‘Picking-and-Choosing’ for teaching innovation

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I became aware lately that my understanding of cognitive development has become the lens by which I frame everything in which I engage. Not only in schools or with relatives, but with any human interaction: this could be quite boring to people if I am not careful! Perhaps that is a natural affliction for any old professional who sticks with a field. Especially since my field is maths, still a feared, or at least a weird subject.

This cognitive outlook is, due in my case, to 24 years work on one of the Cognitive Acceleration projects, CAME, and to the previous 18 years of teaching in London schools during which I was always looking for keys to unlock children’s minds, and to help solve teachers’ predicaments.

It is also due to aging, with which comes the need to summarize and synthesize experience, to find what is common in diverse fields of interest. So I seem to fall back on the cognitive, or thinking levels, in puzzling out Trump and the ultra-nationalists in Europe, and why Africa and Arabia keep stumbling half a century after independence, and why our young keep drowning in the Mediterranean sea. It all seems related to the cognitive levels of governments, the media, and traditional society, alongside nasty power politics and greed. Similarly it aligns with the progress of the rapidly expanding third industrial revolution of the Nano-technology, Biotechnology, Information Technology, and Cognitive Technology (NBIC) quartet.

Back to earth and the Let’s Think Approach which seems much more tangible and manageable than nano and artificial intelligence. Let’s look at how varied and wide this approach really is. It actually means different things to different people, and has something to offer to children/students, to teachers/tutors, to curriculum/assessment, and to cognition, education and leadership research. It seems a good idea to list things in some of these domains, meaning it is advantageous to pick and choose when working with the approach:

For pupils and students of all ages:

  • A growing set of specimen classroom thinking activities. Each of these allow pupils across a wide range of ability, to reconstruct, and adjust their minds to key concepts in key school subjects.
  • The same activities include challenging interactive scenes that go deeper and wider than the concepts covered by developing reasoning powers, which is another way of saying raising general intelligence, i.e. empowering learners to work things out for themselves from scratch, or to handle pre-packaged ideas critically and collaboratively.

For teachers and tutors:

  • A way of teaching that combines handling given worthwhile content with particular pupils’ engagement and collaboration. The specimen lesson becomes a skeletal script for a classic play which ends up different each time ‘performed’ by a different cast/class. Often different things emerge in the classroom to the delight of the teacher and the pupils. The teacher orchestrates or directs, and pupils discover and formulate things in steps, or are left puzzled and thinking further on their own till next time they meet.
  • This way of teaching can only be assimilated or adopted by the teacher through sessions with other teachers in which they work on the same activities as learners, putting themselves in the position of their pupils. Tutors who organize these interactive collaborative PD sessions act in the same orchestrating way the teachers are expected to try and improvise in their own classrooms. What emerges in the PD sessions is again different each time, and fruitful to the teachers and tutors alike.

For curriculum development

  • A way of handling the current, evolving curriculum in a cognitive developmental trajectory. This addresses the fact that the traditional or transmission based force-feeding of pre-packaged knowledge often prevents the development of pupils own powers of thinking. So activities need to be created, or modified to ensure engagement of pupils in reconstructing and deconstructing the formalized parts of the curriculum.
  • This way of handling the curriculum seems only accessible to educators who combine classroom practice using specimen lessons, or similar activities, with theoretical interests along Piagetian/new-Piagetian and Vygotskyan/social constructivist lines. That is because of the need for the match between the demand of any particular classroom task, with the range of ability in the range of age group. This is different from interactive pedagogy, and relies on the subtle grading of difficulty of any step of thinking. In my experience these colleagues may be intuitive, with innate dispositions, as much as interested in academic studies as classroom practice.

For research and development 

  • Long-term and lasting add-on effects of CA programmes in a single school subject on pupils’ achievement across subjects has been rigorous since the 1980s. But it does require a lot of dedication, time, and skill, since one needs to look 3 years further down the road from having some significant work with particular learners, while much changes occur meanwhile for the students concerned and their schools . The time and funding are sadly lacking in the current climate of quick-fix, headline-motivated, business-practices-inspired official requirements of educational innovations, with conclusions of variable trustworthiness. Few people are like Michael Shayer, who perseveres with analysis of trends and effects cognitive advanced statistical methods since 1974, before starting the CA research.
  • Currently Michael Shayer is continuing to work with James Flynn on data for the continuing significant decline of thinking ability for the higher quartile of ability in the advanced countries. He is also working with Andreas Demetriou on data for newer models of intelligence. There is much to be done in school to measure short term signals following CA work, that are correlated with longer term effects. But the official spot-light is hardly on such matters now, while all agree that the third industrial revolution. (These names are worth looking up online.)
  • Then there is the emergence of the field of leadership, spanning a wide range of skills, predispositions and models in the classroom( students and teachers), PD and school levels. This too is bound with sensitivity to cognitive levels and cognitive developments of students and teachers and the relationships between content, ability and modes of collaboration.

No sane person could engage with all of these domains of work in the CA /Let’s Think approach. And they are differently relevant and attractive to different people, but any one domain is strongly and organically linked to all the others, with the individual classroom activity at the base of a sort-of hierarchy! So picking and choosing is best – which is important to you in your context?