With him, force is…
How CAN we help our students be the kind of thinkers we want?
Several years ago, my friend and colleague, @brendasherry, wrote a thoughtful post called What is Deep Understanding? She asked several excellent questions:
- what kind of thinkers do we want our students to be?
- what is deep understanding?
- can schools really provide the learning environment to nurture and develop it?
In thinking about these questions, I would like to also ask: “How can we help novice learners become more expert learners?”
Novice Learners versus Expert Learners
First, let’s look at the difference between a novice and expert learner.
- Novices typically don’t plan, monitor, and reflect on their learning
- These metacognitive skills include setting goals and subgoals; identifying approaches; monitoring one’s progress to the task; revising goals where necessary; and, reflection after task completion.
- Expert learners use ‘multiple representations’
- to build a fuller, more complete understanding. And, of course multimedia allows for this – text, graphics, sound, dynamic models.
- Novices typically don’t generate a number of potential solution strategies
- Novices, when presented with a task, typically jump at the first idea that comes to mind. Expert learners, on the other hand, tend to generate and evaluate a number of potential approaches to the problem.
- Novices engage in ‘knowledge telling’ rather than ‘knowledge transformation’
- One 5th grade girl, Larissa, was planning to do her project on potato production in Prince Edward Island. She was reminded, in a collaborative journal-writing environment, that the class had studied acid rain for the last month. Larissa was challenged to make sense of that and to determine if acid rain had had any impact on potato production. This improvement in her strategy was more representative of ‘expert’ behaviour.
- Expert learners make multiple passes at knowledge
- Many sources should be ‘read’ and consulted – books, videos, Internet, PLN (Personal Learning Network – Facebook, Twitter).
- Experts view ‘mistakes’ as opportunities to learn
- ‘Debugging’ strategies are invoked when things go wrong. Therefore, you backtrack through your thinking – you exercise metacognition or ‘think about your thinking’. Experts recognize the value of this. Novices typically don’t.
- Experts are able to transfer their learning to other domains
- Novices don’t naturally transfer their understandings to other tasks or to other subject domains.
- Experts realize that the ‘social context’ is important to learning
- That learning takes place in a social context is a significant issue. This is why collaboration or ‘cooperative learning’ has become so popular – but it has to be more than social collaboration. Cognitive collaboration needs to be encouraged. As students communicate their ideas, they learn to clarify, refine, and consolidate their thinking. Schoenfeld has said that, ‘Groups are not just a convenient way to accumulate the individual knowledge of their members. They give rise synergistically to insights and solutions that would not come about without them.’