Wheldall blog what's wrong with What Works C/house

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elsiep
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Re: Wheldall blog what's wrong with What Works C/house

Post by elsiep » Sun Aug 26, 2012 7:28 am

JAC wrote:
The point I was making was that people devising educational methods do need to know how human learning works - biologically, psychologically and socially -
..Meanwhile, perhaps a theory of instruction will suffice :smile:
http://psych.athabascau.ca/html/387/Ope ... eory.shtml

This is an excellent example of what I mean JAC.

Engelmann & Carnine's book was published in 1991 (20 years ago) and the nature/nurture controversy is framed in terms of a debate that was happening in the 1970s/80s, ie 30 years ago.

Engelmann and Carnine can come down on whichever side of the debate they wish (ie nurture) but that doesn't mean a) they are right or b) that they have taken into account the research into how the human brain works accumulated over the past 20 years.

This account assumes that the learner's environment is held constant because the instruction is carefully controlled, but of course there many environmental factors that affect learners, beyond the control of the teacher.

Ironically, the demonstration of teaching the concept 'vudged' was typical of the kind of approach used in the child-centred primary school I attended, because there was a strong emphasis on autonomous learning via a carefully designed system of workcards and carefully selected textbooks.

I have no problem with the idea of faultless communication but it's clearly more amenable to simple concepts like 'tilted' where information is reliable and complete, than say, the factors that resulted in WW2, where information is incomplete and varies in its reliability. What I did have difficulty with was this;
When instruction that has been designed to be faultless fails for a particular child, the teacher must resort to a remedial (behavioral) analysis. That is, the teacher must assess the child's behavior in relation to the particular instruction, and help the child learn the missing skills.
I wasn't clear why behaviour was targeted (as distinct from, say, cognition) or how the teacher goes about the remedial analysis. I'm sure we've all sat for hours with children who just don't 'get' concepts, only to find six months later, with no further instruction, they have grasped it fully.

It's also unclear what Engelmann and Carnine mean by the 'learning mechanism'. The way they approach learning is typical of the computer model of the brain popular in the 1960s and takes no account of the knowledge about sequential vs parallel processing, the complexities of sensory processing and understanding of cognitive errors and biases that have accumulated since then.

The only reason direct instruction appears to be being advocated is that it has worked better than some other methods. The theory is at least 20 years out of date - probably more like 40 - and needs some serious revision in the light of advances in cognitive science in the intervening period.

elsiep
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Re: Wheldall blog what's wrong with What Works C/house

Post by elsiep » Sun Aug 26, 2012 7:45 am

Here's another medical analogy.

GPs and nurses need to have a reasonably good grasp of human anatomy, physiology and biochemistry to do their jobs effectively. They can't know everything about anatomy, physiology and biochemistry, so they rely on experts in these fields to inform them about new findings, procedures and medications.

Teachers are in a similar position to doctors and nurses in that they are applying knowledge acquired by other people to members of the public (ie children). But I don't get the impression that teachers are provided with the educational equivalent of the knowledge front-line healthcare practitioners are expected to have. Furthermore, much educational research appears not to take into account knowledge about how human beings learn and is often based on very elderly theories from other fields that has long been superseded in those fields.

I think the difference is that people working in medicine speak the same language, in effect. A nurse might not be able to understand every biochemical research paper, but would be able to get the drift. Education, by contrast needs to import information from a number of different fields, so it's more challenging for educational researchers to keep on top of the research in other domains.

What concerns me is that educational research appears to be very inwardly focused. That's the equivalent of GPs and nurses doing their own research and ignoring what's going on in the rest of biology. That situation would be unacceptable, but I think it's what's wrong with educational research.


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Re: Wheldall blog what's wrong with What Works C/house

Post by JAC » Sun Aug 26, 2012 8:00 am

This account assumes that the learner's environment is held constant because the instruction is carefully controlled, but of course there many environmental factors that affect learners, beyond the control of the teacher.
I suppose you mean things like a child being upset, or hungry, would affect its ability to learn. In Project FollowThrough there were efforts to keep many envromental factors constant, like bringing chldren to school by bus.
In Cape York significant features of the social and cultural envronnment are also managed in this way, to maximise attendance at school, and cultural investment in education. When I think of the environmental factors at my school that are beyond my control, they are things like sudden timetable changes!
I wasn't clear why behaviour was targeted (as distinct from, say, cognition) or how the teacher goes about the remedial analysis. I'm sure we've all sat for hours with children who just don't 'get' concepts, only to find six months later, with no further instruction, they have grasped it fully.
I suppose behaviour is targeted because that is what we can see and measure in a practical sense in the classroom. I have not sat for hours with children who don't 'get' a concept. Rather, if a child cannot perform or behave in a way which indicates there is understanding, then I simply back up to the part where the learning broke down. To do this you do need a very good curriculum. In my opinion the DI programmes that I have used are in a class of their own.

