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How People Learn: Bridging Research and Practice

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This report asks how the insights from the research reviewed in the National Research Council's "How People Learn" (1999) can be incorporated into classroom practice. The report also suggests a research and development agenda that would inform and stimulate the required change. Following an introductory chapter that frames the agenda of the report, chapter 2 summarizes some of the key findings from "How People Learn" and outlines implications of those findings for teaching and for designing classroom environments. "How People Learn" is a large report; this document focuses on the findings and messages that are most relevant to classroom practice. Chapter 3 summarizes responses from educators and policymakers that were offered at a conference and workshop that discussed "How People Learn." More specific suggestions made by conference and workshop participants are incorporated into chapter 4, in which the workshop committee presents its recommendations for a research and development agenda. The agenda is organized around: (1) educational materials; (2) preservice and inservice education; (3) public policy; and (4) public opinion and the media. Appendixes list meeting participants with their biographical sketches. (Contains 58 references.) (SLD)
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How People Learn: Bridging Research and Practice
M. Suzanne Donovan, John D. Bransford, and James
W. Pellegrino, Editors; Committee on Learning
Research and Educational Practice, National Research
Council
M. Suzanne Donovan, John D. Bransford, and James W. Pellegrino,
editors
Committee on Learning Research and Educational Practice
Commission on Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education
National Research Council
NATIONAL ACADEMY PRESS
Washington, DC
How People Learn
Research
and
Practice
bridging
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
How People Learn: Bridging Research and Practice
http://www.nap.edu/catalog/9457.html
NATIONAL ACADEMY PRESS • 2101 Constitution Avenue, NW • Washington, DC 20418
NOTICE: The project that is the subject of this report was approved by the Governing Board of
the National Research Council, whose members are drawn from the councils of the National
Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine. The
members of the committee responsible for the report were chosen for their special competences
and with regard for appropriate balance.
The National Academy of Sciences is a private, nonprofit, self-perpetuating society of
distinguished scholars engaged in scientific and engineering research, dedicated to the further-
ance of science and technology and to their use for the general welfare. Upon the authority of
the charter granted to it by the Congress in 1863, the Academy has a mandate that requires it to
advise the federal government on scientific and technical matters. Dr. Bruce M. Alberts is
president of the National Academy of Sciences.
The National Academy of Engineering was established in 1964, under the charter of the
National Academy of Sciences, as a parallel organization of outstanding engineers. It is autono-
mous in its administration and in the selection of its members, sharing with the National Acad-
emy of Sciences the responsibility for advising the federal government. The National Academy
of Engineering also sponsors engineering programs aimed at meeting national needs, encour-
ages education and research, and recognizes the superior achievements of engineers. Dr.
William A. Wulf is president of the National Academy of Engineering.
The Institute of Medicine was established in 1970 by the National Academy of Sciences to
secure the services of eminent members of appropriate professions in the examination of policy
matters pertaining to the health of the public. The Institute acts under the responsibility given
to the National Academy of Sciences by its congressional charter to be an adviser to the federal
government and, upon its own initiative, to identify issues of medical care, research, and
education. Dr. Kenneth I. Shine is president of the Institute of Medicine.
The National Research Council was organized by the National Academy of Sciences in
1916 to associate the broad community of science and technology with the Academy’s pur-
poses of furthering knowledge and advising the federal government. Functioning in accor-
dance with general policies determined by the Academy, the Council has become the principal
operating agency of both the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of
Engineering in providing services to the government, the public, and the scientific and engi-
neering communities. The Council is administered jointly by both Academies and the Institute
of Medicine. Dr. Bruce M. Alberts and Dr. William A. Wulf are chairman and vice chairman,
respectively, of the National Research Council.
The study was supported by Grant No. R215U980027 between the National Academy of
Sciences and the U.S. Department of Education. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recom-
mendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily
reflect the view of the organizations or agencies that provided support for this project.
International Standard Book Number 0-309-06536-4
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Copyright 1999 by the National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
How People Learn: Bridging Research and Practice
http://www.nap.edu/catalog/9457.html
iii
COMMITTEE ON LEARNING RESEARCH AND
EDUCATIONAL PRACTICE
JOHN D. BRANSFORD (Co-Chair), Peabody College of Education and
Human Development, Vanderbilt University
JAMES W. PELLEGRINO (Co-Chair), Peabody College of Education and
Human Development, Vanderbilt University
DAVID BERLINER, Department of Education, Arizona State University,
Tempe
MYRNA S. COONEY, Taft Middle School, Cedar Rapids, IA
ARTHUR EISENKRAFT, Bedford Public Schools, Bedford, NY
HERBERT P. GINSBURG, Department of Human Development, Teachers
College, Columbia University
PAUL D. GOREN, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation,
Chicago
JOSÉ P. MESTRE, Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of
Massachusetts, Amherst
ANNEMARIE S. PALINCSAR, School of Education, University of Michigan,
Ann Arbor
ROY PEA, SRI International, Menlo Park, CA
M. SUZANNE DONOVAN, Study Director
WENDELL GRANT, Senior Project Assistant
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
How People Learn: Bridging Research and Practice
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How People Learn: Bridging Research and Practice
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v
Acknowledgments
The inspiration for this project was Alexandra Wigdor, director of the
Division on Education, Labor, and Human Performance at the National
Research Council (NRC). Her leadership in guiding the formation and work
of the Committee on Learning Research and Educational Practice was central
to its success. The vision of focusing the efforts of the research community
on classroom practice is that of C. Kent McGuire, assistant secretary for
educational research and improvement at the U.S. Department of Education.
