Archive for 2011|Yearly archive page

Highway to the educational danger-zone (week 11)

In Uncategorized on April 11, 2011 at 9:57 PM

Having read my previous blogs, a reoccurring theme has (unsurprisingly) prevailed throughout: cognition

From my blogs I have highlighted a few main points about cognition I believe to be important…
1) Do not underestimate the cognitive power/ability of learners:

Research by Sugata Mitra is the perfect example of this. He showed that given the tools, children can become masters of their own education….

This by no means implies that teachers are invaluable, but the reality is that there will always be places where teachers aren’t available or will not go. So it is crucial to have programmes that foster learning without the aid of teachers.

I was thinking about materials or methods mentioned in other blogs and talks that could help this process:

Khan Academy is the perfect example of teaching without the teacher. I would like to think that the videos could be implemented within it/linked to the computer.

Khan did note that the videos should be supplemented with teaching time and that all subjects cannot be taught using the educational videos. Mitra used an older observer to motivate the children, so it may be possible for those individuals to provide some feedback if a teacher guide was available…

This brings me to Open source learning. Free and peer reviewed course materials which could be accessed at anytime with a relatively high quality. A teachers guide could be placed on this resource.

2)The teacher knows best?

A quote from Shulman & Elstein (1975) highlights the problem (in my opinion) with some educational research:

‘research typically sights the problem of how teachers think about their pupils and instructional problems; it concentrates instead on how teachers act or perform in the classroom’ (pg 3)

This is highlighted in teacher cognition research (outlined by Simon Borg). the research stated that teachers cognitions are hard to alter, and effect the way they approach and carry out educational practices.

So in reference to does a teacher know best, not necessarily and therefore teacher training is crucial.

3)Learner-centered cognition (metacognition)

I know I have advocated for the use of metacognition research throughout the semester so I will try to be brief.

The ability to understand your own cognitive processes is a crucial skill. As consumers of the educational product, students need to be able to assess the way they learn and give feedback to teachers to improve practices and techniques.

4)Creative cognition

For the problem Ken Robinson outlined to be addressed we need to fully understand the creative process.

Research on creative cognition is scarce, and I am unsure whether we can truly understand the creative process as a function of cognitive steps…

(It is also important to remember that the cognitive process is a creative process in itself.)

In summary:

The past twelve weeks have been thought provoking for me, and this module has, for want of better words, allowed me to ‘stretch my academic legs’.

My standpoint is that cognition research should provide the basis for educational practices and hopefully (using this a start point) I can promote the use of this research in my future career!


Seeing is Believing (week 10)

In Uncategorized on April 4, 2011 at 6:18 PM

Throughout this module we have been advocating that, in terms of education, scientific research should play a crucial role in how we implement and design our curriculum(s). This has led to many new and interesting techniques being brought forward, and hundreds of supporting papers have been referenced.

In previous blogs I have talked about Teacher Cognition, the concept that individual self-reflection, beliefs and knowledge about teaching changes perception of educational techniques and practices. I was thinking about the way in which our own self-reflection, beliefs and knowledge would effect the way we interpret the research & techniques we encounter in this module. (I would like to believe that although we will have preferences to certain areas, we understand the data presented and have the ability to critically evaluate the work we read.)

This made me wonder, how do scientific novices interpret research? Through the development of highly complex neuropsychological techniques (such as PET & fMRI) and their ability to provide images of the brain, the media has begun to report research much more frequently.

Weisberg et al (2008) carried out 3 experiments into the perception of research.

Experiment 1

81 participants completed the study. They were asked to read a one-paragraph description of a phenomenon followed by an explanation (a total of 18 phenomena were used). The explanation they viewed either always did or always did not contain neuroscience information.  Quality was also manipulated, a good and bad version was created for each stimuli and randomly allocated through the trials. Participants then rated how satisfying they found each explanation on a 7-point scale from -3  to +3.

A significant main effect of explanation was found (good explanation text rated higher than bad). As well the research showed a significant main effect of neuroscience (neuroscience texts were rated higher than non-neuroscience) and a significant interaction of explanation and neuroscience (no significant difference between good, but significant difference between bad)

My Thoughts: If the participants were novices would they understand the terminology? I don’t think so, and because of this it doesn’t surprise me that the bad responses were modulated by the use of neuroscience info.

Experiment 2

22 students were sampled from an introductory cognitive neuroscience class. Stimuli and procedures used was identical to that in experiment 1. Participants were tested at beginning and end of the semester. It was hypothesized that because they were being trained to critically think, the main effect of neuroscience found in experiment 1 would not occur.

