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Sunday, January 05, 2014

Two types of teaching and learning.

One of the biggest problems in teaching is that educators of all types strongly favor one type of teaching. One of these types is "drawing forth" (which is used as the name of this blog). The other is “just learn the rules” and then “bank the knowledge”. The drawing forth approach sees all things as potentially inside of a student and that the teacher or parent’s role is merely to draw the talents and abilities out of the child. The other approach believes that humans are pretty much all the same - they need the same things, the same basic skills to become good members of society. In this paradigm children are taught knowledge and they learn knowledge. Having learned the “classics” or having learned from their elders, they will then “do right” and become good members of society.

The name of this blog indicates my basic belief (at least in terms of what is mostly missing from education). But my views have been changing and becoming more inclusive in scope.

Take language as an example. Learning a language is one of the most complex tasks that we ever learn, yet we know very little about how children learn their first language or how they should be taught a second language. We often mistakenly divide language education into four parts: listening, speaking, writing and reading. In fact there are more parts and many of the parts are interrelated. In a second language acquisition, thinking is another mode of the language. One could call this “silent speaking” but in fact thinking is far more complex than the language can embrace or enable. If it were not more, then thinking would become static and no knew science would come forth and no new art would develop. Language enables thinking – it is a starting point.

Look at the teaching of “writing”. In English (and in many other languages) writing is composed of letters that form words, words that compose sentences and paragraphs. These are stacked into articles, stories and books. In English the letters have no meaning, but when letters are arranged into words they have meaning. When the same words are arranged into a poem, they take on a whole new kind of meaning. If we examine the teaching of writing letters (the alphabet), the teaching of spelling (the composing of words) and the teaching of writing of sentences we may find some interesting things.

Such a study is tied to procedural knowledge and declarative knowledge. Declarative knowledge plays in the space of what can be described. For a medical doctor the names of the bones in our body are declarative knowledge or descriptive knowledge. Procedural knowledge is more about “know-how” that is often based on experience. A medical doctor might rely on the “affect” of a patient when the patient is describing a problem. The doctor might (almost unconsciously) listen to the sound of the voice or the movement of the eyes of a patient before diagnosing a patient. In the same way an auto mechanic might know that a certain type of car commonly has a certain problem. The mechanic might side-step certain trouble-shooting procedures when encountering this kind of car.

When we apply this to the writing of letters (alphabet) and the forming of words (spelling) and the writing of sentences, we will find that letters have no meaning and the teaching of writing at this point in development is very different from the teaching of the writing of poetry. Writing the characters is a skill and “drill” is often used to teach it. But what happens to a child who fails at learning to write the letters of the alphabet “nicely”. If there are traumatic effects associated with this learning, then those effects will carry over to spelling and the writing of poetry. Somehow the learning to write characters (a fine motor skill) must be done in a way that success is common and the experience is pleasant. The same is true of creating words (spelling). The writing of poetry calls for far different skills but if the basics (handwriting and spelling) are filled with emotional trauma, then getting beyond this in the creation of poetry will be problematic.

So the teaching of writing might best be seen and done as a “scaffolded” process. Each step has its own challenges and methods and each step enables the next step to be taken.

Posted by Steven Fletcher at 12:57 PM
Edited on: Sunday, January 05, 2014 2:00 PM
Categories: Education