I do think though, that sometimes it is hard to know whether there is true understanding even if a learner is producing the required behaviour. For example, I have a student at the moment who is learning calculations with renaming (used to be borrowing and carrying). He can carry out the steps and get the answers correct but I couldn't be sure he understands -yet.

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Re: Wheldall blog what's wrong with What Works C/house

Post by Debbie Hepplewhite » Sun Aug 26, 2012 8:55 am

It's back to the details of 'definitions' then.

What is meant be 'child-centred'?

In the example chapter 'Exploring the Foundations of Explicit Instruction', there is a section 'Student-Centred versus Teacher-Centred Teaching' which describes this as a "false dichotomoty" suggesting that "one approach is more concerned about students than another".

If 'child-centred' means teach each child differently according to their 1) learning styles, 2) individual needs, 3) the child's personality, 4) the parents' perspective, 5) the teachers' perspective, 6) the school's perspective, 5) various early years advisors' and philosophers' perspectives - these are all different aspects making it difficult to share a common understanding of what each one of us means by 'child-centred'

One would have to look at the 'learning styles' aspect and then one would have to look at the 'individual needs' aspect and so on.

If 'child-centred' means that each child should have a unique approach and drive the learning, then that is yet another issue.

If the entire (overarching) curriculum is examined for its appropriateness for the 'unique child' and 'children', then that is another issue too - and so on.

My concern is very much for the 'individual child' but if people want to, or cannot avoid, placing children in institutions where the ratio of adults to children is one adult to many children, then pragmatic methods and decisions have to come into play. Class teachers are class teachers - and not tutors of individuals - although within a class scenario of course teachers should know, care for and cater for children as individuals where possible, or necessary and appropriate.

Nevertheless, I suggest that much of the advice about 'explicit instruction' is not only evidenced by a broad look at the studies but also include considerable common sense.

It may well be that there is not sufficient professional understanding - or even natural skill or humanity - to care for, and to educate, all children as they deserve or as they need. Indeed, I would suggest that this scenario is commonplace.

There are many teachers and children whose lives in school have been very challenged by the inclusion agenda whereby teachers' descriptions of not managing in full classrooms because of the range of demands have met deaf ears - where there is no money, no political will, weak people, and no 'route' through which to address this in a transparent way for the benefit of everyone concerned. But also no consensus as to what would be most appropriate - and for whom.

There is only so much any one class teacher can do - and all too often adults behave like 'ostriches' because they simply don't have the wherewithal to address less-than-ideal scenarios.

But all these various issues - research findings, philosophies, practicalities, mass education, individualism, world-view - are complex and have to be unpicked - even to be able to discuss them from a base of common understanding.

I suggest, however, it is easy to muddle up these issues and to be sceptical or dismissive about broad findings according to one's perspective and life-experience - but I do believe that there are great gains to be made looking at broad findings and then building on them - and then personalising educational plans for learners as and when necessary - and if possible!

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Re: Wheldall blog what's wrong with What Works C/house

Post by elsiep » Sun Aug 26, 2012 8:59 am

JAC wrote:
This account assumes that the learner's environment is held constant because the instruction is carefully controlled, but of course there many environmental factors that affect learners, beyond the control of the teacher.
I suppose you mean things like a child being upset, or hungry, would affect its ability to learn. In Project FollowThrough there were efforts to keep many envromental factors constant, like bringing chldren to school by bus.
In Cape York significant features of the social and cultural envronnment are also managed in this way, to maximise attendance at school, and cultural investment in education. When I think of the environmental factors at my school that are beyond my control, they are things like sudden timetable changes!
All sorts of things; family instability, illness, falling out with friends, and as you say, sudden timetable changes.
I wasn't clear why behaviour was targeted (as distinct from, say, cognition) or how the teacher goes about the remedial analysis. I'm sure we've all sat for hours with children who just don't 'get' concepts, only to find six months later, with no further instruction, they have grasped it fully.
I suppose behaviour is targeted because that is what we can see and measure in a practical sense in the classroom. I have not sat for hours with children who don't 'get' a concept. Rather, if a child cannot perform or behave in a way which indicates there is understanding, then I simply back up to the part where the learning broke down. To do this you do need a very good curriculum. In my opinion the DI programmes that I have used are in a class of their own.
So are you saying that if you do that, all children quickly grasp what they are supposed to grasp and can move on? How do you deal with children learning more slowly (or more quickly) than others in a classroom setting?
I do think though, that sometimes it is hard to know whether there is true understanding even if a learner is producing the required behaviour. For example, I have a student at the moment who is learning calculations with renaming (used to be borrowing and carrying). He can carry out the steps and get the answers correct but I couldn't be sure he understands -yet.
That was the sort of thing I meant. My son could whiz through worksheets by following an example but a week later would have forgotten everything and if the skill he was supposed to have learned was tested using another format, clearly couldn't generalise. His behaviour (completing the worksheet successfully and independently) gave no cause for concern. Admittedly his school wasn't using DI.