A significant main effect of explanation type was found, as well as a significant main effect of neuroscience and a significant interaction of explanation and neuroscience (Ratings of bad explanations increased reliably more than good). No main effect of time was found (i.e classroom training did not affect the students’ performance).

My Thoughts: would this effect be replicated in other domains/or even with our class? does the non significant effect of time indicate that individuals in the class have not been taught to critically evaluate?

Experiment 3

48 neuroscience experts. stimuli was identical to that of experiment 1.

Findings showed a significant main effect of explanation, no main effect of neuroscience, significant interaction of explanation and neuroscience (good explanations with neuroscience rated lower than explanation without)

My Thoughts: I think that the interaction found could be explained by the fact that experts would have read a vast number of articles and would therefore would be able to notice that the neuroscience figures were irrelevant.

McCabe & Castel (2008) also researched this area, and carried out 3 experiments also

Experiment 1

156 undergraduates participated and were split into three groups based on what the articles included: brain image, bar chart or control (no image included). Participants read 3 brief articles. The articles shown made claims that were not necessitated by the data, providing the basis for some skepticism from participants. They were then were asked to rate (on a four point likert scale) if the article was well written, the title was a good description of the results, and if the scientific reasoning in the article made sense.

It was found that brain image and bar graph conditions were rated as better written than the control condition, texts accompanied by a brain image being given the highest ratings of scientific reasoning.

My thoughts: It was suggested that complexity may have been a factor in the results shown – brain images are more visually complex and thus this may have altered the judgments of individuals

Experiment 2

128 undergrads participated. The use of brain images and topographical maps was compared. (The use of images of similar complexity allowed the criticism made in the previous study to be addressed.) Two articles used as stimuli in experiment 1 were used. Participants were asked to rate the scientific reasoning of each article viewed.

Texts accompanied by a brain image were found to be given higher ratings of scientific reasoning than those accompanied by a topographical map.

My thoughts: How much exposure will participants have to topographical maps? maybe the differences were due to the fact that undergraduates had seen brain images in the vast majority of research they have been in contact with and due to this in-exposure to topographical maps rated them lower.

Also, the articles were fictitious and participants were told this. Maybe the effects seen will diminish in a more natural setting/using more natural stimuli? McCabe & Castel designed another study to address this.

Experiment 3

108 participants took part. A real news service article ‘Brain Scans Can Detect Criminals’ taken from the BBC website as the stimuli. Articles included either included brain image or no image, and either a concluding paragraph criticizing the research or no paragraph. Participants rated articles on two questions: (1) Do you agree or disagree that the title is a good summary of the results? and (2) Do you agree or disagree with the conclusion that brain imaging can be used as a lie detector?

In terms of the conclusion (Q2) a main effect of brain image was found (brain image article rated higher than no, there was a non significant effect of criticism and no interaction was recorded.

For the title question no effect of brain image was found, but significant effect of criticism  (title more appropriate when not criticized) was recorded, there was no interaction between criticism and brain image.

What does this research mean for the future?

So many questions arose from this research for me! Here are a few….please feel free to add more/debate/go crazy!

The research focuses on scientific content we meet outside of a classroom context, so how can we control it?: I don’t think it would be possible to control the content individuals are viewing, but maybe we should look to train individuals to interpret research at an earlier age? I myself did not learn to read & evaluate research papers until I was in university, if the evaluation of a paper could be fit into the curriculum even at GCSE or A Level, it would promote both deeper & critical thinking. (something heavily mentioned throughout the blogs)

Can we control the media? The media is responsible for it’s output so should it therefore provide the information and tools for individuals to fully understand the studies mentioned?

Does the media show research based on images or merit? it would be interesting to investigate if this effect would be shown in submission to the media. (i.e. if a bad article would be published if it contained images of the brain and advanced terminology)


Don’t just a article by it’s cover! Just because a paper is padded with complex terminology or images does not mean that is of higher quality!

What do y’all think?

Open Source Learning (week 9)

In Uncategorized on March 29, 2011 at 12:33 AM

In a recent talk on the TED website Richard Baraniuk introduced the topic of open source learning.