Our point of departure for this project was the National Research Council
report How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School. We acknowl-
edge the contribution of the Committee on Developments in the Science of
Learning who authored that report: John Bransford (co-chair), Ann Brown
(co-chair), John Anderson, Rochel Gelman, Robert Glaser, William Greenough,
Gloria Ladson-Billings, Barbara Means, Jose Mestre, Linda Nathan, Roy Pea,
Penelope Peterson, Barbara Rogoff, Thomas Romberg, and Samuel Wineberg.
Without their work, ours would not have been possible. Rodney Cocking,
study director of that committee, provided support for this committee’s efforts
to carry that report one step further. Wendell Grant, the project assistant,
worked long hours managing the logistics of the committee’s meetings and
events, and providing the administrative support for production of the report
and its drafts. Christine McShane improved the document with her skilled
editing. We also thank Carolyn Stalcup for design support and Sandra Yurchak
for secretarial support.
The committee held a conference in December 1998 to present How
People Learn to an audience of educators, policy makers, and researchers
and to elicit their feedback on the promise of, and obstacles to, bridging
educational research and practice. The National Research Council and the
Office of Educational Research and Improvement (OERI) of the U.S. Depart-
ment of Education cosponsored the conference, and the participation of
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
How People Learn: Bridging Research and Practice
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vi ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
Bruce Alberts, NRC chair, and C. Kent McGuire, assistant secretary for OERI,
contributed to its success. Joseph Conaty and Luna Levinson of OERI assisted
with conference planning. Karen Fuson, committee member Annemarie
Palincsar, and Robert Bain demonstrated approaches to teaching that use the
principles highlighted in this report. Members of the two panels provided
insightful perspectives on the challenge of bridging research and classroom
practice: on the panel providing teacher perspectives were: David Berliner,
Deanna Burney, Janice Jackson, Jean Krusi, Lucy (Mahon) West, and Robert
Morse. On the panel providing policy perspectives were: Ron Cowell, Louis
Gomez, Paul Goren, Jack Jennings, Kerri Mazzoni, and Carol Stewart.
The committee also held a workshop to focus more sharply on the
research that would help construct the bridge between research and prac-
tice. The workshop was an intensive two-day effort to work in both large
and small groups to cover each of the areas of research discussed in this
report. We thank each of the participants who joined the committee in this
effort: Amy Alvarado, Karen Bachofer, Robert Bain, Cathy Cerveny, Cathy
Colglazier, Rodney Cocking, Ron Cowell, Jean Krusi, Luna Levinson, Robert
Morse, Barbara Scott Nelson, Iris Rotberg, Leona Schauble, Carol Stewart,
and Lucy West for their diligent efforts.
This report has been reviewed in draft form by individuals chosen for
their diverse perspectives and technical expertise, in accordance with proce-
dures approved by the NRC’s Report Review Committee. The purpose of
this independent review is to provide candid and critical comments that will
assist the institution in making the published report as sound as possible and
to ensure that the report meets institutional standards for objectivity, evidence,
and responsiveness to the study charge. The review comments and draft
manuscript remain confidential to protect the integrity of the deliberative
process.
We thank the following individuals for their participation in the review
of this report: Dorothy Fowler, Lacey Instructional Center, Annandale, VA;
Ramesh Gangolli, Department of Mathematics, University of Washington;
Richard Lehrer, Department of Educational Psychology, University of
Wisconsin-Madison; Michael Martinez, Education Department, University of
California, Irvine; K. Ann Renninger, Program in Education, Swarthmore
College; Thomas A. Romberg, National Center for Research in Mathematical
Sciences Education, University of Wisconsin-Madison; and Patrick Suppes,
Center for the Study of Language and Information, Stanford University.
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ACKNOWLEDGMENTS vii
Although the individuals listed above have provided constructive com-
ments and suggestions, it must be emphasized that responsibility for the
final content of this report rests entirely with the authoring committee and
the institution.