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Re: Wheldall blog what's wrong with What Works C/house

Post by elsiep » Sun Aug 26, 2012 9:24 am

Debbie Hepplewhite wrote:It's back to the details of 'definitions' then.
It's about concepts at different levels of complexity.

The efficacy of using a specific technique to teach a specific skill can be tested fairly easily if the skill is a relatively simple one like decoding text or basic addition.

But when you move on to a higher level of complexity, like 'reading' or 'arithmetic', a technique that works for one sub-skill of reading or arithmetic might not work for all of them. For example, SP works well for decoding, but doesn't cover all the factors involved in comprehension. You can teach a child how to add using wooden beads but using wooden beads for long multiplication would be unwieldy and lead to errors.

The picture gets even more complicated when you start talking about 'literacy' or 'mathematics'. One teaching and learning technique doesn't fit all - children or knowledge or skills.

Once you get to the level of educational 'approaches' - whether they are child-centred, constructivist or explicit instruction - you need to define what you mean because there are so many factors involved. None of these are an off-the-shelf package.
I suggest, however, it is easy to muddle up these issues and to be sceptical or dismissive about broad findings according to one's perspective and life-experience - but I do believe that there are great gains to be made looking at broad findings and then building on them - and then personalising educational plans for learners as and when necessary - and if possible!
You're quite right it's very easy to muddle the issues. What I'm sceptical about is the application of one 'method' to all areas of learning and all children. It is highly unlikely that one method will be effective in all cases because of the variation in the children and areas of learning involved.

And I'm not sceptical because of my perspective or life-experience - although that's not irrelevant. I'm sceptical because a whole range of different cognitive skills is brought into play in different areas of learning, and a single method doesn't recognise this. The theory underpinning direct instruction, for example, is way out of date. That, in itself isn't necessarily a problem - some old theories still hold true. But they are using a model of learning that doesn't take into account what's been discovered about brain function in the last 40 years. A method based on flaky theory might work but is quite likely not to.

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Re: Wheldall blog what's wrong with What Works C/house

Post by JAC » Sun Aug 26, 2012 9:33 am

I have not sat for hours with children who don't 'get' a concept. Rather, if a child cannot perform or behave in a way which indicates there is understanding, then I simply back up to the part where the learning broke down. To do this you do need a very good curriculum. In my opinion the DI programmes that I have used are in a class of their own.


So are you saying that if you do that, all children quickly grasp what they are supposed to grasp and can move on? How do you deal with children learning more slowly (or more quickly) than others in a classroom setting?
Maybe I have not made it clear. I would not see it as productive to sweat over something 'for hours' without figuring out what the problem is and doing something to remedy it. More often than not, it is simply that the child has not got the relevant pre-skills and the teacher has moved regardless.

Classroom organisation and management is everything with any class of children where there are differences in performance. To describe how I manage, or would manage ideally, my classroom would take more than a post elsiep. And of course some children learn quickly and others slowly, and it has to be managed in a classroom, with or without help. The DI programmes provide a good roadmap, IMO, whether or not you are able to implement them with fidelity. An explicit curriculum is a huge benefit to teachers for some subjects. For others maybe, not so much.

I
do think though, that sometimes it is hard to know whether there is true understanding even if a learner is producing the required behaviour.

That was the sort of thing I meant. My son could whiz through worksheets by following an example but a week later would have forgotten everything and if the skill he was supposed to have learned was tested using another format, clearly couldn't generalise. His behaviour (completing the worksheet successfully and independently) gave no cause for concern. Admittedly his school wasn't using DI.
How was the problem resolved with your son? I would add that with the student I have who is like this, I am not using a DI programme, but a cobbled-together effort of my own. I do feel he would have been better-served by a comprehensive DI programme that has been tried and tested.



