Teaching Learners to Notice (2)

Royce Sadler discussed assessment practices in a presentation at the University of Canberra today.

In his introduction Royce noted his concerns with feedback and suggested that we must think differently about how to support learners.

Royce’s presentation was based on a late draft of a book chapter.

His first points were about formative and summative assessment and Michael Scriven’s work. In his presentation Royce contemplated the assessment of complex works. (See Royce’s 1989 paper on some of these issues.)

He discussed the characteristics of feedback and noted that it entails “our reactions to the quality of students’ work that includes marks, comments, and discussions.” It is “information we give that we hope will help”.

Royce argued that feedback is labour intensive and intellectually demanding. We know that students will receive our comments cold away from our presence. This places an emotive load on the teacher and raises as an issue our sensitivity to ‘student as a person’.   Royce suggests that this is a high investment of labour and has a low return. Some students appear to have a recurring issue that remains unchanged by feedback.

Royce noted the work from the 1960s onwards research on feedback (for a summary, see, for example, Royce’s 2010 paper Beyond feedback: Developing student capability in complex appraisal).

Some students focus on marks rather than the feedback they receive and dilute their responsibility for improvement. Some students make strategic decisions about satisfying a unit’s minimumrequirements.

Royce noted that the literature identifies some basic feedback guidelines:

  • What was good.
  • What was weak and where it was weak.
  • What could have been better.
  • Future practice.

Royce observed that “feedback is about telling … that is the problem”. He discussed this dilemma and noted its roots in the transmission model of education. He proposed an alternative model in which teachers were the bridge in students’ journeys from what they know to incorporating information they did not know to develop their knowledge.

Royce addressed assessment’s role in learning. In his 1989 paper he argued that works of high quality require a reference. Thus a student who is developing his or her work is able to compare quality of the work she or he is producing.  He suggested that competent learners know how to monitor development of their work.  They are able to attend to their work as a whole and to small scale items that need attention. High quality producers move between these two spaces effortlessly.

This led Royce to discuss the characteristics of expertise. These include:

  • Preliminary tentative ideas of goals and strategies
  • Then clarity through noticing the things that matter.
  • Proceed instinctively, self-questioning with subtlety and precision.
  • Able to sense weakness and incompleteness.
  • Able to self identify mistakes, detect inconsistencies, and lapses in continuity.
  • Able to sense the users of material.
  • Exhibit contingency management.
  • Have a personal repertoire of moves.

Royce argued that ‘traditional’ assessment practices require the assessor to judge a problem, repair the response and give advice. Yet these are a student’s responsibility.  He argued forcefully that Noticing is a key to student flourishing.

In developing his argument about noticing, Royce pointed to Carl Bereiter and Marlene Scradamalia’s (1993) Surpassing Ourselves: An Inquiry into the Nature and  Implications of Expertise; Bruner’s discussion of concept acquisition; Wittgenstein, and Polanyi amongst others.  He referred too to Hubert and Stuart Dreyfus’s (2005) discussion of expertise:

Contrary to the claims of knowledge engineers, we argue that expertise in general, and medical expertise in particular, cannot be captured in rule-based expert systems, since expertise is based on the making of immediate, unreflective situational responses; intuitive judgment is the hallmark of expertise. Deliberation is certainly used by experts, if time permits, but it is done for the purpose of improving intuition, not replacing it. The best way to avoid mistakes is to take responsibility for them when they occur, rather than try to prevent them by foolproof rules.

Royce mentioned Paul Meehl’s work on configural seeing in the context of expertise too.

Royce concluded his presentation with a discussion of feedback in relation to Lev Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development (“the distance between the actual developmental level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance, or in collaboration with more capable peers”). This led to Royce sharing a story about his own development as a teacher learning through practice.

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Writing a paper

20101103 UCT Activity Theory

Executive Function and Cognitive Reserve: Effortful, Focussed Attention

I listened to Radio National’s All in the Mind program yesterday.

The topic was the bilingual brain.