Open source learning comes from the recent movement within education towards open education. Baraniuk (2007) defined this as the idea that

“knowledge should be free and open to use and re-use; that collaboration should be easier, not harder; that people should receive credit and kudos for contributing to education and research; and that concepts and ideas are linked in unusual and surprising ways and not the simple linear forms that today’s textbooks present”

In the paper Baraniuk also outlined the broad set of goals of open education as:

  • bringing people back into the educational equation, particularly those who have been “shut out” of the traditional publishing world,

(e.g. those who do not read & write in English.)

  • reducing the high cost of teaching materials.

(The average community college student in America spends almost as much on textbooks as on tuition. Many schools in the United States get by with less than one textbook per child in many classes)

  • reducing the time lag between producing learning materials and getting them into students’ hands.

(Many books are already out-of-date by the time they are printed.)

  • enabling re-use, re-contextualization, and customization such as translation and localization of course materials into myriad different languages and cultures.

(As this module has clearly shown, “one size does not fit all” for education.)

How does open education aim to do this?

The whole concept hinges on the idea that individuals license their work under ‘creative commons‘ rather than copyright. Creative commons gives four licenses that can be combined depending on the authors wishes:

Attribution Attribution (by) Licensees may copy, distribute, display and perform the work and make derivative works based on it only if they give the author or licensor the credits in the manner specified by these.
Non-commercial Noncommercial(nc) Licensees may copy, distribute, display, and perform the work and make derivative works based on it only for noncommercial purposes.
Non-derivative No Derivative Works (nd) Licensees may copy, distribute, display and perform only verbatim copies of the work, not derivative works based on it.
Share-alike Share-alike (sa) Licensees may distribute derivative works only under a license identical to the license that governs the original work

For more info see the following video.

The benefits of creative commons

1) The use of creative commons allows for the information to be databased and used on mass without individuals needing to seek the authors permission.

2) It also allows individuals to manipulate the information – this is being used in order to help those who are ‘shutout’ by the current system gain the tools they need. Individuals have been working on translating texts into languages not commonly published in.

3) It lowers production costs as modules or texts made can be viewed online for free, and textbooks versions can be produced on a JIT process, slashing publication costs.

4) Publications can be updated immediately, reducing the time difference between writing and publishing texts.

Websites that promote & use this approach:

Open Courseware Consortium

MIT Open Courseware


Cynical viewpoint – How will anyone make any money?

Publishers, lecturers and researchers need money. A successful textbook seen as a core text can make a obscene amount and place an individual in a high position within a field. So, if an individual used creative commons would this all disappear?

I do not think so.

Making a name for yourself -the act of creative commons means that an individual is attributed for their work whenever it is used.

Earning the big bucks – creative commons does not stop you from signing a commercial deal with a publisher for your work.

(However, I believe it to be a naive view to expect those who lead the industry to change if they believe that the process of creative commons will reduce profit)

Psychological perspective

One thing that I asked myself when thinking about the idea of creative commons is:

If a textbook is classed as an instructional tool, then is picking at and piecing together different sources diluting a (original) texts effectiveness?

This most closely related  to Snider (2006) myth of eclectic instruction. The myth refers to when teachers use a variety of methods and instructional materials instead on relying on a single instructional approach. Snider argues that this can be dangerous for the learner. If teachers mix in their own non-validated thoughts into their design then this destroys the credibility of any validated texts used.

This being said, I have often found (in university) that lecturers pick apart core texts, only teaching a random selection of segments due to it being insufficient to their needs.

If they were able to use one of the websites listed above, they could design a text for their specific module. The websites offer peer reviews of information posted, so pages would be validated by experts. Also sections used could be edited in order to match the instructional design they wish to follow, so a similar format would be taught throughout.

(Snider even states in her book that ‘sometimes teachers design their own curriculum to meet standards and these programs are necessarily eclectic’ pg 60)


Creative commons and open source learning seems like a great concept. It is used at the moment in very specific fields (e.g. the design of optimal FIR filters), and the websites I found linked to this topic were based in the US. I think that it still needs time to develop in order for more ‘main stream’ subjects to benefit.

Any thoughts?

Learning from mistakes – Embracing Failure (week 8)

In Uncategorized on March 19, 2011 at 1:29 PM

Whilst browsing the TED website I came across a talk by Diana Laufenberg, in which, she was talking about her experiences as a teacher in America. She touched on the topic of errors within learning, in particular embracing them.

Now this is a concept that I feel is left untouched in the traditional classroom. Most individuals are taught to fear errors within work and errors are often seen as an event where no learning occurs (or lack of learning is shown) – but this is not the case.