By the by, in Western Australia for almost 10 years we had an 'outcomes-based' curriculum framework which was supposed to allow teachers to differentiate all instruction. It meant teachers had to design their own student-centred programmes. It was dumped two or three years ago and replaced by a more specific curriculum which in its turn is in the process of being dumped in favour of an Australia-wide curriculum.

Another point you made elsiep
But they are using a model of learning that doesn't take into account what's been discovered about brain function in the last 40 years. A method based on flaky theory might work but is quite likely not to.
Can you explain this?

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Re: Wheldall blog what's wrong with What Works C/house

Post by Heather F » Sun Aug 26, 2012 3:53 pm

ElsieP I actually found your original criticisms of the book under discussion a bit unreasonable. I don't know anything like as much as you do about research into learning and I am aware that my support for direct instruction can blind me to its flaws. However...

"I can't face going through the sixteen elements of explicit instruction. (Sixteen? The author refers to the capacity of working memory being limited to seven plus or minus two bits of information (although s/he doesn't put it like that) but then expects teachers to bear in mind sixteen elements.) So instead I want to rant about the six principles of effective instruction (p.5)."
What on earth is wrong with outlining 16 points? I'm not expecting to recite them all back at the end so what has working memory got to do with it?

"1. Optimize engaged time/time on task. The more time students are actively participating in
instructional activities, the more they learn.
No, they don't. Learning vs time on task follows an inverted U-shape due to habituation and fatigue. Consolidation of new material takes place (fairly obviously) when the brain isn't focused on absorbing new material - ie during 'downtime'. That's why so many writers, scientists etc spend so much time walking, gardening, painting and so on."
[/i]

Children have downtime whether or not ten minutes of extra instruction time or found. In many primary schools the only reading practice KS1 children get is 2 or 3 group reading sessions a week. In what way is advice to spend more time on instruction a mistake? I am fighting to get more curriculum time for my subject so my studnets can make more progress. In the meantime we are careful not to waste the time we have doing excessively time consuming projects with lima beans...


"2. Promote high levels of success. The more successful (i.e., correct/accurate) students are when
they engage in an academic task, the more they achieve.
There's some evidence for the benefits of error-free learning in some circumstances but the best predictor of persistence on task is actually variable reinforcement - ie a mix of success and failure. Different people respond differently to different reward schedules."


She never said error free, she said high levels of success. You can debate what the actual balance should be for each child but when dealing with a class or group situation 'high levels' sounds like a good rule of thumb.

3. Increase content coverage. The more academic content covered effectively and efficiently, the
greater potential for student learning.
The author hasn't defined 'academic' but otherwise this maxim is self-evident.


Well thats OK then... Not as self evident as it might seem though, from the experience of my own children's primary schools.


"4. Have students spend more time in instructional groups. The more time students participate
in teacher-led, skill-level groups versus one-to-one teaching or seatwork activities, the more
instruction they receive, and the more they learn.
Doesn't that depend on a) the child and b) the task? One of the things that bothers me about educational 'methods' is that outcomes are often reported at group level. And there appears to be a growing popularity for meta-analysis. A particular method might be shown to be most effective for most children, and therefore it makes sense to use it in schools; that doesn't mean it is more effective for every child. There are lots of references in this chapter to children with 'learning disabilities' as if they all have a variant of the same condition - not that their learning difficulties might vary widely and require different approaches."


My problem here is I am not sure why a method that proves to work best for most shouldn't be the default teaching method. Then those that aren't learning this way can be identified and helped.


"6. Address different forms of knowledge. The ability to strategically use academic skills and
knowledge often requires students to know different sorts of information at differing levels: the
declarative level (what something is, factual information), the procedural level (how something is
done or performed), and the conditional level (when and where to use the skill).
This is a rather simplistic typology of knowledge and not one based on how the brain works. Unless you derive your understanding of knowledge types from the way the brain processes information you will come unstuck."


I don't know enough about this to comment.

"Scaffolding. Scaffolding is clearly a key component of explicit instruction but the author doesn't appear to be clear about how or why.
My first introduction to scaffolding came one weekend when my daughter (then 11) had a story to write for homework, but kept saying she couldn't do it and didn't want to talk about why. I was mystified since she spent much of her spare time engaged in creative writing and had written many stories at school. By Sunday afternoon she was distraught and agreed to let me look at what she had to do. I unfolded the paper. The heading said "A plane crash". I immediately saw, in my mind's eye, a tiny silver dot on a vast expanse of sand under a relentless sun. I zoomed in to see three figures huddled in the shade under one crumpled wing of the aircraft. I looked at the first paragraph. It said; etc..."


