ModKathryn: Good evening everyone! Welcome to tonights teachers choice live chat 🙂
ModKathryn: Hi @Matt! Welcome @Dylan! Could you introduce yourselves and tell us what you’re working on?
Matt: My name’s Matt. I’m a PhD student at the Birkbeck and UCL Centre for Educational Neuroscience. I research the development of analogical reasoning in children and its links with conceptual and language development. I’ve also taught design and technology in various types of schools over the years 🙂
Yvonne: Hi, my name is Yvonne and I am a lecturer at Keele University. I am interested in learning, motivation and helping young people achieve their aspirations
Dylan: I’m writing a book for teachers on assessment and grading, but I am also working more generally on how to apply what we are learning about learning at scale in educational systems.
ModKathryn: @Yvonne that sounds interesting! Particularly helping young people achieve their aspirations – do you run workshops for this?
Yvonne: I run a project called White Water Writers where we give groups of young people the chance to collaboratively write and publish a full length novel in a week
ModKathryn: @yvonne thats incredible!! What age groups do you work with? What country are you based in?
Yvonne: We are in the UK. We have helped more than 1000 young people become authors and have worked with people aged from 8 to university students. We have also worked with looked after children, children with SEND and young offenders
ModKathryn: @Dylan great! So almost like connecting the research to educational systems?
ModKathryn: @Yvonne – that sounds fantastic. It must be a very rewarding job! Do you go into schools/colleges or do people come to you?
Yvonne: We do a bit of both depending on the writers. But it really helps them to see what they can achieve when they work hard. It raises their aspirations and skills. Lots of our participants say things like ‘I am not taking a B in English now I am practically JK Rowling!’
ModKathryn: @Matt great! Could you define analogical reasoning for us?
Matt: Analogical reasoning is a type of thinking where you make inferences about something by drawing an analogy with something else. It allows you to learn new things about something by seeing how its similar to something you already know. An example would be learning about certain aspects of electricity by drawing an analogy with water flowing through pipes
Dylan: Yes. In particular trying to figure out how to reconcile what I regard as the two most powerful ideas in learning right now—Robert Bjork’s new theory of disuse and John Sweller’s cognitive load theory. Bjork says we need desirable difficulties in learning, while Sweller says that we need to reduce the cognitive load of instructional tasks.
ModKathryn: @Matt I see! Is this type of learning in the curriculum? Or does it depends on what the school or teachers focus on?
ModKathryn: @Dylan – ah thats interesting. Could learning be either depending on the context?
Dylan: I think it probably has to be both. I think optimal learning may require a “goldilocks” point where the germane cognitive load is high enough to create desirable difficulties, but not so high that the learner’s mental resources are overloaded. And that, for the foreseeable future, will probably depend on teacher judgment…
Matt: @modkathryn It’s not really taught in the curriculum but it’s a common strategy used by teachers. It’s also thought to underpin various areas of learning such as language, maths and scientific concepts.
Dylan: What Matt says is very important. Teachers use analogies all the time, particularly in teaching science and mathematics. Some of them have real mileage, but some run out of steam very quickly.
ModKathryn: Thats true Dylan. Matt will you be looking at subject specific analogical reasoning?
Matt: @Dylan Definitely, one of the areas I’m interested in is understanding how to use them more strategically
Dylan: For example, if you are teaching negative integers, you can use heights above and below sea level, temperatures above and below zero, positive and negative bank balances, and so on. The question then is which of these analogies can be extended.
Matt: @Dylan They can definitely have the ability to cause more confusion if not understood
Dylan: To use a specific example, if I use bank balances, then I can explain subtracting a negative number as taking away a debt (which makes you better off). Not sure how I would do that with temperatures!
Yvonne: And I guess then as a teacher it is important to think about the other points you want to make when you set up the initial analogy
Matt: @Dylan I think the key to this is how well ‘fitting’ the analogy is and whether or not the children are conceptualising the analogy correctly
ModKathryn: It must be quite tricky to think of a good one that wont confuse people
Dylan: What I think is so interesting about Matt’s PhD focus is that it is a constant feature of teaching in classrooms all over the world, but little researched.
Matt: @Yvonne Yes, the main benefit of using an analogy is transferring some deeper abstract structure from one domain that a child knows to a new domain. So the child has to know the base domain well, and the relevant structure needs to be highlighted
Dylan: A good example is introducing multiplication as repeated addition. This certainly makes use of “mental equipment” the child has already developed. But it makes no sense when you multiply √2 by √2…
Matt: @Dylan A different analogy is needed then! 🙂
Dylan: So then the interesting question is whether the repeated addition idea was needed at all. Could we, for example, have started with multiplication as area?
Matt: @Dylan I’m not to sure, sounds like a good idea. I’ve not looked into subject specific areas at the mo but maths is one of the areas I’m thinking of looking at
Dylan: I’m not sure either. As I said, it’s a relatively unexplored area
Matt: @Dylan There’s quite a lot of work looking at the spatial underpinnings of maths concepts so it would make sense. I guess i depends on the growth of maths concepts – which come first etc
Dylan: A lot of people are looking at these so called “learning progressions” in science and maths, but in my view, they often do not appreciate how learning progressions depend on curriculum sequencing. For example, we know that division is computationally more demanding than multiplication, but conceptually, it appears that division is an easier process to understand.