Consider the case of Thomas Edison – when producing the first light bulb he found 1000 ways not to make it! The knowledge obtained from the errors he made was crucial in his success.

Knowledge gained from making errors is often referred to in the literature as Negative knowledge.

Negative knowledge

Defined by Oser and Spychiger (2005) (cited in Gartmeier et al, 2008) as knowledge about “what something is not, (in contrast to what it is), and how something does not work, (in contrast to how it works), which strategies do not lead to the solution of complex problems (in contrast to those, that do so) and why certain connections do not add up (in contrast to why they add up)”

Just making a mistake does not mean you will acquire negative knowledge; it is necessary for individual to be able to realise, analyse and to correct mistakes; a strategy for prevention of further mistakes also has to be built.

In this sense Negative knowledge can be related to metacognitive knowledge…the term used to refer to acquired knowledge about cognitive processes, which can be used to control cognitive processes (Livingston, 1997)

In a paper by Gartmeier, Bauer, Gruber and Heid (2008) the functions of negative knowledge* were outlined in terms of a professional context:

Functions of Negative Knowledge

(1) Supports certainty in how to proceed: certainty in work situations can be explained by means of an individuals’ explicit and precise knowledge about what things might go wrong and, in turn, about what actions to avoid in a specific situation.

(2) Increases efficiency during actions: this has been shown on an organisational level, whereby error management (which fosters negative knowledge) was shown to be positively related with company performance.

(3) Enhances the quality and depth of reflection processes on action. It is proposed that negative knowledge is a stimulating element within reflective processes due to its heuristic function.

(*Not a lot of research is out there on Negative knowledge, and the main papers appear to refer to workplace learning.)

Encouraging mistakes in the classroom:

View mistakes not as a crime, but as information: aversion from answering questions in the classroom comes from the negative social outcome associated with providing an incorrect answer. I think this point links very closely to a number of class Blogs’ on the classroom as a society. (Blog by Jess B has more info).

Allowing kids to fail as an important step in the learning process: but provide scaffolding to help them assess failures, not just ignore them. (Making mistakes would be clearly differentiated from carelessness and lack of effort, which would not be tolerated.)

How do we do this:

Motivation: Bengtsson, Lau, and Passingham, 2009 found that when individuals are motivated there is a higher level of activation in the anterior paracingulate cortex, lateral prefrontal and orbitofrontal cortex in response to errors compared to those less motivated. It was argued that motivation to do well leads to treating errors as being in conflict with one’s ideals for oneself.

Errors in the classroom should become acceptable in the sense that students should not be afraid to make them, but a high level of motivation needs to be maintained in the classroom so that students view them as something that need to be rectified.

Multiple testing: allow individuals to rectify their mistakes

Desirable difficulties: challenge students; just because they don’t succeed at first do not mean it is a bad process.


In terms of teacher training is not as vitally important that teachers learn from the mistakes they make?

It seems (at times) that we expect teachers to be constantly perfect at their jobs (For example, scripting a lesson for a teacher to read to the class). In any line of work we have to accept that human error will occur, and it is how individuals deal with this error that is important, not that they made it.

That being said, how much of a risk do we want teachers to be taking? If it is important for teachers to learn from mistakes do we leave them to make them? Possibly a way to deal with this is through the use of mentoring, new teachers could learn through the mistakes more experienced teachers have made previously in their careers.

Overall I see negative knowledge as an important concept, and definitely believe that more research needs to be undertaken to understand how it can fit into a classroom setting.

Any Thoughts?

Charter Schools (week 7)

In Uncategorized on March 9, 2011 at 2:43 PM

Following Megan’s talk on the Finnish school system,a discussion arose of what we expect from our teachers and the general consensus was that schools (and individual teachers) should be responsible for learning (as shown in the Finish system).

I decided to research the system further and (cutting a long story short) came to the conclusion of many articles that the system is culturally bound, leading to a high amount of difficulty if we were to chose to implement it here in the UK.

I therefore decided to search for systems that used this ethos and were implemented in cultures more closely resembling our own (in terms of education). Linked to the BBC article mentioned in Megan’s BLOG (and speech) was a report on charter schools in the US.

