Saturday, September 17, 2011

Explicit instruction limits learning . . .

I often teach technology to students quickly. I often start with the comment, "I know many of you already know how to do this but if you'll give me a few minutes I might remind you of something you've forgotten." Once started, I try to keep things interesting and fast paced and will say as I skim rapidly over very important tips or techniques, "If you need help figuring out how to [get here / do this / take the next step] let me know and I will be glad to help you."

I have found that this method causes students to try harder to figure out how to do things they may have struggled with if I taught in greater detail. I think we (all) tend to rely on as much assistance or guidance as we can get and only when pushed to extend ourselves does our creativity and motivation to learn by doing engage. This seems to me like the basis of constructivist learning and the model we should all pursue as educators.

I watch teachers repeat basic instructions again and again until, "everyone in the class gets it," but notice that it sometimes takes forever and in following lessons students need the explanations again and again. With my method, after the first time, when I tell the students, "This is easy and I know nobody will have a problem with it," if I have to revisit later it is done individually or very quickly to the group with a preface like the one above.

A recent MIT study seems to confirm my rationale and support my opinion that sometimes to promote learning, when it comes to teaching, explicit instruction, less is more.
Suppose someone showed you a novel gadget and told you, “Here’s how it works,” while demonstrating a single function, such as pushing a button. What would you do when they handed it to you?

You’d probably push the button. But what if the gadget had other functions? Would it occur to you to search for them, if your teacher hadn’t alluded to their existence?

Maybe, maybe not. It turns out that there is a “double-edged sword” to pedagogy: Explicit instruction makes children less likely to engage in spontaneous exploration and discovery. A study by MIT researchers and colleagues compared the behavior of children given a novel toy under four different conditions, finding that children expressly taught one of its functions played with the toy for less time and discovered fewer things to do with it than children in the other three scenarios.

According to Laura Schulz, . . . Associate Professor of Cognitive Science at MIT, this is rational behavior, as teaching is meant to impart skills quickly and efficiently. The danger is leading children to believe that they’ve learned all there is to know, thereby discouraging independent discovery.
The rest of the article is available at MIT News.

No comments: