I am torn on how to start this post. One approach is to remind readers that the teaching profession is less an R & D field, and more of a Development and Research profession. This sentiment was first introduced to me by George Mason University professor Dr. Gary Galluzzo during the course The Practice of Teaching The D and R comment placed years of educational practice in a context that made a striking point. That is, educators are often attracted to an use a pedagogical trend before it is substantially researched. The key issue here is that education doesn’t have the time and structure to be an R and D field on the front lines. It would require a major strucutral change, that already exists is lab schools and is practiced in small scale action research. Change – societal, technological, professiona- happens so quickly that a common outcome is that new instructional and assessment trends/practices remain in place without scrutiny, analysis, and reflection. In turn, they become part of the professional landscape despite their original claims being compromised.
An alternative opening to this post goes something like this.
The second music tape I bought was Paul Simon’s 1986 work Graceland. The last track on it is called “All Around the World orThe Myth of Fingerprints.”
“Somebody says, “What’s a better thing to do?”
Well, it’s not just me
And it’s not just you
This is all around the world”
Mythology exists in every profession. Without investigation there is a risk of the myths becoming internalized among practitioners and transmitted as signature pedagogies.
Both beginnings take us to a recent discussion prompt posted on the NAFSA Linkedin discussion board. Written by an educational manager in Georgia, her question resurfaced a memory of mine that has lingered for years. It is a fabulous question, one which deserves more engagement by educators –
“What is the greatest myth in education?”
Well, I don’t know if the list below touches on the greatest myth in education, but I think you will find an impressive list to choose from. As the school year comes to a close, this is a great time for professional reflection. Is your county, school, department, or team promoting any of these myths as pedagogical fact or educational dogma? What are your personal beliefs? How often do you stay informed on contemporary research in education? How can you and your colleagues engage in this practice more often?
Those are a lot of questions, I know. But they are part of our professional practices and expectations. In order to help separate the crab meat from the crab (I am writing this along the Chesapeake Bay) you will find below some brief explanations and jumping points that I hope will provide a one way ticket out of mythology and into reality.
1) Left and Right Brain: People use it to self identify and demonstrate their ability to temet nosce (know thyself). But the obsession to categorize the world doesn’t hold up to scrutiny when it comes to the workings of our brain. A 2012 article in Psychology Today notes ” it’s become almost common knowledge that in most people the left brain is dominant for language. The right hemisphere, on the other hand, is implicated more strongly in emotional processing and representing the mental states of others. However, the distinctions aren’t as clear cut as the myth makes out – for instance, the right hemisphere is involved in processing some aspects of language, such as intonation and emphasis… it’s important to remember that in healthy people the two brain hemispheres are well-connected…Neuroscientists working in this field today are interested in how this coordination occurs.”
Fast forward to the 2013 Roeper Review article by M. Layne Kalbfleisch & Charles Gillmarten titled “Left Brain vs. Right Brain: Findings on Visual Spatial Capacities and the Functional Neurology of Giftedness”
The article utilizes the concept of neuromyths defined as “a misconception generated by a misunderstanding, a misreading, or a misquoting of facts scientifically established (by brain research) to make a case for use of brain research in education and other contexts.” The authors’ focus on visual spatial capacities build off of 2008 research by Milivojevic. The significant conclusion of this study was, “results provide no evidence for hemispheric dominance for mental rotation” (Milivojevic et al., 2008, p. 953).
Futhermore, this article argues “hemispheric cooperation has been shown to be significantly more efficient and accurate, if not essential, for the completion of tasks” and that “pattern recognition itself involves multiple strategies and multiple different brain activation patterns corresponding to said strategies that are influenced by development as well as participant decision making.”
Checkout the full article by Klabfleisch and Gillmarten linked above. And, movign forward, be sure to raise both eyebrows when you hear claims about brain activity and education that limits functions in one hemisphere only.
2) Multiple Intelligences are an Instructional Strategy or Learning Style: Howard Gardner held divine status during my teacher prep years in the mid- 1990’s. His Multiple Intelligences (MI) theory had taken the education world by storm and continues to be part of instructional practices and learning theory. Check out the rise in the use of the term “multiple intelligences” as graphed by the app Printed Ink, “With the help of Google Books, Printed Ink will graph any words or phrases, in a variety of languages, to show how frequently they have appeared in books during the last 500 years. This search of human culture through millions of books takes place in only a moment…”
I remember clearly when I knew the cult of Gardner (not his fault) had gone wrong. I was sitting in a full school professional development session and administrators had charged the staff to make lessons in our content areas that address each of the 7 MI.
- Problem one: By that time Gardner had already added an 8th intelligence and was flirting with a 9th. So, educational “leaders” had failed to keep up with the research and literature. Epic fail.
- Problem two: MI was framed as a learning style and we, teachers, were charge with designing separate lessons or activities that address each MI. Bucketing the intelligences into separate groups was/is a mistake…they are not learning styles. Gardner writes in a 2013 editorial “First, the notion of ”learning styles”’ is itself not coherent. Those who use this term do not define the criteria for a style, nor where styles come from, how they are recognized/assessed/exploited…If people want to talk about ‘an impulsive style’ or ‘a visual learner,’ that’s their prerogative. But they should recognize that these labels may be unhelpful, at best, and ill-conceived at worst…”
So, what are MI?
According to Gardner, all individuals possess each of these intelligences to some extent, although individuals will differ in the degree of skills and in the nature of their combination. Gardner stresses that it is the interaction between the different intelligences that is fundamental to the workings of the mind and that in the normal course of events, the intelligences actually interact with, and build upon, one another.
The main messages arising from Gardner’s model are set out below.
