Saturday, November 12, 2005

random access apologetic part 1

I have developed a theory about how this plays in the classroom these days. Outside the classroom, more and more, I see students thinking, processing and operating this way. But inside the classroom, they get aggravated and frustrated when information is presented in any kind of nonlinear fashion. How can this be? Why would someone want to learn in a way that is contrary to how they think?
A few observations come to mind.
Third, the vast majority of folks on the other side of the classroom desk, present things linearly. Therefore, if the student wants to do well, he must learn to gather information in the manner that it is presented, even if it is not natural for him.
First, I am becoming less convinced that students are in the classroom to learn, and more convinced that they are there to do well. “Do well”, and “learn” are no longer always the same thing in education. If the teacher thought they were, he would make the content and concepts more important than the procedures by which it is acquired, and would do his best to present material in a language that translates to learning for the student. But more and more, students’ grades reflect how well they followed procedures than how much they learned or mastered the content or skill. If the student thought they were, he would never ask how can I bring my grade up, because he would realize that his grade reflects what he has learned, and so would know that in order to bring up his grade, he would have to learn the content and use it more completely.
Second, I think that the gap between what is done in the classroom and what is needed in the real world is widening. So the disconnect between how one thinks and learns in the world and how he must think and learn in the classroom appears to be of no consequence. The student doesn’t mind to process classroom information in a different way than he normally thinks, if he doesn’t believe the information is useful outside the classroom. Teachers affirm this belief by continuing to offer content in a way that is different from how the student will operate later.
Teachers tend to present disconnected, out-of-context bits of information for memorization, but often assess the students by testing with questions that require the student to process the information according to a real-life scenario. Often the student has no ability to do this, because it wasn’t presented as something that is “used”, but only as something that is “known”. So the student has no idea how that information is to be used or applied to the very scenario within which they will be operating.
Somehow, we’ve got it into our heads that the info should be streamlined data, extracted and free from distraction so that the student can more easily learn the data. In my classroom, though less than in the past, it may be sometimes felt that the “extraneous” rabbit trails are distractions from the course content, and make it more difficult to “learn”. But I believe it is the context for the course content, and that the content cannot be “learned” if extracted from it. Memorized, maybe, but not learned.