John Bransford, Co-chair
James Pellegrino, Co-chair
Suzanne Donovan, Study Director
Committee on Learning Research
and Educational Practice
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ix
SUMMARY 1
1 INTRODUCTION 5
Framing the Agenda, 6
Plan of the Report, 9
2 KEY FINDINGS 10
Implications for Teaching, 15
Bringing Order to Chaos, 18
Designing Classroom Environments, 19
Applying the Design Framework to Adult Learning, 24
3 RESPONSES FROM THE EDUCATION AND
POLICY COMMUNITIES 25
Responses from the Education Community, 25
Responses from the Policy Community, 27
4 PROPOSING A RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT AGENDA 30
Overarching Themes, 32
Research and Development of Educational Materials, 35
Research on Pre-service and In-service Education, 45
Research on Education Policy, 52
Public Opinion and the Media, 57
Beyond How People Learn, 58
Communicating Research Knowledge, 62
Conclusion, 63
Contents
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xCONTENTS
REFERENCES 65
APPENDIX A: Meeting Participants 71
APPENDIX B: Biographical Sketches 74
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SUMMARY 1
Summary
In December 1998, the National Research Council released How People
Learn, a report that synthesizes research on human learning. The research
put forward in the report has important implications for how our society
educates: for the design of curricula, instruction, assessments, and learning
environments. The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Educational
Research and Improvement (OERI), which funded How People Learn, has
posed the next question: What research and development could help incor-
porate the insights from the report into classroom practice? Responding to
that question is the focus of this report.
To address OERI’s question, the Committee on Learning Research and
Educational Practice first considered how research and practice are gener-
ally linked. A small number of teachers are engaged in design experiments
with researchers or explore research on their own. They constitute a direct
link between research and practice. But for the most part, the influence of
research on practice is filtered through educational materials, through pre-
service and in-service teacher education, through public policy, and through
public opinion—often gleaned from mass media reporting and from people’s
own experiences in schools.
The committee sees the influence of research on these mediating arenas
as weak. The research base on learning and teaching has not been consoli-
dated in a way that gives consistent, clear messages in formats that are
useful for practice. As a result, the various mediating arenas that influence
practice are often not aligned either with research findings or with each
other. In synthesizing a broad body of research, How People Learn provides
an opportunity to provide research-based messages that are clear and directly
relevant to classroom practice. Three of the findings are highlighted in this
report because they have both a solid research base to support them and
strong implications for how the enterprise of education is conducted:
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2HOW PEOPLE LEARN: BRIDGING RESEARCH AND PRACTICE
• Students come to the classroom with preconceptions about how the
world works. If their initial understanding is not engaged, they may fail to
grasp new concepts and information presented in the classroom, or they
may learn them for purposes of a test but revert to their preconceptions
outside the classroom. This finding requires that teachers be prepared to
draw out their students’ existing understandings and help to shape them
into an understanding that reflects the concepts and knowledge in the par-
ticular discipline of study.
• To develop competence in an area of learning, students must have
both a deep foundation of factual knowledge and a strong conceptual frame-
work. Research that compares the performance of novices and experts, as
well as research on learning and transfer, shows clearly that experts are not
just “smart people”; they also draw on a richly structured information base.
But this factual information is not enough. Key to expertise is the mastery of
concepts that allow for deep understanding of that information, transform-
ing it from a set of facts into usable knowledge. The conceptual framework
allows experts to organize information into meaningful patterns and store it
hierarchically in memory to facilitate retrieval for problem solving. And
unlike pure acquisition of factual knowledge, the mastery of concepts facili-
tates transfer of learning to new problems. This research has clear implica-
tions for what is taught, how it is taught, and the preparation required for
teaching.
• Strategies can be taught that allow students to monitor their under-
standing and progress in problem solving. Research on the performance of
experts reveals that they monitor their understanding carefully, making note
of when additional information is required, whether new information is con-
sistent with what is already known, and what analogies can be drawn that
would advance their understanding. In problem solving, they consider
alternatives and are mindful of whether the one chosen is leading to the
desired end. Although this monitoring goes on as an internal conversation,
the strategies involved are part of a culture of inquiry, and they can be
successfully taught in the context of subject matter. In teaching them, the
monitoring questions and observations are modeled and discussed for some
time in the classroom, with the ultimate goal of independent monitoring and
learning. This research, again, has clear implications for teacher prepara-
tion, as well as for curriculum design.
To explore how these insights from research might be incorporated into
practice, the committee convened both a conference and a workshop. Both
events brought together teachers, administrators, researchers, curriculum
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SUMMARY 3
specialists, and education policy makers. The conference solicited feedback
on How People Learn, its potential to influence classroom practice, and the
barriers to its doing so. The workshop focused more specifically on research
and development that could help bridge research and practice. This report
incorporates the many insights of participants. From these, the committee
drew five overarching goals that helped to guide the design of the research
agenda that is the heart of this report:
• Elaborate the messages in How People Learn at a level of detail that
makes them usable to educators (including teacher educators) and policy
makers.