The program host, Natasha Mitchell, spoke with Judith Kroll, Janet Werker and Ellen Bialystok about their research into bilingualism. Natasha met Judith, Janet and Ellen at the 2011 American Association of the Advancement of Science meeting in Washington D.C

I found the program fascinating partly because of my own interest in language (stimulated by a Grammar School immersion in Latin, Welsh, French and German) and partly because of their discussion of executive function and cognitive reserve. There is a transcript of the program and a detailed blog post by Natasha.

I was particularly interested in a segment of the program about executive function. Natasha asked Ellen about the cognitive benefits that children and adults gain from being bilingual. Ellen responded:

The cognitive benefits relate to this cognitive system loosely called the executive function or the executive control system. It’s a set of abilities that allows you to perform tasks that require effortful, focussed attention, especially when there’s some conflict or competition. So because bilinguals have to do this all the time when they’re speaking one of their languages and preventing the other language from intruding, it seems that that constant effort and use of that system fortifies it.

In a 2007 paper, Ellen observed that:

The executive functions are basic to all cognitive life – they control attention, determine planning and categorising, and inhibit inappropriate responding. They are normally considered to reside in areas of the frontal cortex, a region of the brain that is the last to develop in childhood and the first to deteriorate with ageing. Speculatively, these executive functions are recruited by bilinguals to control attention to the two languages systems in order to maintain fluent performance in one of them. The massive practice that is involved in that application leads to the hypothesis that these processes are bolstered for bilinguals, creating systems that are more durable, more efficient and more resilient. Thus, for bilinguals, control over the executive functions develops earlier in childhood and declines later in older adulthood.

Ellen’s discussion sent me off thinking about the creation of learning environments in sport and some of the research into attention and expertise.

In addition to contemplating the processes necessary to control two language systems for a bilingual (attention, inhibition, monitoring and switching) I wondered how coaches might develop athletes’ executive function. I think that the acquisition of a second language offers remarkable opportunities to develop effortful, focussed attention.

There are some intriguing long term issues too. Ellen discussed cognitive reserve with Natasha.

This reserve “is a set of activities that people engage in that have shown to be powerful in protecting cognition as we age”. It struck me forcefully that models of long term athlete development and flourishing might want to consider how learning environments can be enriched by language (and classical music).

It would be fascinating to plan a program for athletes that included active rest around language acquisition and musical appreciation. I wonder how such a program would be described. Transformation?

Such a program might shed light on non-specific training and transfer too.

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Lost in Translation

False Relations and Muscle Memory

Emma Ayres introduces some fascinating themes in her Classic FM breakfast program. Two days ago I was listening to a Thomas Tallis composition (Honor, virtus et potestas) on her show after which she discussed false relations:

A false-relation is nothing more than a chromatic contradiction between two notes in a single chord or in different parts of adjacent chords. Within the confines of academic tonal theory this is considered a “syntax error” but it has been used throughout the ages by composers for expressive effect; a sort of a musical poetic license.

My take on what she was saying was that the listener can be surprised or have attention changed by false relations.

With my interest in the links between different kinds of performance I was intrigued to listen to Emma Ayres’ discussion of muscle memory during the same program. She was exploring ideas around how one returns to a musical instrument after decades away from it. She noted the research in sport on practice, expertise and its application to music.

Her juxtaposition in the same program of false relations and muscle memory prompted me to think about the guided discovery possibilities of play and the structured learning opportunities provided in a developmental and personal training program.

I do think the lessons we can learn from composition and performance of polyphonic music can help us explore individual difference. I wondered if acts of creativity or inspiration in sport might be a form of false relation. Contemplating the potential of muscle memory has important implications for how we plan for and support motor learning.

I realise I need to go back to Edward Thorndike‘s work now to look at his theory of learning. In particular:

  • Readiness
  • Use and disuse
  • Belongingness

What a surprising journey one radio program can initiate!

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Two men on a Northwest Aircraft

Stongfjorden Songlag