Student Views of Learning: Attacking naive ideas

While implicit messages are likely the source for student views on cognition, simply changing the implicit messages will not likely result in conceptual change.  This is similar to Lederman and Abd-El-Khalick’s (2000) notion that implicit instruction is not enough to change students’ views on the nature of science.  Students have spent years creating their own framework concerning cognition from implicit sources.  Explicit confrontation of those frameworks is likely necessary to induce modification to more desirable views on cognition. Below are some strategies I have used to more forcefully address students views on thinking and learning.  Sorry for the formality of the language, I took this from a research paper I presented at a conference.

To address various views on cognition, students were engaged in discussions regarding learning and asked to reflect in writing concerning learning.  Some example questions students discussed and wrote on include:

  • Why do so many people think there should be one ‘right’ answer for complex questions?
  • What does it mean to be smart?
  • What is the best way to learn?
  • How do you know when you have learned something?
  • What things affect your beliefs or the way you think?
  • How should people make decisions?

When discussing these questions, the teacher worked to identify student thinking and encouraged students to explain their thinking.  To help move students toward more desired views the teacher would pose follow-up questions, or set up examples that might highlight the utility of more informed views on learning.  Oftentimes, students were asked to write about their views before and after discussion, further modeling the role of reflection and thinking in learning.

In addition to general discussions, students were engaged in specific activities to encourage greater reflection concerning cognition.  In one activity, the teacher created a PowerPoint presentation about the moon phases; a topic students had already discussed.  The teacher used the PowerPoint in a manner consistent with traditional instruction, not seeking student input and moving from slide to slide rather quickly.  The PowerPoint contained more detailed fact-oriented information than students had learned during the more reforms-based instruction of the same material.  When the presentation was over, the students were asked to compare the “PowerPoint method of teaching” to the way they had previously learned about the moon phases.  In the resulting discussion, the teacher was able to highlight how the PowerPoint had over simplified learning, assumed learning is easy and sought factual recall of isolated trivia rather than deep understanding and connection of concepts.

Another specific example highlighted how authority had been wrongfully used in the past.  The students were told a story about the development of the structure for DNA.  In the story, Linus Pauling is described as an authority figure because he has already won a nobel prize for previous work.  So, when Pauling puts forth an idea for DNA structure, his idea is held up as being “right”.  However, Watson and Crick hope that Pauling’s followers rely on Pauling’s reputation and do not carefully evaluate his work as they know his triple helix idea cannot be right.  After students are told this story, the teacher led a class discussion that highlighted the misplacement of trust in authority, why authorities can be wrong, how answers to complex problems are not clear-cut and the role of evidence in decision-making.

One last explicit example was a recurring strategy.  To address levels of certainty in thinking, the teacher would archive student initial ideas concerning a topic.  Then after students had opportunities to learn about the topic, the teacher would bring up some of the students old ideas and ask them to comment on how their thinking had changed and why their thinking changed.  During the discussion, the teacher drew students’ attention to how knowledge is malleable, the role of time in learning and the factors that likely affected students’ initial and new ideas.

What strategies do you use with your students to help them gain greater perspective on the nature of learning and thinking?

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3 Responses to Student Views of Learning: Attacking naive ideas

  1. Bonitadee says:

    Wonderful post that brings up much in my mind to ponder. I think you are at the secondary and college level?

    “To help move students toward more desired views the teacher would pose follow-up questions, or set up examples that might highlight the utility of more informed views on learning.” This observation reminds me of the need for teachers to be well-versed in their subject matter in a way that integrates with pedagogy. A teacher versed in PCK (Pedagogical Content Knowledge) would have the facility and reflection necessary to create adequate prompts in such a situation.

    I was also thinking about the book, “Choice Words,” as I read your post. “Choice Words” examines teacher talk that leads to student agency. It is elementary level, although I have been translating my learning from the book into conversational strategies for leadership.

    Thanks for giving me more to ponder.


    • jerridkruse says:

      Thanks for the book recommendation. I am currently a middle school teacher & will move to post secondary next year.

      As far as PCK, I think preservice programs need to explicitly teach teachers how to engage students in conversations about learning-these conversations may be more important than those about content (IMO).


  2. Pingback: Teaching is Design: Cultural Constraints | Teaching as Dynamic

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