Abena: Evening. Late joiner.
ModKathryn: Welcome @Abena 🙂 nice to see you!
Abena: @Dylan – what in particular is your new book focusing on with regards to assessment and grading?
Dylan: Hi Abena. I think the basic idea will be focusing on assessment literacy for teachers, and possibly parents and policy makers (though that may end up being a different book). Put simply, I am interested in helping people see how the meanings and the consequences of assessments interact.
Matt: @Dylan Do you think this speaks to the difference between conceptual understanding and using those concepts for a given task?
Abena: @Dylan – much needed!
Abena: @Yvonne – any unintuitive findings about motivation useful for teachers (other than the praise aspect)?
Dylan: Matt – I am not sure I would be able to draw a clear distinction between those two things. For me, the ability to use concepts in a task is part of the “concept in action” which is how I think about “understanding”
Yvonne: Hi Abena, I have found in White Water Writers that the writers really engage in their new identity as ‘authors’. Working hard to produce something which is real and authentic really creates a lot of energy. In fact, at the beginning of the week they spend a lot of time asking us what we think. We always bounce it back to them ‘it’s your book, what do you think’ and they really take ownership.
Abena: @Yvonne – is that related to the idea of ‘the mantle of the expert’?
Yvonne: Yes, I think it is. They become the expert over the week.
Abena: @Yvonne – as an English teacher, I love the sound of the project. It echoes of the Writers’ Workshop where students have so much more autonomy.
Dylan: Jumping across to Abena and Yvonne’s conversation, I think the sorts of thing that Yvonne describes turns the idea of motivation on its head. Traditionally, we have tended to look at “motivation” as an amount of stuff inside students’ heads, and use it to explain learning outcomes.
Yvonne: And also the timeframe is so short so they cannot agonise about each sentence and make it ‘perfect’ first time. They have to get words on the page and then tidy them. It is amazing how much they can write when the ‘fear’ is absent.
Matt: @Dylan True, I guess I was thinking about the notion of something being more computationally demanding but conceptually easier to understand. I like the idea of concepts in action
Dylan: However, following Csikszentihalyi’s idea of “flow” I think it makes more sense to think of motivation as an outcome of engagement. “Motivation” is what we see when we, as teachers, get the match between challenge and capability just right.
Abena: @Matt – what’s your take then on the analogy exercises so common in US education?
Matt: @Abena I’m not sure I’m aware of those. Could you give an example? They sound very interesting
Abena: A quick Google threw up this one: https://goo.gl/rKbgrq – having worked in the US system I noticed how widespread they were. The ‘purpose’ section of the doc is clarifying.
Dylan: My concern with these kinds of analogies is that the purpose of such tasks seems to be more preparing students for the analogies sections of aptitude tests than anything else.
Abena: @Dylan – for sure it is test prep but I guess they believe (as it says) that this analogy-making transfers across the curriculum. It’s interesting what they say about analogies as an indicator of academic success – I wonder if this is supported by research.
Dylan: That is indeed what is often argued, but I am skeptical, because we keep on discovering that so-called transferable skills are much less transferable than we thought.
Abena: @Dylan – indeed. I suspect if students are good at these, they are likely to be good at other skills. Correlation but not causation.
Matt: @Abena Thanks, looks very interesting. I’ve seen a couple of other studies (I’ll find them in a min) that take a similarish approach with interesting results. There some recent work in the analogy literature looking at inducing something they would characterise as a ‘relational mindset’ – training the mind to habitually look for deeper relations
Abena: @Matt – very interested to read those studies.
Dylan: Analogies have been used for decades in the “verbal reasoning” sections of intelligence tests, and the scores on such sub-tests correlate highly with other measures of IQ. Quite what this means, of course, is unclear.
Matt: @Abena As Dylan points out, constructs such as IQ are often measured using analogy type problems so there is a confound if you show that kids IQ increases due to analogy training
Abena: @Dylan – I remember analogy tasks from the 11+ (in Northern Ireland). Never saw them again until this instance in the US.
Abena: @Matt – thank you for the clarification. I’m still learning what all this means and how to be a critical consumer of the research.
Matt: @Abena Here’s one that uses an inductive reasoning training program with some interesting transfer effects – small sample size though https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/6b2a/a7d073cf2ddbbadc304b401dd9c391c3fd4d.pdf
Matt: @Abena This one uses a strategy training programme https://www-jstor-org.libproxy.ucl.ac.uk/stable/pdf/40071122.pdf?refreqid=excelsior%3A57184c51b208919190afce57779e90f7
Matt: @Abena Personally I think training reasoning should transfer if embedded in the right curriculum, although it’s complicated…
Dylan: @Matt The difficulty with researching whether reasoning transfers is that it is so strongly correlated with IQ, finding anything else is challenging.