- We are all born with a unique mix of all eight intelligences.
- Intelligences combine in complex ways.
- There are many ways to be intelligent within each category.
- Most people can develop each intelligence to an adequate level of competency.
- Schools tend to focus mainly on two intelligences, those associated with academic intelligence, that is, linguistic and logical/mathematical.
- The school curriculum should be better balanced in order to reflect a wider range of intelligences.
So, you shouldn’t be creating a lesson plan that, for example, is the Music Intelligence one for the unit. Some MI lesson plans are found here. “Judicious and effective use of M.I. in your teaching may involve pairing two intelligences or grouping three in a lesson.
3) The Word “Analyze” and its Suggestion of Higher Cognitive Thinking.: Analyze is among one of the most widely used terms in education. We ask students to analyze writing, images, events, themselves etc. But what does analyze it actually mean? Often it gets used simply as a verb to invoke higher cognitive skills (see Bloom below). But it seems analyze can be used as a synonym for “explain”. What do you actually expect form students when you ask them to analyze? Is there anything in this clip that resembles “analysis”?
The Cartesian tradition of breaking down ideas into smaller segments is indeed a tribute the Enlightenment world view. This approach to analysis has been popularized by edu-speak, but seems to fall short of the ultimate goal of analysis.
For example, it would make sense after asking someone to analyze the effects of globalization on the economic and social structures of central Africa, to approach the phenomenon by identifying sub-categories. Beginning an analysis by nation, but institutions, by defining globalization etc. But analysis involves at least three more functions that are central to the fidelity of the term
- Contextualizing: Students should be able to identify parameters (spatial, temporal etc) to focus/limit their analysis.
- Relationships: Students should be able to describe and evaluate the importance of the relationships in their analysis.
- Provide insight: Students must be able to add their voice in the analysis. This can be a conclusion or criticism.
One way to illustrate effective (or not effective) analysis is to have students listen to sports announcers who are color “analysts” for their sport. Does the personality success in these functions? What do they do well. In the end, it is important to specify the expectations of analysis. Or as Descartes put it:
“Analysis shows the true way by means of which the thing in question was discovered methodically and as it were a priori, so that if the reader is willing to follow it and give sufficient attention to all points, he will make the thing his own and understand it just as perfectly as if he had discovered it for himself.”
4) Blooms’ Taxonomy is a Learning Measurement Ladder: Benjamin Bloom authored his ubiquitous taxonomy in 1956. Officially titled Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, Bloom influenced K-12 education for decades especially around verb usage. In 2001
The myths of the taxonomy are twofold.
1. Students must progress from the bottom up. Not the case. Anyone can engage with an idea, event, experience etc. at any level. Student’s do not progress up the ladder to enlightenment. In fact, targeting at a higher level usually engages students with lower level. Bloom is more about expectations we have for students and not an educational/cognition elevator where students advance from floor to floor.
2. Just by using a verb suggested each domain, you are stimulating students’ learning at that level. The taxonomy is matched with verbs that facilitate learning experiences (an example is listed here).
Unfortuately, you get educational organizations, in this case Teachervision, that make misleading claims like this “Use verbs aligned to Bloom’s Taxonomy to create discussion questions and lesson plans that ensure your students’ thinking progresses to higher levels.” The belief/myth is that just by using the verb you are magically sent to a cognitive realm on Bloom’s taxonomy. Let’s try it out.
Sample: Compare and contrast these two photos (these verbs suggest Analysis level).
Answer: One picture is outside, one is inside. One has a billboard, one doesn’t. Both have people in them.
Valid? Yes. Analysis? No.
So, it is imperative that teachers ask students clear questions that have explicit dimensions required of student thought processes and outcomes (see Analyze above). For example:
Compare and contrast the two photos. Include background knowledge, the context of each photo, and why they are being compared/contrasted. Lastly, what new knowledge did you learn, how did it help you understand history, and what has changed/remained the same today?
A much better question— Oh, and it could easily be used as an opening prompt/inquiry and need not wait to be used after students are “equipped” with the bottom levels and have (supposedly) moved up Bloom.
5) “I have to say it for my students to learn it”: This sentiment is born out the pre-internet educational universe when teachers were the holders of most content knowledge. That paradigm is loooooonnnggg gone. Sources of knowledge, are accessible anywhere and anywhen. But, identity is a powerful concept to challenge. The belief that, as a teacher, I have to say something for you to “learn” it doesn’t hold up. (In fact a deeper/larger question may be “Does there have to be teaching for there to be learning?”)
Regardless, the vision that knowledge gain is a one-way flow from Teacher —> Student is an anachronism. Still, the myth (and maybe this is more of an insecurity or control aspect, not a unfounded belief) persists.
The burden of covering content comes from a perception of time and the role of teacher as the originator of content. Let it go! Let students engage with non-vocal sources of knowledge. Accept the role of facilitator and not as oracle.
On any student list, every school year, the 150 + students all possess individual formulas for ways of knowing.
Three great reflective question for teachers to consider are:
- What are you doing to engage your students?
- What percentage of the class did you speak? Why was that too much/too little?
- What are your students’ learning networks (where do they get their information?)
So, it may be fitting to end this post on myths with another one. Sort of a myth within a myth. The diagram above is the myth. Although it supports my last claim, it is a pop culture myth that looks authentic and comes equipped with an illusory, pseudo science, statistical halo.
The diagram is known as the “Cone of Experience.” “Developed in 1946 by Edgar Dale. It provided an intuitive model of the concreteness of various audio-visual media. Dale included no numbers in his model and there was no research used to generate it. In fact, Dale warned his readers not to take the model too literally.”