• Communicate the messages in How People Learn in a manner that is
effective for each of the audiences that influences educational practice.
• Use the principles of learning for understanding articulated in How
People Learn as a lens through which to evaluate existing education prac-
tices (K-12 and teacher training programs) and policies.
• Conduct research in teams that combine the expertise of researchers
and the wisdom of practitioners.
• Extend the frontier of learning research through more intensive study
of classroom practice.
In the research and development agenda proposed here, these goals are
incorporated into a comprehensive program of “use-inspired” strategic
research and development focused on issues of improving classroom learn-
ing and teaching. The research and development proposed addresses needs
in each of the four mediating arenas. With respect to educational materials,
the proposals include a review of a sample of existing curricula, with the
goal of identifying areas of alignment with the principles of learning that
might be replicated or built on. Research and development are also recom-
mended to extend the existing knowledge base by developing and testing
new educational materials and by elaborating key research findings from
How People Learn. Finally, creating an electronic database for information
on curricula that have been evaluated by a team of experts is proposed.
The principles of learning highlighted here apply to teacher education
and professional development programs as well as to K-12 education. The
committee proposes that current practices in schools of education and pro-
fessional development programs be evaluated for alignment with the prin-
ciples of learning. The development and study of new tools for teacher
training are proposed, as is an elaboration of key findings from How People
Learn as they apply to teacher learning.
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4HOW PEOPLE LEARN: BRIDGING RESEARCH AND PRACTICE
In the area of public policy, research is proposed to review state stan-
dards and assessments through the lens of How People Learn. Research to
extend the knowledge base by studying district-level reform efforts that have
been successful is proposed as well. And the development and study of
effective communication tools for policy makers are recommended. Similarly,
the development of a popular version of How People Learn is suggested in
order to promote an understanding among parents and the public of the
principles of learning that it identifies, as well as their implications for class-
room practice.
Although much can be done now with the research reviewed in How
People Learn, many unanswered research questions with clear importance
for classroom practice remain. The committee therefore recommends research
that would extend the knowledge base in areas in which it is now weak.
Finally, the committee suggests experimentation with, and study of, an
interactive communications site where information and research findings
from these proposed efforts can be accessed by a variety of audiences. The
goal of this effort is to provide a knowledge base that is useful to teachers
and to the various mediating groups that contribute to educational practice.
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
How People Learn: Bridging Research and Practice
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INTRODUCTION 5
1
Introduction
The quest to understand human learning has, in the past four decades,
undergone dramatic change. Once a matter for philosophical argument, the
workings of the mind and the brain are now subject to powerful research
tools. From that research, a science of learning is emerging.
In 1995, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Educational Research
and Improvement (OERI) requested that the National Research Council (NRC)
synthesize research on the science of learning. The resulting report, How
People Learn, reviews research literature on human learning and suggests
important implications for the design of curricula, instruction, assessments,
and learning environments (National Research Council, 1999a). It suggests
further that many existing school practices are inconsistent with what is
known about effective learning.
The purpose of this report is to ask how the insights from the research
reviewed in How People Learn can be incorporated into classroom practice
and to suggest a research and development agenda that would inform and
stimulate the required change. The implications of the report for educa-
tional practice and its determinants are fundamental and far-reaching. Still,
there are many influences on classroom practice that are unrelated to the
research reviewed in How People Learn. We know, for example, that nutri-
tion affects ability to learn. The adequacy and safety of the school can have
direct influences on learning. An alternative salary structure for the teaching
profession can affect the ability of schools to attract and keep qualified
teachers, which in turn influences learning. We exclude these many issues
here, not as a judgment regarding their significance, but because they fall
outside the charge of the committee. Our focus is on the issues for which
learning research gives guidance.
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6HOW PEOPLE LEARN: BRIDGING RESEARCH AND PRACTICE
FRAMING THE AGENDA
As a first step in framing a research and development agenda, the com-
mittee considered what would be required for insights from research to be
integrated into classroom practice. The influence of research on educational
practice has been weak for a variety of reasons. Educators generally do not
look to research for guidance. The concern of researchers for the validity
and robustness of their work, as well as their focus on underlying constructs
that explain learning, often differ from the focus of educators on the applica-
bility of those constructs in real classroom settings with many students,
restricted time, and a variety of demands. Even the language used by
researchers is very different from that familiar to teachers. And the full
schedules of many teachers leaves them with little time to identify and read
relevant research. These factors contribute to the feeling voiced by many
teachers that research has largely been irrelevant to their work (Fleming,
1988).