The Education commission of the states describes Charter schools as:

“semi-autonomous public schools, founded by educators, parents, community groups or private organizations that operate under a written contract with a state, district or other entity. This contract, or charter, details how the school will be organized and managed, what students will be taught and expected to achieve, and how success will be measured. Many charter schools enjoy freedom from rules and regulations affecting other public schools, as long as they continue to meet the terms of their charters. Charter schools can be closed for failing to satisfy these terms”

Similarities between charter schools and public schools:

  • All funds come from tax revenues
  • Not allowed to select students (if more students apply than places a lottery is held)
  • Have to participate in state testing
  • State and federal accountability

The Similarities between Charter schools and Private schools

  • Fees based (payed by government per student they enroll – given slightly less than public schools, leading to increased class sizes)
  • can compete for students
  • autonomous management: teacher contracts, curriculum, disciplinary strategies are all decided by the school itself .
  • can part of a chain of schools (e.g. KIPP)

Research on charter schools.

There have been research that has shown both positive and negative effects of charter schools.


Florida (Sass, 2004): Studied Longitudinal data, found that although charters are below in terms of achievement in their first year, they match public schools by their second. Competition form charter schools was associated to improved scores in neighboring  public school test scores.

New York (Hoxby, 2009): Compared students who applied for charter schools; those who ‘won’ the placement lottery and those who didn’t. It was found that indivduals who entered charter schools 3 points higher than counterpart for each year they spend in it. There was also a 7% higher probability that they would gain a dipolma by age 20 for each year they had spent in the school.

There are other examples of state research including:

Arizona (Solomon, Park & Garcia, 2001), Texas (Hanushek, Kain & Rivkin, 2002),

Whole US (Hoxby, 2004): compared reading and math proficiency of charter school students and their peers in neighboring public schools. It was found that compared to students in the nearest regular public school, charter students are 4% more likely to be proficient in reading and 2% more likely in math, on their state exams. Compared to students in nearest public school with similar racial composition this increases to 5% in reading & 3% in math.

(Greene, Forster & Winters, 2003): ‘Untargeted’ charter schools (serving general population) were compared to their closest neighboring regular public schools in 11 states over one year. It was found that charter schools outperformed public schools by 0.08 standard deviations in maths and 0.04 SD in reading. (To put this in perspective, for the average student (50th percentile) that is an increase of 3 percentile points in math and 2 in reading.)


North Carolina (Bifulco and Ladd, 2004): estimated the impact of charter schools on students in charter schools and in nearby traditional public schools.  They found that students make considerably smaller achievement gains in charter schools than they would have in public schools.

CREDO report: Charter school progress over 16 states was compared to regular public school through the use of a  ‘Virtual twin’ (an average obtained from the collection of students in public schools who match their demographic). 2403 charter schools were measured and it was found that 46% have gains that do not significantly differ from the average growth expected in public schools, 17% showed significant gains above and the remaining 37% showed significant gains below expected growth.

Hoxby questioned the methodology used in the CREDO report stating that a statistical error caused the methodology used by the report to be biased.

Teacher burnout: criticisms have arose from teachers unions that the turnover of teachers is too high and the demand put on the teachers within the charter school system places a short time-frame on their careers within the schools.

My Thoughts

  • Positive effects are attributed to the stable characteristics across charter schools: longer school year, longer school day. Are the effects due to an improved system? Or is it just that more time=more learning opportunities?
  • There is so much variance in the quality of charter schools that it seems hard to summarize the overall effect. Though the schools have some similarities, they are free to teach in which ever way they please, allocating resources that they deem appropriate.
  • Also charter schools only account for 3% of the population going to school in the US – what about the other 97%? A lot of scrutiny has been placed on charter schools without an in-depth look into the public schools they are being compared with.
  • Do test scores provide the whole picture? – students are still going to/being entered into charter schools even though on standardised tests they perform below the average. Maybe charter schools provide more valuable commodities for parents. For example, the feeling of community and the safety it brings.
  • Teacher burnout: From the literature I have read, the level of commitment required of teachers in a charter school seems like a good thing. The argument that the lifespan of teacher is too small I believe shows the attitude towards education. If we want education to improve, the best teachers need to be employed. If they are not achieving the standards set then they are removed. It no longer becomes about how long you have taught for, but how successful you are on a year-to-year basis.

Overall I think charter schools are a mixed bag. I believe that some states (e.g. New York) have a high quality system of charter schools which allow pupils to succeed. States that have been shown to have poor charter schools (e.g. North Carolina) should analyse the systems used as a way of improving the education offered (that being said, procedures that work in one state may not work in another). I believe that pushing for the inclusion of charter schools as the main form of education establishment in the US too quickly may lead to lots of poor and mediocre charters. In terms of the UK, there is a lot to be learnt from this research and I do not see why charter school models could not be implemented or trialled in the UK once the foundations are strengthened in the US.

