Stuart's Spectacular Students

This is dedicated to my amazing students. The goal is for each and every one of them to feel unstoppable by the time they walk out of the classroom door for the final time in May. This chronicles their journey; their own Chronicles of Self-Actualization.

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Saturday, October 06, 2007

Knowledge IS NOT Power

I've always had problems with the statement that, "Knowledge is Power"
I agree that it is POTENTIAL power, but only that. According to Bloom's Taxonomy of Thinking, knowledge is the LOWEST level of thinking, and from my experience, I've seen this to be true. (getting Amanda to think at higher levels)

Getting my introduction to what teaching is at a private high school in Ohio, I had a senior getting an A- in my class without even trying. She was so skilled at memorizing, and the class being American History, that I pulled her into the hall and told her she could only get two grades in my class:

"Ms. Wong, either earn an A+ in my class (meaning she would at least have to try)
or you will earn an F. You're operating at this level without trying. My job is to see how high your level can be."

She asked if I was allowed to do this. I responded with, "As far as you know."

She did get an A+, but more importantly I changed my tests from testing memorization to testing their understanding of how one event led to and was related to another. (paying attention to how her brain recognizes information)

So from what I have seen, knowledge is just the start, or foundation, of real mental power. Take into account that spelling and most tests only measure a student's ability to memorize, and NOT problem solve, and you see where I'm heading; we are producing a nation of educated unable-to-problem solve-and -think-for-themselves idiots. (seeing how her strategic brain network works with the new knowledge)

And if you think I'm being too harsh and want to rush to defend our great country in a non-thinking knee jerk reaction, understand that although test scores are going UP in this country, they are going DOWN when compared against other countries (we are now in the LOWER half of industrialized countries on problem solving tests).

During my first year of teaching I heard myself telling students, "Memorize nothing, understand everything". Now I know why. Take a look at this, an excerpt from a book I'm reading called, What We Owe Children: The subordination of teaching to learning:

"Teachers are those people who take knowledge down from the shelves where it is displayed and hand it out to students who...need only memory in order to receive it. (Tapping into their affective brain networks, or motivation, before attempting to teach them)

This process is conceied as the way the student comes to knowledge. The key to this view - and to the whole traditional way of teaching - is the tacit belief that memory is a power of the mind...

La Rochefoucauld said around 1660....'Man gladly complains of his memory, but not of his intelligence.'

Was he correct in his implication that memory is in fact a weak power of the mind?

To see that it is we need to go no farther than to look at what is done by teachers in order to insure that their students retain the knowledge handed down to them. (Constantly asking them what is the "So What?", the importance of what this knowledge is - TO THEM)
Teachers give a lesson, thinking they are passing knowledge on to their students, but since they do not actually know whether they have succeeded, they proceed to give the student exercises.

Why?....So that what they themselves cannot do, the exercises will do: get the knowledge securely into their students. (Seeing that they're not ready - the lesson has no meaning for them - YET!)

But exercises usually are not sufficient, so teachers give homework. What does homework do? WHat a teacher cannot do...(during the school day)

It does not end there either, There are also reviews. On Monday morning the class reviews what was done the week before. In January...what was done last term. And next year what was done the previous year. ...Reviewing and testing goes on for years because know that many of their students do not retain the knowledge....

(taken from pages 18-19 of the book)

***So I ask where is this POWER in "knowledge", when knowledge simply consists of facts and rules to be memorized.

What's NOT done is focusing on the FUNCTIONAL ABILITY of the student to USE bits of knowledge to connect neurons and form ideas.

Ideas that lead to possible solutions to problems they ARE NOT GIVEN the answers to.

My own children asked their mother if I knew anything, because every time they asked me something I said, "What do you think". (getting them fired up - one-by-one - by helping them each make meaning of this knowledge)

I do the same with my students. I want them to THINK ~
(and sensing they are ready to really begin learning)
~ to UNDERSTAND or MAKE MEANING of facts and rules (all but four got an A on yesterday's spelling test. which test their ability to memorize. FOr these students this test can only serve to build their confidence, but not their brains

~ to be able to APPLY this understanding to solve similar problems

~ to ANALYZE why and how this information makes sense by being able to break it down into it's functioning parts

~ to be able to SYNTHESIZE these parts or put them back together to solve a seemingly unrelated problem

~ and be able to EVALUATE their own thinking and work to determine their own performance, or grade (and hitting it hard now that I have them fully engaged)

**This last step I feel is what truly frees them as independent learners and thinkers, enabling them to step away from the parent-teacher-boss iconic to think and act for themselves, following what is right for them, according to what feels right to them. (and finally being able to celebrate real success)

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