Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Learning, Literacy and Learner Skill

Tēnā Koutou Katoa - Greetings To You All
Wordle Array
This year, the New Zealand Ministry of Education displayed a list of terms in a draft instruction sheet for learners of Chemistry.

The proposal is that page 3, labelled for student use, may assist learners to reach the standard and achieve a rudimentary qualification in secondary education (NCEA Level 1).

Learners at this level must have a “comprehensive understanding” of aspects of basic Science. Here’s a sentence from the draft sheet:

A comprehensive understanding means you are able to link ideas to integrate the relevant chemistry through elaborating, justifying, relating, evaluating, comparing and contrasting, or analysing.

The new Bloom’s Taxonomy, a tool for teachers, lists the same and similar terms as in the sentence shown above. It is understood, however, that teachers using Bloom’s taxonomy are either familiar with the meanings of the terms or have the initiative and required education to find out about these for themselves.

Terms like justifying and evaluating are not easy to define clearly, even for some teachers. Most teachers do not draw a clear distinction between the processing skills of contrasting and comparing, say.

Yet these are just a few of the difficult terms that are found in a draft instruction to NCEA Level 1 learners.

As teachers, of course, we must teach/coach/train our learners to be able to recognise the difference between such terms as contrasting and comparing. The learner needs to be introduced to what each of these analysis processes has to offer.

Why do we end up asking kids to get their head round the lingo that teachers may well have difficulty grappling with? I wonder if this intellectuality is really beyond the stage that most NCEA Level 1 learners are at, given that many already have difficulty with literacy at this level.

It seems that responsibility for learning continues to devolve.

It is as if learners are now expected to know the meaning of terms (or at least acknowledge their existence) often before they have the chance to get any real practice in the skills they are the labels for. These are skills that learners may not yet have the developmental ability to permit them to understand.

Ka Kite Anō - Catch ya later


V Yonkers said...

Not just students. What about parents and community members? The assumption is that the general public will understand "standards" and what the terms used in the standards mean. How many non-educators know Bloom's technology? In fact, many in the general public base their understanding of teaching on how they were taught.

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Tēnā koe Virginia

Yes, the issue comes down to communication and the passing on of relevant instruction in a way that can be assimilated and understood – by anyone. In this case, the information is coming from a body of educators (presumably) who should be well aware of pedagogy, educational scaffolding, the need to communicate appropriately and the developmental issues that could be involved in teaching junior Science learners.

I agree with you that the parents and community (the whānau ) also need to be considered too.

Catchya later

Greg said...

Thanks for the fantastic post that points out so many of the problems with Bloom's Taxonomy. You're absolutely right when you say that educators have trouble making distinctions among them (not ashamed to say that I was one of them). Bloom was the first to admit that his taxonomy was an attempt, a best guess, at examining skills as complex as thinking. It was a good and rough draft but not sufficient.

Another problem with Bloom's? It's really OLD. Yes, it's gotten a few face-lifts over the years (maybe some liposuction, too). However, there's not significant difference between v1.0 and the newest. We've come a a long way in understanding human cognition and thinking in the past 50 years, yet most educators cite Bloom's when they define thinking when they bother to define thinking at all.

There is some great research that pushes the field beyond Bloom's Taxonomy. In particular, Dr. Derek Cabrera has spent the past 20 years researching thinking skills and cognition. The resulting theory, the DSRP Method, is at the cutting-edge of this important area of research. I recently wrote a short article for ASCD about the need to 'upgrade' from Bloom's and why DSRP offers a fresh and practical approach to teaching thinking skills:

Thanks again for sharing your experience with a roll-out of Bloom's Taxonomy throughout a large school system. Here's hoping that we can move the conversation beyond research done in the 1950s and toward the cutting edge!

V Yonkers said...

One of my biggest frustrations with the US system based on exams is that it pits administration against parents, with little to no community input. The student who "fails" does so because either the parents or the administration has let the child down. It does not take into consideration 1)a student's motivation (or lack thereof) 2) the fit between the student learning and the teacher instruction, 3) test anxiety, 4) the level of support a parent is ABLE to give, 5)the parents' understanding of what their role is supposed to be and their inability to take on that role, and 6) the amount of time documenting whether a child has achieved a standard rather than understanding why or why not a student has achieved or not achieved a standard.

We need to work as a team so that all parties understand what is going on.

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Tēnā korua!

Haere mai e Greg!

However elaborate we want to make it, Bloom’s taxonomy is just a labelling system for educational learning objectives. Of course, this post isn’t really about Bloom’s Taxonomy. Rather I just referred to its existence and the absurdity of expecting young learners to embrace the jargon associated with that tool.

Learners may not have even begun to learn the rudiments of these cognitive competencies while being expected to use them to demonstrate a yet-to-be-learnt aspect of Science.
Thank you for the leads and links on DSRP and thanks for dropping by Middle-earth.

Kia ora Virginia!

I agree totally! My thinking has never been aligned to teaching to standards for the simple reason that it is confining. As well, it necessarily limits the time that can be spent on relevant and interesting aspects not often examinable and that do not assist the learner to acquire immediately assessable skills and knowledge.

What is worse, it has the potential to put the teacher up there as judge, jury and executioner at a time when the learner really needs the teacher to be a buddy a coach and a mentor. This can have a damaging effect on the way the teacher is viewed by the learner. I see this as a real tragedy.

Further to that disaster, standard based assessment also alienates the parents and the community from the learner, for unless these interested parties have an understanding of what the standard actually defines, and they rarely have any idea of this, their otherwise useful knowledge and experience often can be no use in assisting the learner to progress towards standard-assessable achievements.

Catchya later