Any thoughts?

Believe! (week 6)

In Uncategorized on March 7, 2011 at 1:43 AM

Having talked about teacher cognition in my previous BLOG posts I thought I would look more closely into teacher beliefs.

Cohen & Ball (1990) observed elementary school maths teachers going through/experiencing policy change. In particular they were interested to observe how individual reacted to the change…

they observed that

  • teachers interpretations of policy were diverse
  • they did change in response to policy, but reframed it in terms of pre-existing ideas & practices, this resulted in a mishmash of old and new practices within the classroom.

Other research into teacher beliefs and practice

Carpenter et al (1989) carried out a quantitative experiment and found associations between beliefs and practices.

20 Teachers were placed in an experimental group whereby they studied a research-based analysis of children’s development of problem-solving skills in addition and subtraction. Although the techniques were never recommended during the course, it was found that teachers in the experimental group taught problem-solving significantly more than those in the control group.

Stipek et al (2001) Twenty-one maths teachers were assessed in both their beliefs and practices related to mathematics.

Findings showed consistent associations between their beliefs and their practices. Teachers’ self-confidence as mathematics teachers was also significantly associated with their students’ self-confidence as mathematical learners

My thoughts/Important things to take from this research:

1) How much do we need to know about a teachers past?

Do we need to know their whole history – previous systems use? how successful they were in implementing them? their beliefs about the new system?
2) Policy change needs to be implemented carefully

We should understand that the past will not just be swept away by teachers – it will form their new practices.

3) Program building – make sure it cannot be interpreted in many different ways

The way new educational techniques pass through government may affect this also. If many departments are involved, different forms of advice may filter through, adding to the confusion.

4) Teachers should be given support to implement new practices

This links to self confident maths teachers resulting in self confident pupils (as shown in Stipek et al.). We need to make sure that teachers are confident in the techniques they are using.

I think the area of teacher beliefs provides some interesting insights on how teachers interpret and use educational material. 3 out the 4 points I have made seem pretty obvious to me.

I would be interested to know what people think about how we can use teachers beliefs when implementing and reviewing educational systems??

Confused.com (week 5)

In Uncategorized on March 1, 2011 at 3:10 AM

Delving deeper into the relm of teacher cognition I have found myself in a state of confusion…so I am going to talk you through my findings and opinions in the hope I become (or you can help me) become less confused!

A Brief(ish) History/Lit Review

Late 60s & early 70s – A change in perspective led to the development of teacher cognition (or teacher thinking) as an area. This change/the problem with educational research before the development I believe is summed up well by this quote from a paper by Shulman & Elstein (1975):

‘research typically sights the problem of how teachers think about their pupils and instructional problems; it concentrates instead on how teachers act or perform in the classroom’ (pg 3)

1980sShavelson & Stern (1981) provided a literature review on teacher pedagogical thoughts, judgements & decisions. They provided a diagrammatic overview (pg 461) which shows the way cognition and classroom performance was being conceptualised. It was no longer linear (as shown in previous research), but a cycle – showing a two-way interaction between thinking and classroom practice. Within this article they also outline the decision model approach (pg 472), something that instigated future concepts I am about to mention.

Elbaz (1981) practical knowledge: a case study and Elbaz previous work in education led her to argue that teachers are not merely a cog in the educational machine, they play a role in shaping the curricula. Practical knowledge research highlighted the inadequacies of previous decision making models. (for a more recent study on the area see Connelly, 1997)

Munby (1982) beliefs: another criticism of the decision making models was that it paid little attention to teachers beliefs. Munby was one of the first researchers to argue that beliefs should be given more attention. Drawing on previous research, he pointed out that beliefs, once established, can be highly resistant to change – even in the face of evidence.

ISATTInternational Study Association on Teachers and Teaching was founded in 1983 from the expansion of teacher cognition as an area of research. (No real point to be made here! Just adds to my point that the field was continuing to grow!)

In a literature review by Clark & Peterson (1986) teacher thinking research was seperated into 3 categories: (1) teacher planning, (2) teacher interactive thoughts & decisions,  and (3) teacher theories and beliefs. The review also critiqued previous research, outlining that most of it had been done using experienced teachers in the USA. It was suggested that future research be done longitudinally and with novice teachers as well.

Shulman (1986) – pedagogical content knowledge (PCK). It implies that teachers transform their subject knowledge into a form that lends itself to teaching and learning

1990s – research began to separate and review articles appeared. Below I have provided links to a few..