As an intelligent user of scaffolding with my students this section makes me a bit cross. I really don't care if the analogy doesn't work very well. Because I am in sympathy with the author that doesn't bother me. The debate is over scaffolding. Your daughter was set a task and given support that was inappropriate for her and probably poorly designed in the first place. Just because scaffolding was used badly by one teacher is of no relevance to the debate. I often use scaffolding and would not have been so imbecilic as to set that task in that way for a child as you describe.


"In order to scientifically test an educational method you do need to test it. It isn't sufficient to cite supporting evidence only; you also need to look at cases where it doesn't work and figure out why. There might be a method you haven't thought of that works even better."

I believe those that devise DI programs do look cases where it doesn't work and refine their programmes accordingly. Another method may work better, if one is found I'll use it. Should I ignore this method in the meantime?


"I can quite see why explicit instruction could be effective in respect of some knowledge and skills"

And that is why it tends to be used for basic skill acquisition at primary level, not to teach creative writing.

I know I have a that human tendency to be uncritical of material that I am in sympathy with and I think your contributions to this site are invaluable because you stop me being lazy and uncritical with information. That is a really good thing. However, I do think you were unduly critical of this chapter because it is not in sympathy with your own instincts.

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Re: Wheldall blog what's wrong with What Works C/house

Post by Debbie Hepplewhite » Sun Aug 26, 2012 5:33 pm

elsiep said:
What concerns me is that educational research appears to be very inwardly focused. That's the equivalent of GPs and nurses doing their own research and ignoring what's going on in the rest of biology. That situation would be unacceptable, but I think it's what's wrong with educational research.
elsiep - you refer to the scenario of the medical community to support your criticisms of the teaching profession but I'm not at all convinced by the medical profession keeping open-minded - nor paying regard to research in the wider field - that is, within the 'alternative' medical and nutrition community.

The advent of the internet opens up another world of information - and this suggests an establishment-hold and commercial-hold in the medical field - with potential corruption, or actual corruption - beyond what we see in the mainstream media and mainstream TV.

I have certainly read enough, and watched enough, to consider that there is a 'likelihood' that some of the challenges to the medical and nutritional establishment are well-founded.

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Re: Wheldall blog what's wrong with What Works C/house

Post by Debbie Hepplewhite » Sun Aug 26, 2012 5:34 pm

HeatherF - good post. I hadn't the time to address the issues in the way that you have. This must have taken you a long time!

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Re: Wheldall blog what's wrong with What Works C/house

Post by elsiep » Sun Aug 26, 2012 6:46 pm

JAC wrote: Classroom organisation and management is everything with any class of children where there are differences in performance. To describe how I manage, or would manage ideally, my classroom would take more than a post elsiep. And of course some children learn quickly and others slowly, and it has to be managed in a classroom, with or without help. The DI programmes provide a good roadmap, IMO, whether or not you are able to implement them with fidelity. An explicit curriculum is a huge benefit to teachers for some subjects. For others maybe, not so much.
OK I appreciate that.
I do think though, that sometimes it is hard to know whether there is true understanding even if a learner is producing the required behaviour.
That was the sort of thing I meant. My son could whiz through worksheets by following an example but a week later would have forgotten everything and if the skill he was supposed to have learned was tested using another format, clearly couldn't generalise. His behaviour (completing the worksheet successfully and independently) gave no cause for concern. Admittedly his school wasn't using DI.
How was the problem resolved with your son?
As well as following an example on a worksheet, he could also solve simple arithmetic problems using concrete objects like buttons or counters, but only from first principles. In other words, if you asked him to add 11 and 5, he could do it, but only by counting on if it was a problem presented in written form (except that he often reversed or transposed numerals), or by using the requisite number of counters. He could understand 32 +64, for example, but would have needed 96 counters to solve it.

He understood one-to-one correspondence and place value but had no concept of equivalence. He couldn't figure out why a big counter might represent 10 little counters, a 10p coin 10 pennies or 5x 2ps, or the longest cuisenaire rod 10 units, even though there were 10 divisions on it. The only piece of apparatus that made sense to him was an Addacus set, where the units are placed in a bar with ten slots in it. Once the bar is full, it's treated as a 10. The penny finally dropped when we were learning about the Babylonians and he could understand why trading in sacks of barley might be a bad idea, and why they invented the shekel.