Despite these formidable barriers, past research has at times managed to
influence practice, albeit slowly and for the most part indirectly. The paths
of influence, as the committee sees them, are illustrated in Figure 1.1. To a
limited extent, research directly influences classroom practice when teachers
and researchers collaborate in design experiments, or when interested teachers
incorporate ideas from research into their classroom practice. This appears
as the only line directly linking research and practice in Figure 1.1. More
typically, ideas from research are filtered through the development of edu-
cation materials, through pre-service and in-service teacher and administra-
tor education programs, through public policies at the national, state, and
school district level, and through the public’s beliefs about learning and
teaching, often gleaned from the popular media and from their own experi-
ences in school. These are the four arenas that mediate the link between
research and practice in Figure 1.1. The public includes teachers, whose
beliefs may be influenced by popular presentations of research, and parents,
whose beliefs about learning and teaching affect classroom practice as well.
Teachers are the key to change in this model; they are the classroom
practitioners. Many excellent teachers already incorporate the principles in
How People Learn into their practice, either by design or by intuition. But
for those principles to be used systematically, all teachers will need opportu-
nities to understand the principles, be persuaded of their usefulness, and be
able to enact them in their classrooms. The principals who evaluate the
teachers and who provide leadership in defining the schools’ goals will need
to be persuaded of their value as well. To achieve that goal, teacher educa-
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
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INTRODUCTION 7
FIGURE 1.1
Paths through which research influences practice.
tion and professional development programs for both teachers and adminis-
trators will need to incorporate the principles of learning.
Teachers work with teaching tools. They are unlikely to change their
practice significantly in the absence of supporting curricular materials. Those
who develop curricula and companion guides, software, instructional tech-
niques, and assessments will therefore need to understand and incorporate
the principles of learning into their products if teachers are to successfully
change their practice.
But change at the classroom level can be supported or thwarted by
public policy. For the principles in How People Learn to affect practice,
district-level school boards and administrators must be persuaded of the
value of that change, and must lend it legitimacy and support. Policy makers
at the national and state levels will also need to understand those principles
and to set policies that are consistent with them. Otherwise, teacher efforts
can be undermined by standards, assessments, and teaching and textbook
requirements. Moreover, the level of funding allocated to activities required
for change can facilitate or debilitate the effort.
Educational Materials
Classroom Practice
Research on
Learning and Teaching
Policy
The Public
(including the media)
Pre-service and In-service
Education
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8HOW PEOPLE LEARN: BRIDGING RESEARCH AND PRACTICE
Finally, teachers, administrators, and policy makers are ultimately
accountable to parents and to other stakeholders in the business community
and the public. Their understanding of and support for change can be a
force for advancement or resistance.
In Figure 1.1, broken rather than solid lines are used to connect research
on learning to the four mediating arenas; they illustrate weak lines of influ-
ence. Because they are weak, there is often a lack of alignment among
them. Consequently, teachers frequently struggle to adapt to competing
demands. Strategies for change are often short-lived and responsive to fads
rather than to sound research and theory.
In synthesizing a broad body of research, How People Learn provides an
opportunity to strengthen the messages of research for the communities
who contribute to education practice. It identifies key principles of learning
that do have a firm scientific basis. It represents a beginning attempt to
provide foundational knowledge that could be used to strengthen the links
between research and the mediating arenas, providing a common set of
assumptions about learning that could promote greater alignment among
those arenas. Although the principles of learning will continue to be tested
and elaborated, they will not be tomorrow’s castaway fads.
How People Learn is most usefully viewed, not as a set of answers, but
as the basis for a conversation among researchers and practitioners about
the kinds of knowledge, tools, and resources that would promote student
learning and achievement. That is how the committee has used the report.
It has been the basis for conversations between committee members and
those involved in education practice and policy.
Those conversations were held at two events. The first was a conference
at which the findings of How People Learn were presented to an audience of
over 150 researchers, educators, administrators, curriculum developers, and
policy makers. Researchers and teachers who work on the development of
curricula and instructional techniques presented teaching demonstrations
that incorporate the principles in How People Learn. Panels of educators
and policy makers provided comments on the report’s findings, the poten-
tial of those findings to influence practice, and perceived barriers to change.
They also offered ideas for addressing those barriers.
At a subsequent workshop, a smaller group of 25 convened to consider
more specifically the research and development that might bring the insights
from How People Learn into classrooms. Groups of teachers, teacher
educators, researchers, and policy makers made specific suggestions to the
committee. Those suggestions influenced the committee’s work significantly.
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INTRODUCTION 9
The contributions of participants at both the workshop and the conference
are incorporated throughout this report.
PLAN OF THE REPORT
Following this introduction, Chapter 2 summarizes some of the key find-
ings from How People Learn and outlines implications of those findings for
teaching and for designing classroom environments. How People Learn is a
lengthy report that covers a large field of research. Our effort here is not to
summarize the entire document, but to focus on those findings and messages
that are most directly relevant to classroom practice and to the mediating
arenas that influence it.