Subject Matter knowledge: McDiarmid (1990)

Beliefs: Pajares (1992)

Learning to teach: Carter (1990)

2000s onwards – research has mainly focused on subject specific teacher cognition, with language/grammar seeming to be most represented (see Simon Borg Website for an up to date bibliography on language related research)


Teacher cognition research wasn’t without its criticisms:

Pajares (1992) noted that the term belief was a ‘messy’ concept, that has been defined in many ways. Having looked further into the definition of concepts within the field, it appears that this rings true over other concepts in the area. Table 1.1 in Borg’s book Teacher cognition and language illustates this, showing various definition from papers all describing the same thing.


I think I became confused when researching this topic: firstly, by the amount of variation in language used to describe similar concepts and, secondly, by the thought of What do we want from this research? Is the goal to discover effective teaching? or are we just interested in simply obtaining knowledge about the cognitions involved in teaching? I believe that before we can discover effective teaching we need to have a deep knowledge of teacher cognition.

In terms of the language used, I do accept that there will be variation but I feel that the key terms need to be clearly identified in order aid comparisons between research in the area.

The Future

Teacher cognition is a vital area of research that is still developing (and still needs to).

I think the main question that arose from my research into this topic is how can we use the knowledge obtained over the past 40 years in education/to our advantage when planning curriculums?

Any thoughts?

References for the papers I could not link:

Clark, C. M., and Peterson, P. L. (1986). Teachers’ thought processes. In M. C. Wittrock (ed), Handbook of Research on Teaching (3rd ed., pp. 255-96)

Shulman (1986). Paradigms and research programmes in the study of  teaching: A contemporary perspective. In M. C. Wittrock (ed), Handbook of Research on Teaching (pp. 3-36)

Teacher Cognition (week 4)

In Uncategorized on February 21, 2011 at 3:27 PM

Throughout the module and the BLOGs I have read, the focus seems to be on the application of research based approaches in the classroom and this led me to ask the question of where teachers fit into our educational plans? How do what teachers think, know and believe effect the way they behave in the classroom?

Teacher cognition research examines exactly this…

Kagan (1990) defined teacher cognition as pre- or inservice teachers’ self-reflections; beliefs and knowledge about teaching, students, and content; and awareness of problem-solving strategies endemic to classroom teaching.

Borg, in a introduction to teacher cognition*, outlined what is generally accepted today about the nature of teacher cognition and its relationship to what teachers do:

  • teachers’ cognitions can be powerfully influenced by their own experiences as learners;
  • these cognitions influence what and how teachers learn during teacher education;
  • they act as a filter through which teachers interpret new information and experience;
  • they may outweigh the effects of teacher education in influencing what teachers do in the classroom;
  • they can be deep-rooted and resistant to change;
  • they can exert a persistent long-term influence on teachers’ instructional practices;
  • they are, at the same time, not always reflected in what teachers do in the classroom.
  • they interact bi-directionally with experience (i.e. beliefs influence practices but practices can also lead to changes in beliefs).

(*for a more indepth review of the origins of teacher cognition research, I would recommend the first chaper of Borg book Teacher cognition and language education)

Kagan (1990) crtisised the foundation of research on teaching cognition, referencing Raths & Katz (1985) goldilocks principle she argued about the size of ideas in education & their utility. In particular that some concepts appear to be too small (specific) for reasonable application, whereas others seem to be too large (vague, general, or ambiguous) to be translated into concrete terms.

I am unsure about whether the concept of teacher cognition is too large, as in recent times the area has become segmented into smaller, more focused portions of research. ((For example, Borg (2006) seperated the concept into 3 main themes ((1) cognition and prior language learning experience, (2) cognition and teacher education, and (3) cognition and classroom practice)**)

But they could have become too specific? More research into this is definately needed and I will be blogging on this topic again in my next post.

In terms of the goldilocks principle…should we judge all educational theories in ths way?? I only considered the principle in terms of the instruction given at a classroom level, but it seems perfectly applicable to a theorectical level also.

Any Thoughts or comments?

**also see the previous link to Borgs book Teacher cognition and language education, later chapters outline the segmentation of the concept

‘Creating’ a revolution (week 3)

In Uncategorized on February 14, 2011 at 7:27 PM

Jesse recently posted some videos of Ken Robinson. A man who is adamant that for education to progress, we need to change the stigma of education from an industrialized system to one which promotes creativity (instead of stifling it).