His understanding of maths took off when he read the Murderous Maths series. He found he could do calculations in his head because the numerals didn't reverse or transpose, and he didn't get distracted by bits of coloured plastic of different lengths.
I would add that with the student I have who is like this, I am not using a DI programme, but a cobbled-together effort of my own. I do feel he would have been better-served by a comprehensive DI programme that has been tried and tested.
Quite likely.

Another point you made elsiep
But they are using a model of learning that doesn't take into account what's been discovered about brain function in the last 40 years. A method based on flaky theory might work but is quite likely not to.
Can you explain this?
The link you posted pointed out two assumptions implicit in Engelmann and Carnine's method.
1. The learning mechanism is said to have the capacity to learn any quality from examples. Here "quality" is any irreducible feature of an example that can be detected by the learner's sensory system. This assumption states what the learner can learn, not how. If the learner's sensory system can detect a quality, then the learner will be able to learn to respond to that quality on the basis of examples and non-examples.
2. The "learning mechanism" is said to have the capacity to generalize on the basis of sameness of quality. Engelmann and Carnine say, metaphorically, that the mechanism "makes up a rule" using positive and negative examples of a quality, and "classifies" new examples as positive or negative on the basis of this rule. This assumption states how the learner generalizes a learned concept to new stimuli from specific instances and non-instances
First the learning mechanism is treated as a 'black box'. That is, it's treated as if we don't need to know what's inside it or how it works. That's fine until you get a bunch of learning mechanisms that vary, which the authors assume they will. I'm intrigued as to how teachers address that variation; children who don't get concepts, but don't get them in different ways. Unless you know something about how the learning mechanism works, some children are going to struggle even with remedial support.

Second, the 'qualities' of the examples are described as 'irreducible features' that can be detected by the learner's sensory system. I can see how that works with the examples given, because the orientation of lines and the colour of shapes are processed at a very low level by the visual system.

But the brain doesn't organise even that basic information into clear-cut categories. Its categories tend to consist of prototypical features that fuzz out the further you get away from prototypicality and categorisations varies between individuals. For example, as the explanatory piece points out, there are a range of wavelengths of light that could be categorised as 'green'. But you'd soon run into problems if you started exploring this area, because people have subtle variations in how they both detect and categorise colours. More complex concepts are even fuzzier. How have they applied this method to anything other than very basic knowledge and skills?

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Re: Wheldall blog what's wrong with What Works C/house

Post by elsiep » Sun Aug 26, 2012 8:51 pm

Heather F wrote:ElsieP I actually found your original criticisms of the book under discussion a bit unreasonable. I don't know anything like as much as you do about research into learning and I am aware that my support for direct instruction can blind me to its flaws. However...

"I can't face going through the sixteen elements of explicit instruction. (Sixteen? The author refers to the capacity of working memory being limited to seven plus or minus two bits of information (although s/he doesn't put it like that) but then expects teachers to bear in mind sixteen elements.) So instead I want to rant about the six principles of effective instruction (p.5)."
What on earth is wrong with outlining 16 points? I'm not expecting to recite them all back at the end so what has working memory got to do with it?
Working memory isn't just involved in memorising things. It's also involved with the number of bits of information we can handle simultaneously. Explicit instruction is presumably intended to be used by teachers who don't have a minute between the moment they arrive at school in the morning and the moment they go home in the evening. Sixteen points is simply unhelpful. I've had teachers wave files at me, crying "Look how many things I'm supposed to think about! Look!"

"1. Optimize engaged time/time on task. The more time students are actively participating in
instructional activities, the more they learn.
No, they don't. Learning vs time on task follows an inverted U-shape due to habituation and fatigue. Consolidation of new material takes place (fairly obviously) when the brain isn't focused on absorbing new material - ie during 'downtime'. That's why so many writers, scientists etc spend so much time walking, gardening, painting and so on."
[/i]

Children have downtime whether or not ten minutes of extra instruction time or found. In many primary schools the only reading practice KS1 children get is 2 or 3 group reading sessions a week. In what way is advice to spend more time on instruction a mistake? I am fighting to get more curriculum time for my subject so my studnets can make more progress. In the meantime we are careful not to waste the time we have doing excessively time consuming projects with lima beans...
There's a difference between needing to allocate more time to an activity and making a general statement saying that the time taken in active participation in instructional activities is directly correlated with knowledge acquired. It isn't. This is a well-researched area, but that hasn't stopped a fair amount of discussion about extending the school day, extending school hours to include Saturday mornings and using break times for teaching.
"2. Promote high levels of success. The more successful (i.e., correct/accurate) students are when
they engage in an academic task, the more they achieve.
There's some evidence for the benefits of error-free learning in some circumstances but the best predictor of persistence on task is actually variable reinforcement - ie a mix of success and failure. Different people respond differently to different reward schedules."


