Monday, April 6, 2009

Practical Skills & Application

The Architecture of Learning Instructional Design Model recognizes four cognitively-distinct processes: experience, comprehension, elaboration, application. These four represent learning’s core processes—processes that optimize each other’s contribution to learning. (A fifth process, intention, involves responding to current, “real-world” circumstances with previously learned content and/or skills.)

In Teaching for Wisdom, Intelligence, Creativity, and Success, Sternberg, Jarvin, and Grigorenko (2009) identify “four types of different thinking skills: memory, analytical skills, creative skills, and practical skills” (p. 19). Comparison between these thinking types and the core processes of the Architecture of Learning provide valuable insights.

“Practical skills” comprise knowledge students need “in living their own life” (p. 47). Practical skills can be applied to “real world situations” (p. 47). Verb phrases associated with practical skills include apply, connect to real life, identify examples, translate, show its benefit in different contexts, predict, design, problem-solve, implement, and advise.

Application, as defined in Architecture of Learning, is practice within the instructional setting that enables the use of understandings or skills within a widened or new (i.e., outside the instructional) setting. It provides the practice that constructs proficiency. Many of the verbs associated with Sternberg, Jarvin, and Grigorenko’s “practical skills” relate to activities that engage students in Architecture of Learning’s application.

This connection between practical skills and application is similar to those of memory and experience, analytical skills and comprehension, and creative skills and elaboration. These remarkable parallels reinforce beneficial insights.

First, authentic learning results from the combination and interplay of multiple ways of thinking. By authentic learning, I mean learning that results in understandings that can be recalled and applied to thinking or action within real-world scenarios. This depth of learning is rarely measured by achievement tests, so I’m not suggesting such learning will raise test scores. However, the sequence of both models suggests that mere experience or mere memorization is insufficient for quality learning. Both models engage students in thinking through and using new knowledge to construct full, authentic learning.

Second, great teaching is rarely spontaneous. Yes, it happens from time to time, and there are gifted teachers who know how to engage students effectively, but successful teaching usually requires planning. An instructional design model, such as Architecture of Learning, that requires a focus on learning’s core processes can guide teachers as they develop instruction. Such planning creates the conditions for optimal learning.

We need to revolutionize the way we teach many school subjects. A recent study found that 60% of college students show symptoms of anxiety as they approach mathematics. If they understood mathematical concepts to the point where they could use the concepts in thinking about and addressing real-world scenarios, the anxiety could be replaced with confidence. Attention to teaching that fosters authentic learning holds the key to such transformation.

Sternberg, R. J, Jarvin, L. & Grigorenko, E. L. (2009). Teaching for wisdom, intelligence,creativity, and success. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

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