Why We Shouldn’t Settle for Correct Answers

Eastside Prep goes beyond the ‘correct-answer compromise’ for more effective learning
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!--paging_filter--p style="text-align: center;"Sponsored by a href="http://www.eastsideprep.org/" target="_blank"Eastside Prep/a/p
pHow do you know that you’ve learned something? You know, emreally/em learned it. I suppose it depends on the task. If you’re learning to throw pottery, the results are tangible: emI made a pot/em. Or, emI made something that looks like a New England Patriots’ football/em. But what if you’re learning the chemistry behind pottery? Or the history of pottery? Or the anthropological implications of the development of pottery? How do you know…that you know?/p
pHold onto that thought./p
pWhen I was in graduate school earning my Master’s Degree in teaching, my most influential professor was Dr. Sam Wineburg. He challenged just about every assumption I held about learning, people and life. (It was he who, after I spouted some frustrations with some of my quieter peers, put me in my place with a warm yet stern, “Sam, what you have to remember is that not everyone is Sam.”) One of our initial exercises was a quiz we took early in the course. I remember it so clearly. If you’d like a go at it, it’s below./p
pstrongThe Montillation of Traxoline/strong/p
pTraxoline is a new form of zionter. It is montilled in Ceristanna. The Ceristannians gristerlate large amounts of fervon and then bracter it to quasel traxoline. Traxoline may well be one of our most lukized snezlaus in the future because of our zionter lescelidge./p
pChecking for Understanding/p
p1.nbsp;nbsp;nbsp;nbsp;nbsp;nbsp;nbsp;nbsp; What is traxoline?br 2.nbsp;nbsp;nbsp;nbsp;nbsp;nbsp;nbsp;nbsp; Where is traxoline montilled?br 3.nbsp;nbsp;nbsp;nbsp;nbsp;nbsp;nbsp;nbsp; How is traxoline quaseled?br 4.nbsp;nbsp;nbsp;nbsp;nbsp;nbsp;nbsp;nbsp; Why is it important to know about traxoline?/p
pemAttributed to Judy Lanier/em/p
pAs our class took this quiz, initial confusion soon morphed into new understandings. First off, we all aced it, as our 16-plus years of education primed us to perform at the highest level. And none of us had a clue what we were talking about./p
pFor decades, learning has been measured by the accurate transmission of content. A teacher provides access to a discrete set of content – the pupil “masters” said content by repeating, either through oral or written form, back to teacher. It does not matter whether it is history (“The Civil War represented the ultimate referendum on American Federalism!”, or math (ema/emsup2/sup + emb/emsup2/sup=emc/emsup2/sup), or science (and this is a personal favorite, a fact I acquired in seventh grade – “Osmosis is diffusion through a cell membrane”)./p
pAll three of those statements are variations on the traxoline theme. They can be stated, but are they truly understood? It is worth noting that some disciplines have less of an issue with the display of understanding. You know when a kid can play the trumpet…or not. You know when a lay-up is made...or not. It happens…you see it./p
pNow we come to the central theme of this piece: The fundamental aim of our approach to teaching and learning at Eastside Prep is not just to ensure accuracy of knowledge, but genuine and applicable depth of understanding. We do not want to settle for what Harvard Graduate School of Education Professor Howard Gardener dubbed the “correct-answer compromise.” He explains:/p
pemMost schools have fallen into a pattern of giving kids exercises and drills that result in their getting answers on tests that look like understanding. It's what I call the “correct answer compromise”: students read a text, they take a test, and everybody agrees that if they say a certain thing it'll be counted as understanding./em/p
pemBut the findings of cognitive research over the past twenty to thirty years are really quite compelling: students do not understand, in the most basic sense of that term. That is, they lack the capacity to take knowledge learned in one setting and apply it appropriately in a different setting. Study after study has found that, by and large, even the best students in the best schools can't do that.sup1/sup/em/p
pThe implication of this approach is to learn fewer things more deeply. We will not cover every single event in American history. But the topics we do cover will be done so in a more complex, rich and detailed manner. Due to advances in technology, there is no longer a point to learning something at the surface level. After all, I can look up everything on the surface level in 2.3 seconds on my Surface./p
pWhat I can’t do in 2.3 seconds is give a careful consideration of why Lincoln’s actions during the Civil War cemented the federal level of our government as supreme; I can’t prove to you why Pythagoras was right; I can’t explain what osmosis and diffusion are, how they work, why they are important and the reason they are worth learning./p
pDepth over breadth. You want breadth? Buy a smart phone. You want depth? Come to EPS./p
pHow do you know you’ve truly learned something? This is the question that will continue to drive our future work at EPS, and is what makes our work with students all the more fulfilling./p
p1nbsp; emEducational Leadership “/emOn Teaching for Understanding: A Conversation with Howard Gardner”brbrFor prospective students and families interested in learning more about all that Eastside Prep offers, including campus tours and meetings with teachers, consider a href="http://www.eastsideprep.org/admissions/get-to-know-us/" target="_blank"registering/a for one of these upcoming open houses:/p
pOct 24, 10 a.m.-12 p.m./p
pNov 7, 1-3 p.m./p
pDec 5, 10 a.m.-12 p.m./p