Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Classifying Learning

I am constantly thinking about ways to improve classroom instruction, because I believe that the most important factor affecting student learning is the teacher and the most important characteristic of good teaching is an understanding of methods and strategies that engage students in authentic learning. When considering any process, it is beneficial to classify and differentiate among the various parts of the process.

In How We Think (1910) John Dewey identifies three types of study. The first has to do with the "acquisition of skill in performance;" the second involves the acquisition of knowledge; and the third is concerned with the development of reasoning or "abstract thinking." Many years later, Mortimer Adler wrote about three modes of teaching in his book The Paideia Proposal: An Educational Manifesto (1982). The three modes of teaching were differentiated according to the intended goals as "acquisition of organized knowledge," "development of intellectual skills," and "enlarged understandings of ideas and values."

The similarities between the two lists are easily recognizable and worth a moment of consideration. Both authors recognize that learning involves the acquisition of or perhaps the accumulation of knowledge, the development and refinement of skills, as well as the development of reasoning, or what I will call critical thinking. Neither author suggests that one type of study or teaching is better than the other. Neither author suggests that one type of study or teaching should be excluded. Adler does suggest that the development of understanding or reasoning is often neglected in classrooms, but he does not advocate that any of the modes of teaching be sacrificed to make room for more critical thinking.

It is important that teachers understand that there are different types of learning and different modes of teaching designed to meet the needs of the different types of learning. We should not teach only rote memorization, but we should teach some rote memorization. For that reason, I, as an English teacher, required my students to memorize poems and to recite them in front of the class.

We are dealing with whole students; therefore, we should address the whole student in our teaching.

1 comment:

  1. We are a not-for-profit educational organization, founded by Mortimer Adler and we have recently made an exciting discovery--three years after writing the wonderfully expanded third edition of How to Read a Book, Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren made a series of thirteen 14-minute videos on the art of reading. The videos were produced by Encyclopaedia Britannica. For reasons unknown, sometime after their original publication, these videos were lost.

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