She never said error free, she said high levels of success. You can debate what the actual balance should be for each child but when dealing with a class or group situation 'high levels' sounds like a good rule of thumb.
Error-free learning is an instructional technique sometimes used with people with learning difficulties and patients with memory deficits. I was commenting on what the author said, rather than putting words into her mouth. What she actually said was "The more successful (i.e., correct/accurate) students are when
they engage in an academic task, the more they achieve."
That might be true for some individuals but in general is not borne out by research into reinforcement schedules. That is something that casinos are aware of, and teachers should be too.
3. Increase content coverage. The more academic content covered effectively and efficiently, the
greater potential for student learning.
The author hasn't defined 'academic' but otherwise this maxim is self-evident.


Well thats OK then... Not as self evident as it might seem though, from the experience of my own children's primary schools.
Find me a teacher who'd disagree with it. Knowing and doing are two different things.

"4. Have students spend more time in instructional groups. The more time students participate
in teacher-led, skill-level groups versus one-to-one teaching or seatwork activities, the more
instruction they receive, and the more they learn.

Doesn't that depend on a) the child and b) the task? One of the things that bothers me about educational 'methods' is that outcomes are often reported at group level. And there appears to be a growing popularity for meta-analysis. A particular method might be shown to be most effective for most children, and therefore it makes sense to use it in schools; that doesn't mean it is more effective for every child. There are lots of references in this chapter to children with 'learning disabilities' as if they all have a variant of the same condition - not that their learning difficulties might vary widely and require different approaches."


My problem here is I am not sure why a method that proves to work best for most shouldn't be the default teaching method. Then those that aren't learning this way can be identified and helped.
Because one default 'method' won't do the job. State education systems have been bedevilled by 'methods' since the year dot. Until teachers understand why a method works with most children and why it doesn't work with others, we'll go on lurching from one method to another ad infinitum.
"Scaffolding. Scaffolding is clearly a key component of explicit instruction but the author doesn't appear to be clear about how or why.
My first introduction to scaffolding came one weekend when my daughter (then 11) had a story to write for homework, but kept saying she couldn't do it and didn't want to talk about why.


As an intelligent user of scaffolding with my students this section makes me a bit cross. I really don't care if the analogy doesn't work very well. Because I am in sympathy with the author that doesn't bother me. The debate is over scaffolding. Your daughter was set a task and given support that was inappropriate for her and probably poorly designed in the first place. Just because scaffolding was used badly by one teacher is of no relevance to the debate. I often use scaffolding and would not have been so imbecilic as to set that task in that way for a child as you describe.
I had no intention of causing offence. I'm sorry. I was simply pointing out that my first encounter with it was from a teacher who must have been 'imbecilic'. I think she would have been mightily confused by the analogy used in this chapter. And with all due respect you are not writing a definitive text about scaffolding.

"In order to scientifically test an educational method you do need to test it. It isn't sufficient to cite supporting evidence only; you also need to look at cases where it doesn't work and figure out why. There might be a method you haven't thought of that works even better."

I believe those that devise DI programs do look cases where it doesn't work and refine their programmes accordingly.
I'd be genuinely interested to see how they do that.
Another method may work better, if one is found I'll use it. Should I ignore this method in the meantime?
No, I think you should be looking at what methods work best for what knowledge and skills and which children. You're a professional. I'm saying what I think about the rationale behind this method as set out in the sample chapter.

Code: Select all

[i]"I can quite see why explicit instruction could be effective in respect of some knowledge and skills"[/i]

And that is why it tends to be used for basic skill acquisition at primary level, not to teach creative writing.
Ok, I've got this far: Direct Instruction is a package - one that started with basic skills but has now been extended. And then there's direct instruction, that's a general method, but I'm not clear what it's used for. Now we have explicit instruction, which is different (?). You say it tends to be used for basic skills at primary levels but the authors give examples of its use at secondary level.

Could you clarify?
I know I have a that human tendency to be uncritical of material that I am in sympathy with and I think your contributions to this site are invaluable because you stop me being lazy and uncritical with information. That is a really good thing. However, I do think you were unduly critical of this chapter because it is not in sympathy with your own instincts.
It's nothing to do with my instincts. It's a lot to do with having learned a fair amount of psychology.

