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« Rise of Indian consumerism and Valentine's Day | Main | Taj Collage (Sujatha) »

February 17, 2012


This is a really interesting synopsis. I've seen Glaser referenced in other work on a number of occasions-- and have seen many of the highlights you reference above used as the foundation for other work-- but had no idea of the breadth of Glaser's research.

As for the pernicious affect of No Child Left Behind-- amen. When I think of my favorite teachers, what stands out is how they made the material they taught so interesting that it still comes to mind, often by tangential association that connects it in interdisciplinary and other ways that enrich the fabric of my life. If someone cared to test me, they would find that, twenty years later, I understand the concept of "hamartia," and traditional tragedy and they could credit my ninth grade English teacher, Mrs. Feinstein. But they wouldn't capture how meaningful she made that concept for me by leading us like a team assembling an emerging puzzle picture through Oedipus, Julius Caesar, and Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart. There are so many other educational values encompassed by that reading list and that method. When I think of what I hope that my son gets out of his education, I hope that he's as inspired to learn and given as solid, puzzle-assembling tools as people like Mrs. Feinstein gave me. If he can parrot the word hamartia but wants to know only whether it will be on a test, I will consider something in his education to have gone very wrong.

Excellent article/obituary. Thanks Norman. Never realized that Glaser was a military psychologist. Could you also throw some light on the construct of 'absolute' standard of performance? Is this a construct (e.g., akin to motor skills in gymnastics where a score of a perfect 10 is given) and how does one quantify it? Finally, did Glaser do any work in the area of the "Psychology of C[eativity," which may or may not encompass the commonly used building blocks of knowledge (acquisition) such as declarative and procedural knowledge.

@ Moin:

"Absolute" standards are an agreed upon set of minimum performance standards that make sense for a particular vocational specialty. One of the best examples in present times is CQ (Carrier Qualification) for Navy and Marine pilots. Requirements for CQ are not just for initial acceptance of a carrier pilot, but they must be met with every take-off and landing. Pilots are not assessed by their standing relative to other pilots (norm referenced.) They are assessed against a specific set of performance requirements (criterion referenced) for every take-off and landing.

One of the most profound ideas for learning that came out of military training psychology was the idea of learning objectives. Nothing before or since has had as much influence on teacher behavior, student performance, and learning efficiency than the requirement to specify objectives for the learning experience. What seems obvious today was a revolution in educational thought in the years following WW2. The importance of learning objectives was made more obvious with the advent of programmed instruction and computer based learning.

Glaser was a promoter of discovery learning, creativity, and giving students a great deal of latitude in approaching and solving problems. His research only went so far. Discovery learning is very effective and provides a great deal of motivation. However, it is very inefficient compared to reception learning. It's too bad he did not go further in his research to see how learning from 'discovery' influences later learning. I'd have to look further to see to what extent he did research in the area of creativity as opposed to being an advocate.

My personal view is that the area of creativity in the schools is over-rated and not well understood. I am not impressed by the more democratic idea of creativity being widely distributed but unique in every individual. I don't know that this philosophy has produced any real changes in education.

More about learning from the NYT. Hanif Kureishi is not a very good writer in my opinion. But he is fairly successful and his point seems to be similar to Anna's - different kids learn in different ways and for different reasons.

I'm not sure which is worse -- pathologizing antsy kids who are real discipline problems and too "special" for a busy parent or teacher to easily tolerate, or romanticizing the failure to concentrate as a creative and imaginative necessity. Speaking as a dreamy kid who had little interest in school, I would say that if that's the way you are, the price of it will be had off you in lost income, lost ability to organize yourself and lifelong problems doing what you are supposed to do: study; pay attention; and produce. Of course, if you are a kid who is highly adaptive to the classroom and naturally efficient, the cost of that is high too -- in a currency you may never even understand to reckon up. Whoever you are, there's a psychic cost to being yourself -- the arty kid who never quite manages, the 8 year-old with a perfect resume and a well-organized sock drawer. It's quite an education just learning to be accepting of yourself, but a neglected aspect of K-8 education is helping kids to start thinking early about trade-offs they are willing to make. If Kureishi were not a celebrated writer, but a man like he describes his own father to be, one would be moved, hearing the tale, to observe, "Too bad he never listened up." No talk of letting his genius develop, none. I think it's important to consider that few kids who don't learn to buckle down ever have the chance to write it all up for the NYT 50 years later.

Elatia, I agree with you. As an ex-teacher, I do not find the notion of romanticizing the distracted kid very attractive or even desirable. Society has placed a value on certain achievements. We may argue about whether those priorities are correct. However, progress as we define it loosely, comes by the efforts of the "doers." There is just no way around it. One doesn't have to be a regimented automaton to become productive. I think Kureishi's piece is a lot of hot air from a man who "succeded." Even if he did not work hard at math, squash and cricket, he certainly worked at networking and selling himself. That too requires organization and effort.

On the other hand, medicating every rambunctious seven year old boy so he becomes "manageable" is a gross abuse of childhood.

Prasad had brought up some very relevant points regarding the usefulness of learning and testing re contributions toward human endeavors and needs in an e-mail exchange among A.B. authors behind the scene. If he is reading this thread, I wish he would repeat his take on this matter here.

