Magazine article Teacher Librarian

Invention, Transfer, Efficiency, and Innovation: 21st-Century Learning Abilities Can Be Taught

Magazine article Teacher Librarian

Invention, Transfer, Efficiency, and Innovation: 21st-Century Learning Abilities Can Be Taught

Article excerpt

The research reports of Daniel L. Schwartz and colleagues (Schwartz & Martin, 2004; Schwartz, Sears, & Bransford, 2005) investigate strategies that produce learners who are able to compete in a global world. Can such qualities of inventiveness (developing novel ideas and being creative], transfer (applying learning to new situations], efficiency (doing better and more work in less time], and innovation (developing new ways for solving problems] be taught, or are they reserved for a special class of people with innate abilities? Schwartz's initial experiments indicate uncommon success with common learners. Standardized tests, as they exist right now, do not identify the desirable abilities.

At the beginning of teaching a learning experience, Schwartz asks students to manipulate data on the lesson topic to come up with a formula or an explanation of relationships. In other words, the students are challenged to invent explanations that might apply to many data sets. They are challenged to think before they encounter the usual plug-and-chug math. After this invention exercise, where "right" answers are not necessarily discovered, students are taught the methods that some experts have used to solve the problem at hand. Compared to a control group that learns just the plug-and-chug math formula, the more inventive thinkers are superior when given novel problems to solve. In other words, systems thinking, higher-level thinking, and creativity become a part of the inventive thinkers' learning from the outset, and it serves them well.

Schwartz explains other experiments where efficiency and innovation are taught within one learning experience. Most learning experiences currently concentrate on efficiency: coming up with right answers using recognized techniques. Schwartz warns, however, that these desirable learning characteristics--if really valued by society--must be assessed by using methods different from current standardized tests. He also states that such higher-level techniques can be taught to learners in any discipline, not just those in mathematics.

Schwartz challenges educators to trust their instincts about what good education is, in spite of the emphasis of a required test. Although this requires a leap of faith and some risk taking, we see results of current measures as a piece of the kind of learner we want in the 21st century. Best of all, our inventive learners do as well on the standardized tests as those taught in the traditional plug-and-chug way. The risk is worth it.

Action steps for the teacher-librarian when teaching alone or in collaboration with the classroom teacher follow:

At the beginning of a lesson, ask students to manipulate data on a topic to come up with an explanation, a formula, a way of seeing relationships--a preliminary invention of ideas. …

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