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How People Learn - Chapter 2

This chapter evaluates the ideas and thought processes that go through in an expert’s mind in order to better understand the idea of education and teaching. It then correlates that with effective teachers (noting that expertise in a field does not make you an expert teacher in that field), a nd how understanding ‘pedagogical content knowledge’ is of upmost importance for effective teaching. In short, we need to understand how the students we are teaching are thinking and what knowledge they bring to the table in order to allow them to understand new content. This ability to understand new content however comes with a condition. In order for a student to truly understand new material, he must understand the breadth and depth of his own knowledge. It is the path to this understanding that takes students from being novices to experts. As the chapter so brilliantly illustrates, experts use to be those who knew all the answers, or could at least fake to do so, but that was flawed in its very nature. Experts are those who continue to acknowledge that they do not know everything in their field, but that they will continue to understand and improve their knowledge, becoming better and better with every passing day.

The proposition is a logical one. If we educate our students on the vast knowledge that is out there, and allow them to understand how much they know, it will become a lot easier for them to assimilate new content with the knowledge they have become aware of in their minds. However, there is a major step in the process which I feel this chapter skims over. That concept is mentioned once by the use of the word ‘proud’. Mentioned towards the end, it illustrates the model of an expert as an accomplished novice who is ‘proud’, and it goes on. Perhaps the topic will be covered later, but to me this is the most important part of this reading. It is the motivation of a student to learn that will lead him to desire to learn more. You can teach students about how much they really know, and you can teach them how much knowledge really is out there, so they get an idea of how many more things they will learn, but if they are not motivated, all else fails. Motivation is one of the key ingredients to learning. It is what separates those who are smart, from those who are truly brilliant. So, to get to the point, what gets us motivated, or proud of what we have accomplished? We are social beings, and in the short few words that I have left, I will argue that it is those around us. A study a few decades ago (and forgive me for a lack of a citation) told 2nd and 3rd grade teachers about a few gifted students that were in their classes. These students were actually picked completely at random and not genuinely gifted. However, after the professors were informed of this, these small numbers of students now received a significant larger part of the professors’ attention, and through the course of their education, went on to be a lot smarter than the average. In my opinion, it is this that matters. Students need to be recognized for their efforts even if they are in vain, because it is this motivation and pride in ones efforts that will get a student to go from memorization, to the true understanding of knowledge, and the ever-lasting thirst to learn more.


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