Jayne Sherman, a teacher in Prince Williams County, Va., and parent of four children, said the reform program "Investigations in Number, Data, and Space" was getting her students to “think mathematically” (Sherman, 2008).
“Using the inquiry method of learning, children explore, discover and articulate their thinking,” she said. Her students supposedly discover “many strategies to solve problems.” They communicate and collaborate with each other, sharing their thinking and becoming “math literate, all while having fun.” They “make their own representations to solve problems.”
Sherman summed up her feelings by taking a poke at traditionalists: “The traditional approach to teaching no longer serves our students.”
I’m not sure how much fun this process actually is for the students, who tend to be concrete thinkers and who generally appreciate straightforward, logical approaches to learning. Experimentation in groups can be fun for them, but I suspect they’d rather it come in small doses. Otherwise, they can become stressed out trying to teach themselves 5,000 years of math in the small snippets of time they have available to them.
I was thinking about this while reading an Air Force training manual from 1974 called “Principles and Techniques of Instruction.” The manual is old, its cover is lost, and the pages are yellowed. It’s been around the block – well, around the world, actually. It contains much valuable information about teaching, learning, leadership, ethics, guidance, counseling and critiquing effectively – all presented in an incredibly concise, straightforward, readable and accessible format.
As I read through this manual, I caught myself nodding my head in agreement, saying at one point to the cat, “Now, that’s what I’m talking about!” According to this manual, there are six basic "Laws" of Learning. If I were a proponent of reform mathematics, I could see myself using three of them to support my approach:
The Law of Effect – “learning is strengthened when it is accompanied by a pleasant or satisfying feeling”
The Law of Intensity – “a vivid, dramatic, or exciting learning experience teaches more (information) than a routine or boring experience (does)”
The Law of Readiness – “a person learns best when he or she is ready to learn”
Proponents of reform mathematics could argue that those three laws support their approach: Keep it pleasant, keep it exciting, and for heaven’s sake, keep it simple. But I think those three laws actually support the other three:
The Law of Primacy - People tend to draw on the skills they learned first:
Therefore, teachers of mathematics should want students to learn math processes properly the first time – in the most efficient, most effective and most precise way possible. Teaching them mathematics as reformers do – by asking them to muddle around in herds – is inefficient, ineffective, unpleasant and ultimately counterproductive.
The Law of Exercise – Practicing a concept is critical to learning it.
Proponents of reform, however, have called this practice “drill and kill” and tossed it under a bus. To reformers, practicing is “rote” and “boring.” It’s an odd attitude to have about something we all do when we want to learn anything of value.
The Law of Recency – The longer we go without practicing a new concept, the easier it is for us to forget it.
This law conflicts entirely with the “spiral” technique – so common in reform mathematics – where teachers briefly touch on a new concept, don't give their students the opportunity to practice it, and then present the concept again some time later (often with a new twist).
The Air Force training manual is old, and it’s probably been revised since 1974, but I like it. As a tutor, this is what I take away from these six "Laws" of Learning:
- Make sure students are ready for the lesson.
- Prepare an experience that they’ll enjoy.
- Teach students the most efficient, most effective methods first.
- Make the lesson exciting.
- Have students practice the lesson.
- Build on recently learned concepts.
This approach makes sense to me. Apparently, there is much to be learned from the things we used to know.
Please note: The information in this post is copyrighted. The proper citation is: Rogers, L. (October, 2008). "The "Laws" of Learning." Retrieved (date) from the Betrayed Web site: http://betrayed-whyeducationisfailing.blogspot.com/
This article was also published October 9, 2008, in EducationNews.org at http://ednews.org/articles/29558/1/The-Laws-of-Learning/Page1.html