Sunday, February 19, 2012

Thinking Fast and Slow in Education- Part 1

I am currently reading Thinking Fast and Slow by Nobel prize winner Kahneman (see a book review here). I am still processing some of the information (or thinking slowly...) but I see some obvious implications for teaching and technology. The first is the positive bias- we almost always underestimate the challenge and overestimate our capacity, the second is our lack of ability to intuitively understand statistical properties of the world around us.
In  1999 I saw this first hand in a classroom. In a summer school based on Bob Calfee's WordWork we had one kindergarten teacher who claimed to have gone through the eight-week program in three weeks. We were surprised but she claimed that all of her students have a solid grasp of all short vowel CVC words and are ready to advance beyond it. How do you know? we inquired, she replied that she has been observing her students being successful in making words. Since we assessed students in every classroom on a biweekly rotation we soon had some results from the classroom. Only four out of 18 students could actually produce the patterns reliably without repeated teacher cues. In essence the teacher saw her best students succeed and conjectured that all of her students could.
This is the reason that we should have an emphasis on formal assessment points in which we can get an honest estimate of what our students can do- not what we believe or want them to. Often I hear teachers saying - I know this student can do a lot better - yet they didn't. Now, sometimes it is true and due to some setting event, then a retest is in order. But if a student is consistently under-performing in a well designed assessment opportunity- then we have simply overestimated their capacity based on effort, our support for their work etc.

In technology and especially project based learning that is emerging as a major component in the (welcome) push for 21st century skills we need to make sure that we have a solid way to assess achievement that circumvents our biases and gains a real windows to what students can do.
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