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The nasty little theory about learners

How to improve methods and measurement of pupil’s knowledge and understanding?Hur kan metoder och mätning av elevers kunskap och förståelse förbättras?

How to improve methods and measurement of pupil’s knowledge and understanding?

In my book Learning for all senses (Swedish title: Lärande för alla sinnen) I write about Darwin pedagogy. How the educational system in its basic structure creates the future winners and loosers among those who adapts and those who do not for different reasons. Claiming that it is the educational system that should adapt to the individual pupil’s prerequisites and learning style. And that ICT makes this possible. Professor Danny Dorling writes in the Guardian 22 July 2013 about what he calls the nasty little theory that has characterised traditional education during the 19th and 20th Century. He writes:

“For as long as the nasty little theory has existed, it has been debunked. As co-discoverer of the theory of evolution, Alfred Russel Wallace explained to the Royal Geographical Society exactly 150 years ago this year that “future ages will certainly look back upon us as a people so immersed in the pursuit of wealth as to be blind to higher considerations”. I believe that one day soon he will be proved right – a future generation will come that will reject the nasty theory. A national curriculum that lauds Victorian ethics will be discarded in place of higher considerations.”

The nasty little theory

According to Danny Dorling, professor of human geography at the University of Sheffield the nasty little theory is based on the assumption that children vary greatly in what they are able to achieve. Some have better potential than other and that this potential is fixed from the start. In such a world it is not that much of a problem that politicians choose the pedagogy for the teachers. Since a teacher can not become that much of a difference for the pupil. And a national assessment tests is a great asset to measure that the right percentage of children reaches a certain level. However, President Barack Obama has turned away from this nasty little theory with the view that no child should be left behind. This is Obama’s higher consideration.

The Obama way

President Obama’s idea is to provide funds for a broader range of assessments at the same time as the funding of the traditional national assessment tests should be cut. The new assessment should be able to evaluate “higher order skills” like the student’s ability to use technology, conduct research, solve problems as well as present and defend his or her ideas. This shifts the perspective from aiming to measure knowledge to focus on understanding and skills. Another difference is that the purpose for these new assessments is to measure the pupils/students continual achievement against the standards.

Changing perspective for the educational system

With this shift of perspective learning is no longer trips to deserted islands of different subjects that the pupil/student visit once, but a journey to achieve knowledge, skills and understanding. However, to accomplish this, to measure a learning journey instead of independent subject trips, which could be measured by traditional exams on- or offline, also the measurement environment must be transformed. Learning Management Systems with advanced monitoring for continual measurement for the teachers is an important part of the basic solution. The interactive engaging content should be structured for this learning journey with preparation for both fast progress, repetition and set backs along the way.

The UK deputy prime minister Nick Clegg’s vision of testing five-year-olds and later with tougher exams for eleven year-olds is just a new chapter of the nasty little theory that Alfred Russel Wallace criticised 150 years ago. Accompanied with John Stuart Mill that in his ground-breaking book, On Liberty, warned that the school only worked to form the pupils in the same mould with disastrous future effects.

The learning-journey

For a five-year-old the learning journey just started where monitoring, support for improvement, a mix of learning paths is the way forward where achievement then in a soft way could be measured towards fixed standards. Then the teacher would know which level of knowledge, skills and understanding the pupil has. This shift of perspective and method would also, hopefully, pull pedagogy away from the hands of the politicians. Clegg and others … its time to let go!

Written by
LarsGöran Boström©

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