I read the first part of Howard Gardner’s Five Minds for the Future last week on the beach.
Many students, Howard Gardner muses, have accumulated plenty of factual information.
They have not, he says, learned to think in a disciplined manner nor–he prefers–about one discipline.
Facts only gain meaning when placed in context. I discovered this first when my students took standardized tests for grammar and punctuation. These good writers did poorly on those bubble sheet tests, much to my dismay. When I discovered the company also administered a true writing test, I asked our Head of School if we could give it. The results validated my belief that my students were, in fact, good writers. On the bubble sheet, they were asked to fill in circles. On the WrAP, the were asked to write.
Our department believes to create good writers, they need to write. Often. Freely. On a variety of topics. And they should be given frequent feedback. We know it works; our alums brag about their writing when they return for visits.
A problem, Gardner says, is no one appreciates the difference between subject matter and disciplines. Disciplines, he says, represent “a distinctive way of thinking about the world.” He then cites examples as to how literary scholars, scientists, or historians think about the world–and it differs greatly from how teachers tend to teach the subject (pouring information into the students’ heads).
So how do we teach achieve a disciplined mind? He says there are four steps:
1)Identify truly important content or concepts
2)Spend a significant amount of time on them
3)Approach the topics in a variety of ways, and
4) Set up “performances of understanding” that is, give “ample opportunities for students to perform their understandings under a variety of conditions.”
I wanted to yell this across the beach to my husband when I read it last week:
“Here, in brief, is why most standardized measures of learning are of little use; they do not reveal whether the student can actually make use of the classroom material–the subject matter–once she steps outside the door.”
In the future, Gardner says, individuals must also learn “how to synthesize knowledge and how to extend it in new and unfamiliar ways.”
Gardner captures the complexity of teaching, of evaluating teachers based on their students’ progress. Though I certainly understand the need for a framework of broad national standards of some kind, the specific ways we are testing and ranking our students will have devastating long-term effects.
Ok, now I need to go back and read about the “synthesizing, creating, respectful, and ethical” minds. I’m probably breaking all the rules, drawing conclusions about the book before I’ve put much of a dent in it.
The preface also addresses Dan Pink’s book, published around the same time. I’ve also discovered The Good Work site, developed to help gauge the effectiveness of his work.