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10. Conclusions

        The past 25 years have seen major progress in human learning.  This book's intention is to review most current scientific data to see how to get students to understand, what is effective teaching, and what are conditions of good learning environments.  Research in 6 areas has been most relevant:

        - Role of prior knowledge
        - Early brain development
        - Learning as an active process
        - Learning for understanding
        - Adaptive expertise
        - Learning as a time consuming endeavor

As well as the following 5 aspects relevant to learning:
        - Social and cultural contexts
        - Transfer
        - Subject matter uniqueness
        - Assessment
        - Technology


Development of Learning Competencies:
        Children have biological capacities for learning actualized in the environment.  The environment supports to strengthen the capacities.  Development involves not just added knowledge, but conceptual reorganization. Children have privileged domains, actively making sense of their world by focusing on certain areas (like language).  They are ignorant but still reason well.  They are natural problem solvers who persist due to success.  They are meta-cognitive and monitor their own learning. Adults pay a critical role by directing their attention, scaffolding, etc.  Learning actually structurally alters the brain.  

        A major focus of school is to adapt to new experience - known as "transfer."  The ability to transfer distinguishes between instructional quality.  There must be enough initial learning to support transfer.  Time on task is not enough to support transfer; rather it must be deliberate practice, where students monitor their learning.  Learning for understanding promotes transfer.  Material taught in multiple contexts supports transfer (so that information isn't context bound).  Expertise includes the ability to know when, why, how, etc. to apply knowledge.  Transfer is an active process that takes time.  All transfer involves prior knowledge.  Sometimes prior knowledge leads to false new learning, and thus teachers must try to correct misconceptions.  
Competent and Expert Performance:
        8 factors affect development of expertise and competent performance: relevant knowledge, connecting with prior knowledge, making inferences and conclusions, representations of problems, well-organized knowledge structures, content knowledge, making educated guesses, everyday competencies.  


Teaching for In-depth Learning:
        Learning begins with information - a teacher's job is to engage the understanding of students and correct their misconceptions.  Effective comprehension requires organization and self-regulation.  Traditional education has focused on memorization and mastery of text.  Research has showed that much more is necessary for competency and expertise.  There must be well-organized knowledge of concepts, principles, and procedures of inquiry.  One method for doing this is showing them that they already have relevant knowledge.  As they work through different problems, they develop principles that govern the topic.  For young students, a technique is to bring counting and number principles into their everyday life.  For older students, a model-based approach that emphasizes understanding is key.  Instead of just solving problems, students are encouraged to explore their own knowledge and to invent strategies for solving problems.  In history, teaching for depth has meant showing that any historical account is a history, and not the history.  Thus, having students decide what is significant historically becomes the lightning rod.  

Expert Teachers:
        Expert teachers know the structure of their discipline.  This guides assignments, assessments, questions, etc.  They understand the conceptual barriers that hinder learning.  Together, students' prior knowledge and teacher's knowledge are important.  Studies of teaching conclude that expertise includes more than just a set of general methods, but also subject-specific knowledge.  Good teachers also assess themselves in the classroom and modify their plans accordingly.  This is done in a disciplined, systematic way - it is not just abstract or esoteric - through reflection and self-evaluation exercises.  


Tools of Technology:
        Technology holds great promise in education.  There are 5 ways that technology can be used:
            - Bringing real-world problems into the classroom through videos, demonstrations, simulations, etc. 
            - Provide "scaffolding," such as through models or visualizations that help students grasp difficult concepts
            - Increase feedback opportunities, both from software, reflection tools, and others through communication
            - Build local and global communities
            - Expand opportunities for teacher learning
        Tools of representation is an important function of technology.  Representational thinking is central to in-depth understanding, and is the difference between expert and novice thinkers.  The use of such technologies must be mediated by dialogues guided by the teacher.  As educational software continues to develop, it must be guided by principles of learning.  

Assessment to Support Learning:
        Assessment is critical to helping students learn.  It should happen continuously and provide information to all (teachers, students, and parents) about levels of understanding.  An assessment framework must look both at quality of student thinking as well as content.  The assessments should match cognitive skills that are necessary for the task.  Effective teachers constantly attempt to learn about students' thinking, including on-line .  Expert teachers align their assessments with deep understanding, as from the student perspective, getting good grades reflects what is being assessed.  Therefore, even if deep understanding is emphasized, ultimately if facts are tested, this is what the students will focus on.  

Learning and Connections to Community:
       Learning takes place outside of formal school settings as well.  These are fundamental to children's lives.  This doesn't mean schools should be devalued, it must be noted.  A key environment for learning is family.  Even without seeking to teach, families provide opportunities and resources for learning.  The success of family environments has guided school reforms.  Rapid development of children until ages 4 or 5, for example, are supported by family interactions through shared endeavors.  This model is powerful to support learning.  Classrooms are positively influenced when adults and community members take an interest in what students are doing.  Building the relationship between community and school promotes transfer. 


This routine draws on the idea of newspaper-type headlines as a vehicle for summing up and capturing the essence of an event, idea, concept, topic, etc. The routine asks one core question:

1. If you were to write a headline for this topic or issue right now that captured the most important aspect that should be remembered, what would that headline be?

You Can Never Learn Everything You Need to Learn about Learning

A second question involves probing how students' ideas of what is most important and central to the topic being explored have changed over time:

            2. How has your headline changed based on today's discussion? How does it differ from what you would have said yesterday?

            Learning has always seemed like such a huge, complex topic.  Yet, although I now know there is so much to learn, I also have a conceptual framework more fully formed and thus it is easier for me to understand the boundaries of the field.  So, my headline would change to: "Learning is a Large Baseball Park"