So right, Ruchira. Research shows that motivation can cut through lots of undertow from ADD. When it was time to help make himself a superstar, Kureishi could find his wits and bear down.

Would love to see what Prasad had to say... When Norman first wrote about testing for 3QD years ago, Prasad had some very penetrating comments.

"Discovery learning is very effective and provides a great deal of motivation. However, it is very inefficient compared to reception learning."

Is there any current research that tries to define a golden mean between the discovery and reception modes of learning?

I have a personal interest in it, as I try to transfer my musical knowledge to a few students. I learned music almost completely in the reception mode, but am having to teach in a discovery mode. I still discover things about what I learned and how I learned it as I try to convey it to the students, and it is quite a challenge, doing so with the barest roadmaps. Is Indian music something that is more highly dependent on inherent ability and ear-training rather than science or math to transmit in a 'discovery' mode?

Sujatha, Typepad is not taking my comment answer to your questions.

@ Sujatha:

Discovery learning had its heyday in the 1950s and 1960s with Jerome Bruner as its biggest promoter. David Ausubel put an end to the exaggerated claims for discovery learning. However, discovery learning is unique in its motivational byproduct - not that reception learning itself isn't motivating. Discovery learning seems to pack that extra punch of satisfaction, self-confidence, and desire to engage in more learning.

Part 2:

As far as I know, no one has come up with a well balanced recipe of so many parts of discovery to so many part of reception learning. My personal view is that the teacher must understand the learning objectives or outcomes that are desired. Weapons training in the military is highly organized around performance objectives for its combat soldiers. There is no point in letting soldiers in basic training discover for themselves the best way to sight and hold an M-4 carbine.

Part 3:

Even in the arts (painting, sculpture, design, music performance) there is mostly a direct reception learning of or from the masters, long before one develops (discovers) a style and truth of ones own.

Part 4:

In early music training, such as the Suzuki method, children get to experience the joy and satisfaction of music made by their own hands, long before they learn to read notation and theory. However, it is still a reception style of learning rather than discovery. Even in composition, which is eventually a creative discovery process, one learns the theory of music and analyzes the compositions of the masters. I can only comment on teaching the sitar in a very general way. As I understand it, music education in the East is more an example of a master-student relationship. It is the master, not the exercise book, that passes on the art and the skill. Discovery and invention is at the end of a long apprenticeship.

Part 5:

I'm afraid I am beyond my knowledge if I try to answer your last question. Good one, though. I'd love to know the answer. By the way, The great pianists, up through Beethoven and a bit beyond, were expected to be great at improvisation. It is nearly extinct, today, for classical pianists who's one goal in life is to be as true to the original composer as possible. The composer is being celebrated, not the performer. Improvisation is to be found more in jazz. The performing artist is more the star than the composer. Of course, these are broad generalizations.

Thanks for trying to get your answer in, Norman. It is immensely helpful in letting me know that I'm probably not going amiss in my attempts to synthesize some 'discovery' elements along with the basic 'reception' mode teaching that I was improvising. The points you make about improvisation are particularly interesting- I never could figure out how 'manodharmam' (as it is generally termed in Carnatic music) worked, even though I could parrot my teacher's singing without much difficulty. It is now, after several years of listening that new possibilities open up when I sing, as in it, maybe I could change it this way, and still remain within the confines of the raaga.

When a longish comment disappears on posting, please go to the spam box in the comments section of TypePad. More likely than not, the comment has gone there. I found all your previous responses to Sujatha in the Spam filter. I have deleted them because you took the trouble to re-post in parts. What you have to do in such cases of disappeared comments is select Spam comments in the drop down menu and if you find the comment there, check the box to select it and then click on "Publish" at the bottom of the list. The comment will be transferred to the main page of the blog. If the comment you are writing is to a post that you have authored, you can do this yourself. If it is to a post written by someone else, you can ask me or the author of the post to rescue your comment from the spam basket. See if you can follow what I have explained. Choose a post authored by you.

Ruchira - I couldn't figure out how to summarize and work the test stuff here. Re stuff that's *not* measured by tests, I would argue that the role of teacher as inspiring and exciting students to learn is overrated. Not that it's not a factor, but that too much is made of it. In any actual higher study or work, the bulk of one's time is spent on extremely dull, difficult, enervating material. The excite-students-into-loving-chemistry model works to put students into the seats of a survey course in college, but doesn't go further than that.

Apart from ability, what really separates people who do well (at anything) from those who don't is motivation, ability to delay gratification, work ethic, the ability to focus while being bored stiff 90% of the time. That sort of thing isn't captured well by tests (except perhaps purely jump-through-the-hoops rote-learning tests) and isn't taught well at schools, though it indubitably has a learned component from outside school. Maybe sports or music classes do it some.

Elatia and Ruchira, just wanted to say 'amen' to your discussion re distraction and creativity. I read the Kureishi earlier and kept wanting to say 'yes, but' as I read it.

Also, it's hilarious how stark the disjunction is in the comments between the reader picks and the NYT picks. It's like the Times is peddling a line which none of its readers really want to buy.

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