Chapter 3 summarizes responses from educators and policy makers that
were offered at the conference and at the workshop. More specific sugges-
tions made by workshop participants regarding research and development
are incorporated into Chapter 4, in which the committee presents its recom-
mendations for a research and development agenda. The agenda is orga-
nized around each of the mediating arenas outlined above: educational
materials, pre-service and in-service education, public policy, and public
opinion and the media. In it the committee considers the research and
development that would link each arena with the findings in How People
Learn. The committee further recommends research that would extend the
knowledge base reviewed in How People Learn in ways that directly support
the goal of effective education.
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10 HOW PEOPLE LEARN: BRIDGING RESEARCH AND PRACTICE
2
Key Findings
How People Learn provides a broad overview of research on learners
and learning and on teachers and teaching. Three of those findings are
highlighted here because they have both a solid research base to support
them and strong implications for how we teach. It is not the committee’s
intention to suggest that these are the only insights from research that can
beneficially be incorporated into practice. Indeed, a number of additional
findings are discussed in How People Learn.
1. Students come to the classroom with preconceptions about
how the world works. If their initial understanding is not engaged,
they may fail to grasp the new concepts and information that are
taught, or they may learn them for purposes of a test but revert to
their preconceptions outside the classroom.
Research on early learning suggests that the process of making sense of
the world begins at a very young age. Children begin in preschool years to
develop sophisticated understandings (whether accurate or not) of the phe-
nomena around them (Wellman, 1990). Those initial understandings can
have a powerful effect on the integration of new concepts and information.
Sometimes those understandings are accurate, providing a foundation for
building new knowledge. But sometimes they are inaccurate (Carey and
Gelman, 1991). In science, students often have misconceptions of physical
properties that cannot be easily observed. In humanities, their preconcep-
tions often include stereotypes or simplifications, as when history is under-
stood as a struggle between good guys and bad guys (Gardner, 1991). A
critical feature of effective teaching is that it elicits from students their pre-
existing understanding of the subject matter to be taught and provides
opportunities to build on—or challenge—the initial understanding. James
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KEY FINDINGS 11
Minstrell, a high school physics teacher, describes the process as follows
(Minstrell, 1989: 130-131):
Students’ initial ideas about mechanics are like strands of yarn, some
unconnected, some loosely interwoven. The act of instruction can be viewed
as helping the students unravel individual strands of belief, label them, and
then weave them into a fabric of more complete understanding. Rather
than denying the relevancy of a belief, teachers might do better by helping
students differentiate their present ideas from and integrate them into
conceptual beliefs more like those of scientists.
The understandings that children bring to the classroom can already be
quite powerful in the early grades. For example, some children have been
found to hold onto their preconception of a flat earth by imagining a round
earth to be shaped like a pancake (Vosniadou and Brewer, 1989). This
construction of a new understanding is guided by a model of the earth that
helps the child explain how people can stand or walk on its surface. Many
young children have trouble giving up the notion that one-eighth is greater
than one-fourth, because 8 is more than 4 (Gelman and Gallistel, 1978). If
children were blank slates, telling them that the earth is round or that one-
fourth is greater than one-eighth would be adequate. But since they already
have ideas about the earth and about numbers, those ideas must be directly
addressed in order to transform or expand them.
Drawing out and working with existing understandings is important for
learners of all ages. Numerous research experiments demonstrate the per-
sistence of preexisting understandings among older students even after a
new model has been taught that contradicts the naïve understanding. For
example, in a study of physics students from elite, technologically oriented
colleges, Andrea DiSessa (1982) instructed them to play a computerized
game that required them to direct a computer-simulated object called a
dynaturtle so that it would hit a target and do so with minimum speed at
impact. Participants were introduced to the game and given a hands-on trial
that allowed them to apply a few taps with a small wooden mallet to a tennis
ball on a table before beginning the game. The same game was also played
by elementary schoolchildren. DiSessa found that both groups of students
failed dismally. Success would have required demonstrating an understand-
ing of Newton’s laws of motion. Despite their training, college physics
students, like the elementary schoolchildren, aimed the moving dynaturtle
directly at the target, failing to take momentum into account. Further inves-
tigation of one college student who participated in the study revealed that
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12 HOW PEOPLE LEARN: BRIDGING RESEARCH AND PRACTICE
she knew the relevant physical properties and formulas, yet, in the context
of the game, she fell back on her untrained conception of how the physical
world works.
Students at a variety of ages persist in their beliefs that seasons are
caused by the earth’s distance from the sun rather than by the tilt of the earth
(Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, 1987), or that an object that
had been tossed in the air has both the force of gravity and the force of the
hand that tossed it acting on it, despite training to the contrary (Clement,
1982). For the scientific understanding to replace the naïve understanding,
students must reveal the latter and have the opportunity to see where it falls
short.