What worries me about this debate is that there's been an emphasis on evidence-based pedagogy, but all that anyone appears to be bothered about is evidence showing that one method is better than some others. No one seems in the least concerned that there might not be a robust evidence-base for the underlying theory on which the method is founded. I searched the contents pages of this book on the Amazon site and couldn't find anything about the underlying theory. The author appears to have made up her own explanations for why the method works.

Heather, I understand you feel my criticisms are unreasonable. But I feel I should point out that both my children had serious problems with one school (by the time we realised what was happening the damage was done) and my son experienced years of what I believe in the US is called 'LD hell'. I've been appalled at the quality of some of the educational research I've come across and the widespread ignorance of mechanisms of learning that are well-researched in other fields. I can understand why teachers might not be aware of them, but I don't think there's any excuse for researchers or for people who publicise their methods and expect people to adopt them. I'm an angry parent.

elsiep
Last edited by elsiep on Sun Aug 26, 2012 9:06 pm, edited 1 time in total.

elsiep
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Re: Wheldall blog what's wrong with What Works C/house

Post by elsiep » Sun Aug 26, 2012 9:04 pm

Debbie Hepplewhite wrote:elsiep said:
What concerns me is that educational research appears to be very inwardly focused. That's the equivalent of GPs and nurses doing their own research and ignoring what's going on in the rest of biology. That situation would be unacceptable, but I think it's what's wrong with educational research.
elsiep - you refer to the scenario of the medical community to support your criticisms of the teaching profession but I'm not at all convinced by the medical profession keeping open-minded - nor paying regard to research in the wider field - that is, within the 'alternative' medical and nutrition community.
This isn't about being open-minded, it's about the quality of evidence-based research. I'm well aware that there are issues within medicine about what's accepted and what isn't; the point I was making is that the evidence-base required in medical research and in medical practice is far more robust than in education. Medical interventions can often be tracked back to the molecular level. It's possible to do that with education - but no one's doing it.
The advent of the internet opens up another world of information - and this suggests an establishment-hold and commercial-hold in the medical field - with potential corruption, or actual corruption - beyond what we see in the mainstream media and mainstream TV.

I have certainly read enough, and watched enough, to consider that there is a 'likelihood' that some of the challenges to the medical and nutritional establishment are well-founded.
I wouldn't disagree - but that doesn't negate my point that GPs and nurses generally have a reasonable grasp of how their treatments work, rather than just the fact that they work.

yvonne meyer
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Re: Wheldall blog what's wrong with What Works C/house

Post by yvonne meyer » Sun Aug 26, 2012 11:25 pm

Elsiep says:
it's about the quality of evidence-based research...

I'd opt for a child-centred approach to education over a teacher-centred or curriculum-centred approach because each child is unique...

I would advocate a child-centred approach to education over a teacher-centred or curriculum-centred one...
Please point out a single 'quality' evidence-based research paper that informs us the child-centred approach is more effective then the teacher-centred approach.

Also, I understand from previous exchanges that you did not use synthetic phonics to teach beginning reading in the past. Please let us know how well that worked for you?

yvonne meyer
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Re: Wheldall blog what's wrong with What Works C/house

Post by yvonne meyer » Sun Aug 26, 2012 11:50 pm

As for the 'child-deficit' model - if 27 children in a class of 30 are doing fine on all measures, but 3 are struggling, why would that be? It's unlikely to be poor teaching, or an ineffective educational 'method'.
Using the child-centred approach, how would the teacher know which child is succeeding and which child is struggling? Using the child-centred approach means that "doing fine on all measures" is based on the teacher's subjective opinion. Why is it that so many of the child-centred approach children who appeared to have been "doing fine on all measures" in early grades, hit the wall in subsequent years.

Why is that parents spend so much time after school teaching their children themselves if the dominant child-centred model is as effective as you think? Is it not more likely in the scenario above that the children who are doing well are the ones whose parents have the time and personal literacy & numeracy skills to teach their children themselves, while the 3 who are not doing well are the ones who are reliant on the teacher?
It's far more likely to be that the child has a problem.
Really? Why is it that some teachers/schools have a huge percentage of struggling students and some teachers/schools have none?
Are you suggesting that all children's learning difficulties can be alleviated by the right educational 'method'?
This from the person who has only recently discovered synthetic phonics, was unaware of Project Follow Through and the work of Zig Englemann, still does not know what the SRA/Direct Instruction programmes are and how they work, and is not aware of the field-tested programmes like SRA/Direct Instruction, and MULTILIT.

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