After watching Kens speeches I had one question: How Ken? How can we do this!?

I began at the Sir Ken Robinson website and was disappointed at the lack of research placed behind the concepts he promotes. That being said, there are a few interesting video blogs on hot topics in education such as home schooling…

So undeterred, my search continued and I happened to come across a report released in 1999 by the National Advisory Committee on Creative and Cultural Education, of which Ken Robinson was chairman (NACCCE). Now this report was designed for the goverment use and is a whopping 243 pages long! I would not recommend you read it all. Fortunately for you the report is summarised over 12 pages (pg 6-17). I feel that this is a good starting point to understand the arguement for creatvity in the classroom along with the obsticles that need to be overcome to do so.

From the NACCCE article, I felt that I had enough background knowledge on the situation and how the goverement seemed to be promoting creativity (while really not changing anything!), leading me to search for techiques that promote creativity in the classroom

The first book I came across was Creativity in education, a book Ken Robinson worte the preface for. Page 7/8 Begins to argue that teaching is an art, not a technical exercise. Now I may have misinterpreted this, but to me it seemed like the book was heading in the direction of a non-scientific way of teaching, and seemed confused to what technques to implement. Being of the opinion that creativity could be fostered in the classroom using scientific techiques/a systematic approach I kept searching for validated techniques.

Creativity in Education & Learning: This book provied many examples/references to materials used to promote creativity and below I have briefly outlined two:

Creative problem solving process: developed by Osbourne & Parnes. The steps guide the creative process. They tell you what to do at each immediate step in order to eventually produce one or more creative, workable solutions:

  1. Mess-finding (Objective Finding)- identify goal, wish or challenge
  2. Fact-finding- gather data
  3. Problem-Finding- clarify the problem
  4. Idea-finding- generate ideas
  5. Solution finding (Idea evaluation)- Select & Strengthen solutions
  6. Acceptance-finding (Idea implementation)- Plan for action

A commercial/semi scientific program outlined was deBonos CoRT Thinking program. It is a universal thinking program (so is not specific to creative thought process) and it is aimed at helping children construct their thinking and has been used in the primary school setting in selected schools in the UK for many years.

Now I had found materials used to help promote creative thinking, I researched to see if there are any scales to assess creativity…

Treffingers’ website provides many examples of measuring creativity, and assessments for over 70 such scales are provided on the website. Now I have not read the whole list but it shows that the materials are out there and are available.

In summary – reputable materials & measures are not the issue and promoting creativity in the classroom seems an achieveable goal as we have both the tools to teach and assess creative thought. I went down the route of searching for research and evidence of successful materials as I feel for creativity to be promoted in the classroom, explicit programs need to be implemented alongside the curriculum. I understand that the programs mentioned alone will not solve the creativity problem outlined by Sir Ken Robinson, but provides tangible materials to back a change in educational viewpoint.

Any Thoughts?

Reading comprehension

In Uncategorized on February 13, 2011 at 11:07 PM

Continuing from my last post I asked the question (in the context of reading comprehension):

Why can’t our educational system bring those who have not been to pre-school to the same level as their peers who have?

I believe that that Precision teaching & Direct Instruction could hold the answer.

Direct instruction is a general term for the explicit teaching of a skill-set using lectures or demonstrations of the material.

Precision teaching being a precise and systematic method of evaluating instructional tactics and curricula. They are concepts usually combined but are currently not implemented in UK classrooms.

To understand the situation within education in terms of reading comprehension I suggest that you pick up a copy of one of the following:

Fleisch – Why Johnny can’t read: and what you can do about it

– Why Johnny still can’t read: a new look of the scandal of our schools

Snider   – Myths and misconception of teaching

These (or one of these) will provide you with a good outline of the battle for research based techniques in the area. (A word of caution though, these books are not entirely free of bias so take the message with a pinch of salt)

In terms of research, a major article in support of direct instruction is project follow through – longitudinal research carried out between 1968-1977 involving 700,00 children across the US. It compared 9 different educational models, below is a graph showing the data:

as you can see direct instruction is the only model that shows positive results in all of the measures.

From this evidence it is safe to say that DI appears to be the best model to teach reading comprehension (along with other core subjects) and I would suggest its implementation in the classroom.

In reference to my original question:

I am not saying that implementing Direct Instruction will definitely close the gap between those who have been to pre-school and those who haven’t, but if the optimum teaching model does not work, it places emphasis on pre-school and out of classroom experiences of students.

Any thoughts?