How We Think about Teaching Molds Learning

The Register Guard (Eugene, OR), October 28, 2013 | Go to article overview

How We Think about Teaching Molds Learning


Byline: GUEST VIEWPOINT By Edward Kame'enui

Anyone who has ever built a house, or a chicken coop for that matter, understands the usefulness of a building plan. Having a good idea of what a structure should look like provides a vision of a successful finished product. You'd expect that this same level of thoughtfulness would go into designing the curricula in our public schools, but unfortunately "the architecture of instruction" is not something that most schools think about - or at least not in the right way.

What is the architecture of instruction? Technically, it's translating established principles of learning into plans for designing and building instructional materials and activities that have a high likelihood of ensuring student learning. In plain English, this means designing a plan for teaching based on solid scientific evidence.

Plenty of educational research informs the instruction in our schools, but it's not often the best research that rules. In many cases, effective educational practice is clouded by a number of things:

Research may be difficult to translate into practice for teachers to use.

Influential commercial publishers are often focused on what sells, rather than on what really works based on rigorous research.

Schools do not have the means to properly evaluate educational research or instructional materials.

Just as medical researchers seek interventions to help prevent sick patients, we look for interventions to help struggling learners - students who are not at the same academic level as their peers. And as with medicine, preventive programs are often more effective than those that treat symptoms. Take reading, for example - which, by the way, is a complex and unnatural act. Studies show that a child who has been taught to decipher our writing system by the end of first grade faces very good chances (88 percent) of being able to read by the end of third grade. Meanwhile, students who struggle with the alphabet and reading at the end of first grade face the exact opposite: They have an 87 percent chance of failing to read by the end of third grade. Most kids require some form of instruction to learn to read, because it just doesn't come naturally.

When it comes to struggling learners, there are social, economic, parental and other factors at work and pinpointing the problem can be difficult. Additionally, once children fall behind, they face what I call the "tyranny of time": They must learn more content in less time to catch up to their grade-level peers. …

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