03 July 2009

Evolutionary Effort

From the Education Week article on Effort, Engagement, and Student Learning:

Schools that often emphasize fun, student-centered classroom activities in instruction, and evolutionary processes over many generations have helped shape humans’ interest in those engaging social activities.

Yet for students to tackle new and difficult, or “evolutionarily novel” material in reading, math, and other subjects, schools need to emphasize effort and persistence.

That’s the argument put forward by David C. Geary, a professor of psychological sciences at the University of Missouri-Columbia, in a study. It was published in the October edition of the journal Educational Psychologist but publicized this month by the university’s press office. It focuses on the connection between evolution, culture, and the role of schools, which the author describes as “evolutionary educational psychology.”

The process of evolution, Mr. Geary says in the study, has resulted in students being able to acquire certain types of new knowledge and skills, such as language acquisition, in a relatively “effortless” manner through processes that are engaging. Schools have arranged lessons to suit those desires.

Yet evolution has not provided the necessary scaffolding to help students with challenging content, such as algebra and reading, Mr. Geary argues. Only determined effort in classrooms will help students meet that demand, he says.

This makes me wonder about the whole "Why are we learning this?" question from students. For "effortless" activities, perhaps students don't have a need to prompt teachers with this query. When it comes to Newtonian physics, then they do (except, perhaps, for those few students who are gunning to learn it).

I'm not entirely sure what to do with this information---I just find it interesting. For me, it leads to deeper questions about what should be included with a curriculum and the purpose of education. Do students need "evolutionary novel" material? Why? And, if so, what's the best way to teach it---because from what I'm gleaning, constructivist methods aren't going to cut it.

1 comment:

banders said...

No, I don't think constructivist methods will cut it when it comes to teaching students new material. My "gleanings" have led me to conclude that constructivist curriculum is a great way to help kids synthesize what they already know (or are on the verge of knowing), but a poor path to new core concepts. There are some understandings students will not arrive at on their own. How then do we effectively blend constructed knowledge with direct instruction? That's what I'm working on in my own curriculum. Thanks for the information.