Book Review: Teaching Minds: How Cognitive Science Can Save Our Schools
Teaching Minds: How Cognitive Science Can Save Our Schools is an excellent book for teachers (and some learners) on what may be wrong with our teaching approach; it isn’t necessarily us, but might be an institutional situation. After reading this book, I had to get back to blogging. I’ve been trying to finish up my own book, and this book comes along and shatters/challenges/supports many of my previous perspectives on teaching in an elegant succinct way.
So, why is this book shattering some of my views on education? Well, having read the book, many of the ideas line up well with preexisting beliefs I have about learning. Dr. Schank, however, structures many of these ideas in a better way.
The major idea in the book is his clear explanation in chapter 4 of the “twelve cognitive principles that underlie learning”. His main thesis is that these principles are captured in what we all do in our lives, jobs, and education, and that they should be a fundamental focus of learning as opposed to knowledge and content. We tend to focus more on content than action.
The majority of the book looks at these principles and their application/relation to education. A few other interesting aspects and ideas in the book include:
- Chapter 11 shifts to an attack on colleges and universities, which includes many strong arguments on to what these institutions do and how they might be changed.
- Schank states that teaching should not include the assigning of grades/marks by the teacher, and instead the assessment of performance should be done by a separate entity.
- The idea that nothing can be learned if it doesn’t involve failure.
- An examination or test implies that a field has a right way and a wrong way.
Does this book relate to CollegeQandA?
It’s all about teaching, learning, and universities. In a way, I wish these were my ideas, and I’ll, likely, reference this book in future posts.
This book is written at a level appropriate for teachers. I think the concepts are understandable by all, but many of the arguments drift into the world of higher ed and cognitive views that might not be at the level of college bound students. However, I think this is a good book for everyone to take a look at to better understand learning and a bit of the why things are the way they are in education and how we might, possibly, do better.
How are professors trained to teach?
An interesting question that not many undergraduates understand is: How are professors trained to teach?
The secret is, most of us are not trained in any teaching. Graduate degrees (Masters and Ph.Ds.) are degrees pursuing leading edge research and creative endeavors. Many of your professors will have no formal training in education other than some basic courses.
Why do they have no training?
Many graduate schools around the world have programs that help train graduate students to teach. Typically, new faculty will have orientation and additional programs/workshops to help them improve their classroom teaching. In the end, with all this training a professor will have spent at most 20-40 hours of educational training. Compare that time to a typical higher education class worth 3 credit hours. Over 15 weeks, student’s will have had at least 45 hours of class time on the topic of the class.
So, professors will have some training in education, but in reality, the training is very limited, but the rest of the learning to teach is done (or not done) by ourselves. The reason for this is that teaching training is not a priority within higher education. Instead, there seems to be a mentality of I learned this way and this stuff, and therefore, my students can also learn this way and this stuff. There’s not a huge problem with this mentality since for decades the model has worked, and people still get careers and work in their respective fields.
Is there a case for improvement?
As an engineer (not practicing), I’m not too crazy about my above argument. One of my question is if professors are better teachers then, on average, will our students learn more? I don’t have any direct research to answer this question. I, at least, believe that universities could make some real attempt at testing this crazy question. Many schools have taking a dedication to teaching and learning. Is your school one?
Credits: photo titled: Professor Baby; by Quinn Dombrowski
Who are the best teachers in college?
This question needs some definitions to help us talk about it.
- Learning – we’ve talked about this before. Learning is the stabilization of our neural networks in our brain for a desired response.
- Teaching – guiding and motivating opportunities for students to work with ideas and information so they can learn it through experience.
- Education – a combination of teaching and learning.
Therefore, the best teachers will be those who can get you to do the learning. This doesn’t mean that you will like that teacher, you will like how they teach, or you will like what you are learning. From a rating perspective, you should keep this in mind.
Is it that simple?
From my experience with teachers and teaching, I have had good and bad teachers just like everyone else, but my definition of good and bad (at this reflection point) is not about liking them. It’s about learning and growing.
Some of my most disliked teachers turned out to be great learning opportunities. Lecture became useless for learning the material, and for that reason, I learned to turn to other sources like the textbook, friends, and the library. Now, should those teachers be classified as good teachers? Probably not, but the point is it is not simple to define best when you approach class from a perspective of learning.
The best teachers are…
Your best teachers will motivate you to learn more than what is required by the course. They will push you to become the lifelong learner, critically think, and self-author what you think the world should be. And you will probably like them since the learning process is also social.
There are techniques that we professors learn to help you through the process, but learning (and teaching) is hard. We are doing research to try and improve this process, but in reality, commitment from both teacher and learning to the education process is all about hard work and slow incremental improvement. Just like dieting, there is no magic pill…yet.
Credits: Photo titled: Buddhist teacher; by: Artis Rams
Book Review: A Concise Guide to Improving Student Learning: Six Evidence-Based Principles and How to Apply Them
A Concise Guide to Improving Student Learning: Six Evidence-Based Principles and How to Apply Them
is written by Persellin and Daniels and provides a number of research-backed ideas on how to teach more effectively – and by teaching the meaning is having students learn and retain the knowledge.
This book is small (78 pages of ideas) and is intended as a quick point of reference for busy, early, and interested professors and teachers to help them learn about how student learning can be improved via a better class. This is presented organized by 6 principles:
- Challenge students early
- Spaced repetition
- Emotional connection to material
- Multisensory teaching and learning
- Small group learning
- Formative assessment or Low-stakes assessment
For each principle, there are a number of techniques that are briefly described to facilitate them, and everything is evidence-backed by briefly annotated research papers as related to the principle.
Finally, the appendixes include quick prescriptions (the authors call these “workshops”) to help teachers create syllabi, open and close a class, and prepare for classes. All of this is done in 78 pages, and obviously, the focus is on introducing these ideas with references for deeper inquiry.
Does this book relate to CollegeQandA?
This book is primarily focused on helping teachers and professors quickly get familiar with innovations (backed by research) in learning theory and practice. It is very relevant to one of this sites major themes – learning. And because of this it is highly related to CollegeQandA.
Firstly, this book is recommended for the professor or teacher who wants a quick preview to a number of ideas on improving learning in their classes. The ideas are not discussed in depth in this book, but that is not the goal. Instead, this is a great resource for starting your exploration into improving teaching and learning.
Secondly, this book is recommended for learners (students). Of course, the problem is you (as a student) can’t implement these ideas in the classes you are in, but you can use the concepts in your study sessions and overall learning strategies. Just because the professor is not promoting a learning environment does not mean you still don’t have to learn the material. Therefore, these techniques will help you maximize your learning.