What traditionalists get wrong about search education
By Drew PerkinsDirector Teach Thought Professional Development
As a 15-year teacher, my job as a professional development consultant for 10 years, I have had the opportunity to work with a wide variety of students and now adults around the world.
As my experience expands and deepens, I am more convinced that one thing is that more and better research needs to be taught and learned. False dilemmas led by critics and clear misunderstandings about the nature and potential of inquiry-oriented, constructivist teaching are misleading and detrimental to students and society. Our students need the skills to ask important questions to be successful in life and this is a fundamental pillar for our democracy on which they thrive.
One of the ongoing battles in education is what can usually be identified as traditional versus progressive or constructivist education. These terms may carry multiple meanings depending on who you are asking but perhaps it is better to reduce them to direct or explicit learning versus search learning.
As far as I can tell, explicit instruction has been described as something like “a systematic approach to teaching with emphasis on moving forward in small steps, testing for understanding and achieving active and successful participation of all students.” A Strawman version would call it a ‘discourse’, which can sometimes be used as a reprimand, but readers may refer to it as a teacher-directed instruction that many adult students have experienced. Sometimes it is referred to as ‘sage on stage’.
Curiosity or constructive learning can be defined as providing more space and opportunities for students, not teachers to interpret ideas, concepts and knowledge. There will be some version of a Strawman version that I often jokingly call ‘Free Range Chicken’, where students walk around cognitively, ‘follow their emotions’ and teachers act as ‘side guides’.
I see this as a false dichotomy because the two are not mutually exclusive; To be fair I have seen poorly applied versions of both in our school and we should strive to do better. Some teachers give lectures, talk to students, and require tedious and tedious work that takes them out of their minds, even if the teachers themselves are entertained. On the other hand, I have seen teachers use the cover of behavioral engagement as a justification for doing projects with students that lack meaningful cognitive engagement.
As a proponent of search education, I find some criticism of this approach to be valid and acceptable. One criticism is that research or PBL (project-based learning) does not effectively help students learn important knowledge. This may be due to poor design and convenience but the problem here is not method but design and application.
When we work with teachers we ask them to identify what course content and / or ideas their students want to think and learn. From there we work on architectural experiences, exercises and events that help students gain that knowledge and learning in the form of questions and then we teach it, often using direct or explicit instructions. The fact is that the teaching of quality search actually includes direct instruction which often confuses me with binary pushback from those who support it.
Another aspect of this criticism is the claim that students cannot ask big questions about what they know very little about. Or in other words, no one can think critically about something they don’t know about. This is generally true but research as a method should not be disqualified. Instead, effective research teachers use techniques to stimulate curiosity and sometimes manipulation, using questions to guide them toward learning that valuable and important knowledge.
The language I often use in this work is push v. Pull education As we look Flip Bloom’s taxonomy. In our planning process, we want to start at the bottom of Bloom’s classification by identifying the bottom two levels (knowledge or content), but we want students to ask them to ‘create’ or do some synonymous action so they start at the top. We then ‘pull’ the knowledge that we need to know and learn the necessary questions with the students and with the students, which was again identified before the students got involved. As soon as we mention that content we move on to the actual learning of the content mentioned and yes, often using direct or explicit instructional methods when students apply, analyze and evaluate in the ‘create’ service.
The difference between Michael Polani’s focal and test knowledge is significant here, sometimes referred to as ‘know what’ versus ‘how know’. In my 2019 discussion with Dr. Tim Simpson, The TeachThought Podcast Ep. 162 What do we mean by “deep thinking and learning”? Concerning classical and structural education, we have noticed that both rely heavily on searching for the acquisition of that nirvana knowledge. It seems that the most vocal advocates of clear or direct instruction are targeting a focal knowledge, things that would be useful for more immediate work, because they focus on learning knowledge in the interest of knowledge. In some cases, these teachers will ask students to do something at the middle level of Bloom’s classification and perhaps even the top level of “create”. In those cases, the opportunity to practice the skill of identifying important questions is missed.
If we engage in the process of tension teaching as described above, students have the opportunity to connect deeply in a variety of ways that create a clearer understanding and knowledge. This type of education translates well to test scores but more importantly builds search skills in other academic and non-academic settings that are critical to success in life.
In my conversations with critics of progressive education, I am often confused by cognitive inconsistencies because they tend to be proponents of free speech and liberal science principles that rely heavily on research. In fact, it is My claim is that teaching and learning of research can play a major role To help us through the dynamics of our polarization and division which those lawyers condemn.
Democracy at the heart of the US democratic system, and democracy in general, works well in what is called liberal science. Jonathan Rauch skillfully outlined this in his 1993 book, Kindly Inquisitors, and based on that work in his 2021 book, The Constitution of Knowledge. In short, liberal science is the application of inquiry, in various forms, which seeks to clarify the consensus of truth. In this pursuit, all ideas are subject to criticism with an important understanding that we separate the idea from the individual.
One hypothesis I think is worth considering (and one I’ve floated several times in The Teach Thought Podcast) is the publication of the 1983 report. A nation at risk What the (US) has recommended, among other things, is that we adopt more ‘strict and measurable standards’, inadvertently setting our course on educational reform that has contributed to our current situation. This condition is characterized by the various sets of ‘truths’, the failure of many, the questioning of ideas in simple faith and the resistance to criticism and questioning that often establish them as enemies of investigators.
The incentive structure is that A nation at risk Helps to create where schools and teachers spend significant time and energy to increase test scores. As a result, it has become more challenging to engage students in a learning experience where they engage in unpopular ideas and thorny questions in a Socratic manner. I have felt this friction in my own classroom and I have worked with schools where rigidity and high accountability are oppressive.
However, it is important to correct and emphasize any shortcomings in the ‘progressive’ teaching method The importance of knowledge, The benefits of such exploration or constructive learning and the leanings towards liberal science are not limited to individual students but also a more powerful challenge for the expanding and undemocratic actors for healthy democracy. In addition, the opportunities for metacognition that often accompany the teaching of inquiry are associated with intellectual humility that helps to encourage more civic discussion.
When I talked to Monica Guzman about her new book, I found myself practically looking at analogs for great teaching and learning, I never thought of it this way: how to have a fearless and curious conversation in a dangerously divided time. The kind of exploration experience he describes is an essential tool for navigating the evil problems of life. Why don’t we engage our students in developing similar skills while learning basic knowledge?
Explicit or direct instruction is often limited to acquiring knowledge, leaving those opportunities to create better investigators and perhaps leaving students without the opportunity to ask nice questions that they can. Help us in this divided time.
Search teaching and learning when done well can bring tremendous results in preparing students for the modern world. That said, it is not easy and it is worth considering whether our educational forces and preparatory institutions can meet that challenge. I believe, through a concerted and sustained effort, (something rare in education), that our schools can pass that test.
The role of research is essential to improve our speech and reduce polarization and where will we learn to do it more effectively if not in our school? If we do not, we will see a steady downward spiral away from healthy democracy, more likely not to mention a limited cause of our students’ prosperity as individuals.