2. To develop competence in an area of inquiry, students must:
(a) have a deep foundation of factual knowledge, (b) understand facts
and ideas in the context of a conceptual framework, and (c) organize
knowledge in ways that facilitate retrieval and application.
This principle emerges from research that compares the performance of
experts and novices and from research on learning and transfer. Experts,
regardless of the field, always draw on a richly structured information base;
they are not just “good thinkers” or “smart people.” The ability to plan a
task, to notice patterns, to generate reasonable arguments and explanations,
and to draw analogies to other problems are all more closely intertwined
with factual knowledge than was once believed.
But knowledge of a large set of disconnected facts is not sufficient. To
develop competence in an area of inquiry, students must have opportunities
to learn with understanding. Deep understanding of subject matter trans-
forms factual information into usable knowledge. A pronounced difference
between experts and novices is that experts’ command of concepts shapes
their understanding of new information: it allows them to see patterns,
relationships, or discrepancies that are not apparent to novices. They do not
necessarily have better overall memories than other people. But their con-
ceptual understanding allows them to extract a level of meaning from infor-
mation that is not apparent to novices, and this helps them select and
remember relevant information. Experts are also able to fluently access
relevant knowledge because their understanding of subject matter allows
them to quickly identify what is relevant. Hence, their attention is not over-
taxed by complex events.
In most areas of study in K-12 education, students will begin as novices;
they will have informal ideas about the subject of study, and will vary in the
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KEY FINDINGS 13
amount of information they have acquired. The enterprise of education can
be viewed as moving students in the direction of more formal understanding
(or greater expertise). This will require both a deepening of the information
base and the development of a conceptual framework for that subject matter.
Geography can be used to illustrate the manner in which expertise is
organized around principles that support understanding. A student can learn
to fill in a map by memorizing states, cities, countries, etc., and can complete
the task with a high level of accuracy. But if the boundaries are removed,
the problem becomes much more difficult. There are no concepts support-
ing the student’s information. An expert who understands that borders often
developed because natural phenomena (like mountains or water bodies)
separated people, and that large cities often arose in locations that allowed
for trade (along rivers, large lakes, and at coastal ports) will easily outper-
form the novice. The more developed the conceptual understanding of the
needs of cities and the resource base that drew people to them, the more
meaningful the map becomes. Students can become more expert if the
geographical information they are taught is placed in the appropriate con-
ceptual framework.
A key finding in the learning and transfer literature is that organizing
information into a conceptual framework allows for greater “transfer”; that
is, it allows the student to apply what was learned in new situations and to
learn related information more quickly (see Box 2.1). The student who has
learned geographical information for the Americas in a conceptual frame-
work approaches the task of learning the geography of another part of the
globe with questions, ideas, and expectations that help guide acquisition of
the new information. Understanding the geographical importance of the
Mississippi River sets the stage for the student’s understanding of the geo-
graphical importance of the Nile. And as concepts are reinforced, the student
will transfer learning beyond the classroom, observing and inquiring, for
example, about the geographic features of a visited city that help explain its
location and size (Holyoak, 1984; Novick and Holyoak, 1991).
3. A “metacognitive” approach to instruction can help students
learn to take control of their own learning by defining learning goals
and monitoring their progress in achieving them.
In research with experts who were asked to verbalize their thinking as
they worked, it was revealed that they monitored their own understanding
carefully, making note of when additional information was required for under-
standing, whether new information was consistent with what they already
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14 HOW PEOPLE LEARN: BRIDGING RESEARCH AND PRACTICE
knew, and what analogies could be drawn that would advance their under-
standing. These meta-cognitive monitoring activities are an important com-
ponent of what is called adaptive expertise (Hatano, 1990).
Because metacognition often takes the form of an internal conversation,
it can easily be assumed that individuals will develop the internal dialogue
on their own. Yet many of the strategies we use for thinking reflect cultural
norms and methods of inquiry (Hutchins, 1995; Brice-Heath, 1981, 1983;
Suina and Smolkin, 1994). Research has demonstrated that children can be
taught these strategies, including the ability to predict outcomes, explain to
oneself in order to improve understanding, note failures to comprehend,
activate background knowledge, plan ahead, and apportion time and memory.
Reciprocal teaching, for example, is a technique designed to improve stu-
dents’ reading comprehension by helping them explicate, elaborate, and
monitor their understanding as they read (Palincsar and Brown, 1982). The
model for using the meta-cognitive strategies is provided initially by the
teacher, and students practice and discuss the strategies as they learn to use
them. Ultimately, students are able to prompt themselves and monitor their
own comprehension without teacher support.
