Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Mission: Possible

Given my recent work on revising our grading system where I work, I've been following Paul Cancellieri's posts about ABC-I grading over on his blog Scripted Spontaneity. In his recent update on his grading experiment, Paul mentions the benefit of engaging in discussion with his colleagues, even when they aren't necessarily seeing eye-to-eye on matters. I've also been skimming through other blogs, lately, many of which I've discovered by jumping into the "Twitterverse" and developing my "Personal Learning Network". One such post that really got me thinking was Gary Stager's updated review of Daniel Pink's "Whole New Mind", entitled - rather provocatively - "The Worst Book of the 21st Century (an updated review)".

Although I have not read "A Whole New Mind", it seemed to me, upon reading Stager's critique, that he was "throwing the baby out with the bathwater" with regard to neuroscience and education. Although I can certainly understand many elements of Stager's criticism of Pink's work - including, in particular, his apparent gross over-simplification of neuroscience and psychology - I was stimulated to leave a comment on his post because I believe that neuroscience does have the potential to offer great insight into learning, and that improving our understanding of the neural mechanisms of learning will help even more teachers to realize the importance of engaging in best practice. I continued, though, in the "devil's advocate" line of thinking, and came upon this YouTube video, embedded below, from Professor Daniel Willingham, a cognitive psychologist at the University of Virginia. I encourage you to take a few minutes to view it.

As you might imagine, I disagree - with respect - with Prof. Willingham that behavioral research is sufficient in educational research. I appreciate that he does point out that there is a lot of material available that makes tenuous - at best - links between neuroscience and education, and that there are some folks out there that are doing the meticulous work necessary to understand the many-layered and complex relationship between the brain and the mind. But I must agree with E. O. Wilson, who I'm delightedly discovering through my current reading of his text "Consilience", that establishing that relationship between the brain and mind is, quite possibly, the most important scientific problem in front of us to solve. Studying the brain and applying that knowledge to education may not result in the development of new methods - though it might - but it has certainly been true in the past, and is likely to be in the future, that a better understanding of how a process works (in this case, learning) leads to improvements in the manifestations and results of that process.

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