Dylan: You’d be looking for a second order effect—showing that increases in reasoning ability developed in one context would increase reasoning ability in a different context. You would need a massive experiment.
Matt: @Dylan Oh definitely. Those studies I’ve linked to do show some interesting results though – there was transfer to other subtests in a full scale IQ test and also to educational achievement
Abena: @all Given the title of tonight’s chat, I’m wondering if what we need is for teachers to be aware of how to access & digest the research. My q is whether this is being introduced to ITT programs?
Dylan: Psychology of education was a staple in teacher training programmes (and programs) in the 1970s, but fell into disfavour because teachers did not find them useful
ModKathryn: @abena Paul Howard-Jones is currently introducing science of learning into ITT at University of Bristol – definitely worth looking into!
Abena: @modkathryn – I will. Thank you
Dylan: The irony now is that cognitive science is producing really interesting insights into how students learn, and how we can teach better, but little of this finds its way into teacher training.
Abena: @Dylan – that is really interesting. Was there any data behind the decision or was it just anecdotal?
Abena: @Dylan – yes! Which is why sites like this and The Learning Scientists are so essential. But they need to reach a critical mass.
Dylan: The reasons for this are different in the US and the UK, but in the UK at least, it was part of a general distrust of what one UK politician (Kenneth Clarke) called “barmy theories”.
Dylan: @Abena yes and I think it is about academics and teachers working together to develop and answer questions about learning and teaching
Abena: Barmy theories!? Were some deserving of that label?
Dylan: @Abena No; that was his description of Cognitive Acceleration in Science Education. It was just an anti-intellectual appeal to no-nonsense pragmatism.
Dylan: If I were designing a one-year teacher training programme right now, I think I would insist on at the very least making sure that all trainee teachers were introduced to the work of Dan Willingham, John Sweller, Robert Bjork, and Paul Kirschner
Abena: @all – What are your thoughts on what school assessment could / should look like in the future? Or – if that’s too vague and philosophical – where should the research focus?
Dylan: @Abena Let me answer by saying where I hope assessment is not going. Lots of technologically focused people are looking at “stealth assessment”—tracking key strokes or eye movements to draw conclusions about student capability.
Yvonne: I recently wrote a piece on the negative impact of the eleven plus exam which was in the Conversation https://theconversation.com/the-psychological-impact-of-the-grammar-school-test-new-research-97961
Dylan: What worries me about this is that it will operate as a kind of mass surveillance tool like Bentham’s Panopticon.
Yvonne: I think we should try and reduce assessments and focus more on learning
Dylan: One student I taught, name Lester, knew that the probability of a coin coming up heads was 50%, at least if he was asked this in a maths classroom.
Dylan: Lester was the captain of the school team, and I asked him what he called when a coin was tossed at the beginning of the game, and he said, “Tails, because it comes up more often.”
Abena: @Yvonne – I’ll read that. But when we had the 11+, those who didn’t pass weren’t seen as ‘thick’ or ‘failures’. It was just a different path. Something has changed in the culture (or maybe it’s NI). Not saying I agree, but reactions do seem to have changed.
Abena: @Dylan – ‘stealth assessment’ – that sounds horrifying.
Dylan: If we used stealth assessment to draw conclusions about Lester’s knowledge of probability, we would conclude he doesn’t understand. But he does. He can play the maths game in maths. He just doesn’t believe it applies to the real world. I think it is horrifying. But I’m pretty sure it’s coming…
Yvonne: @Abena I agree it does differ by school, this study was conducted in Kent and we found that the kids who failed were indistinguishable from those who were told not to sit the exam, so perhaps it would be better if all children were at least given the chance to sit it
Matt: @Abena Re motivation, you might find this interesting – http://www.educationalneuroscience.org.uk/2018/06/19/simple-interventions-to-capture-interest-can-improve-reading-comprehension/
Abena: @Yvonne – more learning; yes please. What could replace the grades I wonder (in terms of identifying pathways or opportunities)?
Yvonne: It is such a tough question, but I think the amount of teaching to the test and the stress levels of teachers and pupils cannot continue
Dylan: @Yvonne See John Gardner’s devastating critique of the 11+ in Northern Ireland. It changed government policy.
Dylan: @Abena There’s still selection, but the 11+ test as it existed was abolished about ten years ago
Dylan: What we need are tests worth teaching to, and tests that cannot be ‘gamed’ in the sense of being able to raise students’ scores without raising their knowledge of the subject being tested.
Abena: @Dylan – no argument from me there! If it seems inevitable that ‘teaching to the test’ is unavoidable
Dylan: I wrote an outline of what such a system might look like for Lord Bew’s review of national assessment at age 11 in England some years ago (it’s on my web-site: www.dylanwiliam.org ). Needless to say, it was ignored.
Matt: @all Thanks for the interesting discussion everyone!
Abena: @Thank you everyone for your responses and sharing. Lots to follow up on and read. Much appreciated.
Dylan: Thanks Kathryn, Matt, Yvonne, and Abena. It’s been fun