08 October 2009

Curiouser and Curiouser

You might recall that I am on the hunt for rubrics and other tools that support the evaluation of student skills in educational technology (and/or "21st century learning"). In my opinion, a lot of the problem with developing these sorts of things is that we are trying to capture and deliver feedback on skills that defy quantification. Can one consistently rate how well a student innovates? collaborates? thinks critically or creatively?

I am not any closer on developing these kinds of resources; however, two pieces I read last week are prodding my thinking along. The first came from the Harvard Business Review and represented an interview with the authors of a "six-year study surveying 3,000 creative executives and conducting an additional 500 individual interviews" to identify five discovery skills these innovators have in common: associating, questioning, observing, experimenting, and networking. Of these, the ability to associate (make connections between disparate pieces of information) was seen as the most important; but, it's really the synergy among these things that leads to inquisitiveness.
We think there are far more discovery driven people in companies than anyone realizes. We've found that 15% of executives are deeply innovative, meaning they've invented a new product or started an innovative venture. But the problem is that even the most creative people are often careful about asking questions for fear of looking stupid, or because they know the organization won't value it...

If you look at 4-year-olds, they are constantly asking questions and wondering how things work. But by the time they are 6 ½ years old they stop asking questions because they quickly learn that teachers value the right answers more than provocative questions. High school students rarely show inquisitiveness. And by the time they're grown up and are in corporate settings, they have already had the curiosity drummed out of them. 80% of executives spend less than 20% of their time on discovering new ideas. Unless, of course, they work for a company like Apple or Google.

Is this true for schools---both the adults within them, as well as the students? As much as I hate to admit it, we do drum out curiosity and value conformity over time. I don't know that technology will change that, but I do think it will return some of the power of learning to students. The more tools a student has at hand to demonstrate their knowledge, the greater value we place on variety. That being said, not everyone is going to grow up to be Steve Jobs...but not everyone will have to grow up to be Bubba, either.

More intriguing was this image from Inverting Bloom's Taxonomy by Sam Weinburg and Jack Schneider:

They report on a task given to two groups of history students. One group was comprised of AP US History students...the other graduate students in the field of history. Each participant was provided "a document and asked...to read it 'historically,' articulating what he thought the piece was about, raising questions about its historical circumstances, and sharing insights about the text...The document was a proclamation by President Benjamin Harrison in 1892."

As you might imagine, the two groups of students approached the task differently. AP students "marshaled background knowledge about Columbus and worked [their] way toward the Bloomian peak, eventually challenging President Harrison’s praise for Columbus with his own critical alternative. [The] response, though unpolished and in need of elaboration, seems like critical thinking. And that’s how the teachers we interviewed generally saw it." As for the graduate students...

From the start, it was clear what the young historians were doing differently. As one began his reading: “OK, it’s 1892.”

Our high school student Jacob knew the story of Columbus. But he didn’t know how to read a document as the product of a particular time and place. To the historians, critical thinking didn’t mean assembling facts and passing judgment; it meant determining what questions to ask in order to generate new knowledge.

Why, the young historians wanted to know, did Harrison make this particular declaration at this particular moment? Over and over, as they puzzled through the document, they asked “why?” In our dozens of interviews with high school students, not a single one ever did so.

Light bulbs soon started popping for the young historians. “The 1890s, the beginning of the Progressive Era, end of the century, closing of the frontier, Frederick Jackson Turner, you’ve got the Columbian Exposition coming up the following year. Biggest wave of immigration in U.S. history.” This one was on the scent. And then …

“That’s it!”

At the end of the 19th century, America was getting a makeover. Seemingly overnight, immigration had transformed the country’s look, bringing “Slavs,” “Alpines,” “Hebrews,” “Iberics,” and “Mediterraneans” to the United States. Among these newcomers were millions of Irish and Italian immigrants who formed a new political interest group—urban Catholics. Harrison, in honoring Columbus, was pandering. “Discovery Day” appealed to millions of new voters by bringing them, along with a hero who was one of their own, into the fold.

Mystery solved.

Now that’s critical thinking...

To the historians, questions began at the base of the pyramid: “What am I looking at?” one asked. “A diary? A secret communiqué? A government pronouncement?” They wanted to know when it was written and what else was going on at the time. For them, critical thinking meant determining the knowledge they needed to better understand the document and its time. Faced with something unfamiliar, they framed questions that would help them understand the fullness of the past. They looked up from the text curious, puzzled, and provoked. They ended their reading with new questions, ready to learn. The high school students, on the other hand, typically encountered this document and issued judgments. In doing so, they closed the book on learning.

Does this illustrate how curiosity becomes closed by some classrooms? In our zealousness to teach facts and figures, have we emphasized the right answer too much...and the right question not enough?

While I may be no closer in knowing how to evaluate curiosity and innovation in the classroom, I am appreciative of these reminders to build in supports for these skills along the way. Perhaps the instructional resources I gather and share will be grounded there. Maybe the answer to evaluating students' use of instructional technology will be the questions they create.


Roger Sweeny said...

Part of the problem here IS Bloom's taxonomy. Bloom puts "evaluation" at the top and we say we have the students do "higher order thinking" whenever they "issue judgments."

But it ain't necessarily so.

Jenny said...

This is really a peripheral comment. Trying to create rubrics to assess thinking skills is extremely difficult. Some professors at Cornell have spent decades thinking about thinking and how we can help kids in this area. (Our school is doing a lot of work with them.) What they are sharing has helped me more clearly see what my students are thinking and made it possible for me to assess it and share with their parents. Their site is: http://thinkandthrive.com/tw/

The Science Goddess said...

Roger---I could be wrong (again), but I seem to remember reading somewhere that the Bloom's pyramid was not something he created or endorsed. Those who interpreted his work assigned lower and higher. If so, perhaps that's how we got into this mess in the first place. Maybe it's time we right our wrongs.

Jenny---I have really enjoyed your posts (and those by others in your school) on the Think Blocks. Seems like it is doing a great job of helping kids organize their thinking. Looks like I will be in your area at the end of the month (will know for sure tomorrow). I'd love to come see these in action!

hschinske said...

Roger, that's bang on. Issuing judgments too soon is often a sign of a *lack* of critical thinking. In other words, if you haven't been through the previous steps, it's just cheating. I don't know much about Bloom's taxonomy, but perhaps that was where the lower/higher came in -- more a matter of "logically prior" than "lower."