Still A Novice Learner

… or reflections on Chapter 1 from How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School: Expanded Edition / National Research Council…

Prompt: Consider how this reflects/differs from your experiences as a student in the classroom and on your past observations of library instruction/activities.

I was particularly drawn to the concepts of meta-cognitive approaches to learning and the ability to transfer knowledge and concepts from situation to situation.  According to the text, meta-cognitive activities that experts participate in include, “monitoring their own understanding carefully, making note of when additional information was required for understanding, whether new information was consistent with what they already knew, and what analogies could be drawn that would advance their understanding” (How People Learn pg 18).

It is important to recognize that to get to this expert level of thinking and understanding, one must have been taught strategies and ways to do all of these things in the appropriate situation.  I cannot pinpoint any one teacher or class where I know that we were taught subject matter with the expectation of becoming an expert and gaining  understanding in mind. Many of my favorite classes expected critical thinking skills – often in English or literature courses where we analyzed and reflected on the texts – and these courses are probably the closest I have ever had in regards to teaching for understanding.  Many others, such as math and science, were taught with the expectations of memorizing formulas or definitions of concepts.  My knowledge of how to solve complex math problems is rudimentary, at best, and I have always thought this was mainly because I have never had an inherent interest in math.  situations. After reading this chapter, my lack of ability in solving math problems may stem more from the fact of not being taught concepts so that I could transfer them to other

This also reminded me of an experience I had while taking a graduate course in curriculum development from Western Michigan University.  In this course we analyzed and reviewed current curricula along with what teachers should be using for best learning practices.  Many of the curricula currently offered in schools does not teach for understanding of concepts but instead teaches facts with activities sprinkled in for hands-on learning.  Our professor made this point explicitly clear by asking us to solve a common homeowners problem: I just bought a dog and want to fence in my square backyard so he doesn’t run away.  How do I know how to keep my fence lines straight when building?

As it turns out, not a single one of us graduate level students who had had years of math could recall the formula “A squared + B squared = C squared” would allow us to measure accurately for the fence.  This simple transfer of knowledge was not possible because so many of us had learned that formula in relation to a triangle sitting on the piece of paper in front of us.  Had I had any sort of math training that used real world situations (and not which train will arrive faster at the station) that expected use of these formulas for the ‘answer’, I may have been able to transfer the knowledge to building a straight fence.

(As a side note: this also may be why American students score so poorly on standardized tests when compared with foreign competitors.  Many schools in Japan and China use math curriculums that teach 12 – 15 basic concepts and the why behind those concepts instead of simply a formula.  Then they are able to apply the concept to any type of question asked, whereas the majority of American students can only apply formulas to questions asked in the same way as those used when learning the formula.  Once the above professor drew a triangle on our picture of the house/yard and said solve for ‘C’ we all knew exactly what formula to use, but we could not reach that point on our own.)

Library instruction has hardly registered throughout my schooling experiences.  I know in elementary school we went to the library once a week, used it for in-door recess and had school programs during open houses however, I cannot remember exactly what we were taught when going “to library”.  I have always loved going to the library, the bookmobile, the public library wherever but cannot remember ever being explicitly instructed in using it except for once in high-school when writing a research paper.  Our high-school librarian spent time teaching us better searching practices through Google and helped us understand where we could find sources in our school library however I know I used the public library more during that project.  This may have been a comfort thing because I rarely used my high-school library but used the public library all the time.

Most of my time spent in libraries was participating in summer reading programs, checking out books and conducting research for class assignments.  More recently it has also become my study home away from home.  I rarely take advantage of programs or opportunities offered through the library and have only just recently began to see how those are effectively helping libraries reach their missions.  I am very interested to see how my experiences teaching, and the knowledge I have gained from teaching, extend into my experiences as a librarian.

Further thoughts: On page 17, the text states that “students will begin as novices”.  I immediately wrote in the text, “do they leave as experts in anything?”  So much of my schooling was based around you need to know this or you should do this and I am not convinced that I graduated high-school with extensive knowledge in any subject.  I did well in all subjects, but does that mean I am an expert in all subjects?  I am not sure if we are expected to become experts only during and after college when our learning becomes more centralized on a certain topic or if that expert status should start earlier.  Is it okay to leave high-school still a novice learner?  Is it okay to leave high-school still a novice learner when attending college is not something a student is able to do?  How are expectations of novice and expert learning changed, and how should teaching practices change, when teachers believe a student will be attending college or will not be attending college?




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