task. A discipline must be differentiated from a subject. A subject is a collection of contents that a student needs to learn, but a discipline entails a particular mode of thinking or interpreting the world that needs to be developed by students. In school mostly what happens is a curious mix of the two. Students learn facts and concepts and master certain practices. However the “subject matter” learned is superficial and there is little “real” understanding. Many teachers succumb to “teachers’ fallacy” which entails the chain of reasoning “I taught a great class; therefore the students understood what I did”

The greatest enemy of understanding is coverage. The compulsion to teach everything that is in the textbook rather than concentrating on certain sections and assessing understanding, leads to a lack of opportunities for Meta cognition.

Much of what happens in a classroom happens for reasons unconnected to educational effectiveness. What is taught is often determined by an externally mandated curriculum. Practices endure because they have been carried out in the past.

The curriculum ought to be built around a number of central questions such as:
· Identity and history Who am I? Where do I come from?
· Other people/groups How are people similar/different to me?
· Relations to others How should you treat other people/how should they treat you?
· My place in the world Where do I live? How do I fit into the universe?
· The psychological world What is my mind? What are thoughts, dreams etc?
· The biological world Learning about other creatures. Do animals think? What about plants

Students need to master basic literacy skills. The philosopher Nelson Goodman observed that “much of common sense is actually common nonsense and it needs to be recognised as such”

The route to disciplinary knowledge leads from common sense to normal disciplinary knowledge to interdisciplinary knowledge to meta-disciplinary knowledge.

The purpose of education should be to achieve understanding: this is hard to achieve because educators have little accumulated knowledge of how to teach for it and because students harbour many habits of mind that stand in the way of acquiring genuine understanding. Paul Hirst (British) argued that disciplines do not train the mind but rather they let us see what it is to have a mind! Perhaps that is a goal worth aiming for!!


Blogger physicsteacher said...

Hello Matt,
Just come across your blog recently and this one is intriguing. The "I always have the course covered before the mocks" comments from teachers at secondary level is particulaly scary. Thanks for posting


12:29 PM  
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10:23 PM  

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