BOX 2.1 Throwing Darts Under Water
In one of the most famous early studies comparing the effects of learning
a procedure with learning with understanding, two groups of children prac-
ticed throwing darts at a target under water (described in Judd, 1908; see
a conceptual replication by Hendrickson and Schroeder, 1941). One group
received an explanation of the refraction of light, which causes the appar-
ent location of the target to be deceptive. The other group only practiced
dart throwing, without the explanation. Both groups did equally well on
the practice task, which involved a target 12 inches under water. But the
group that had been instructed about the abstract principle did much bet-
ter when they had to transfer to a situation in which the target was under
only 4 inches of water. Because they understood what they were doing,
the group that had received instruction about the refraction of light could
adjust their behavior to the new task.
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KEY FINDINGS 15
The teaching of metacognitive activities must be incorporated into the
subject matter that students are learning (White and Frederickson, 1998).
These strategies are not generic across subjects, and attempts to teach them
as generic can lead to failure to transfer. Teaching metacognitive strategies in
context has been shown to improve understanding in physics (White and
Frederickson, 1998), written composition (Scardamalia et al., 1984), and
heuristic methods for mathematical problem solving (Schoenfeld, 1983, 1984,
1991). And metacognitive practices have been shown to increase the degree
to which students transfer to new settings and events (Lin and Lehman, in
press; Palincsar and Brown, 1982; Scardamalia et al., 1984; Schoenfeld,
1983, 1984, 1991).
Each of these techniques shares a strategy of teaching and modeling the
process of generating alternative approaches (to developing an idea in writ-
ing or a strategy for problem solving in mathematics), evaluating their merits
in helping to attain a goal, and monitoring progress toward that goal. Class
discussions are used to support skill development, with a goal of indepen-
dence and self-regulation.
IMPLICATIONS FOR TEACHING
The three core learning principles described above, simple though they
seem, have profound implications for the enterprise of teaching and teacher
preparation.
1. Teachers must draw out and work with the preexisting un-
derstandings that their students bring with them. This requires that:
• The model of the child as an empty vessel to be filled with knowl-
edge provided by the teacher must be replaced. Instead, the teacher must
actively inquire into students’ thinking, creating classroom tasks and conditions
under which student thinking can be revealed. Students’ initial conceptions
then provide the foundation on which the more formal understanding of the
subject matter is built.
• The roles for assessment must be expanded beyond the traditional
concept of testing. The use of frequent formative assessment helps make
students’ thinking visible to themselves, their peers, and their teacher. This
provides feedback that can guide modification and refinement in thinking.
Given the goal of learning with understanding, assessments must tap under-
standing rather than merely the ability to repeat facts or perform isolated
skills.
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16 HOW PEOPLE LEARN: BRIDGING RESEARCH AND PRACTICE
• Schools of education must provide beginning teachers with opportu-
nities to learn: (a) to recognize predictable preconceptions of students that
make the mastery of particular subject matter challenging, (b) to draw out
preconceptions that are not predictable, and (c) to work with preconcep-
tions so that children build on them, challenge them and, when appropriate,
replace them.
2. Teachers must teach some subject matter in depth, providing many
examples in which the same concept is at work and providing a firm
foundation of factual knowledge. This requires that:
• Superficial coverage of all topics in a subject area must be replaced
with in-depth coverage of fewer topics that allows key concepts in that
discipline to be understood. The goal of coverage need not be abandoned
entirely, of course. But there must be a sufficient number of cases of in-
depth study to allow students to grasp the defining concepts in specific
domains within a discipline. Moreover, in-depth study in a domain often
requires that ideas be carried beyond a single school year before students
can make the transition from informal to formal ideas. This will require
active coordination of the curriculum across school years.
• Teachers must come to teaching with the experience of in-depth
study of the subject area themselves. Before a teacher can develop power-
ful pedagogical tools, he or she must be familiar with the progress of inquiry
and the terms of discourse in the discipline, as well as understand the rela-
tionship between information and the concepts that help organize that infor-
mation in the discipline. But equally important, the teacher must have a
grasp of the growth and development of students’ thinking about these
concepts. The latter will be essential to developing teaching expertise, but
not expertise in the discipline. It may therefore require courses, or course
supplements, that are designed specifically for teachers.
• Assessment for purposes of accountability (e.g., statewide assessments)
must test deep understanding rather than surface knowledge. Assessment
tools are often the standard by which teachers are held accountable. A
teacher is put in a bind if she or he is asked to teach for deep conceptual
understanding, but in doing so produces students who perform more poorly
on standardized tests. Unless new assessment tools are aligned with new
approaches to teaching, the latter are unlikely to muster support among the
schools and their constituent parents. This goal is as important as it is diffi-
cult to achieve. The format of standardized tests can encourage measure-
ment of factual knowledge rather than conceptual understanding, but it also
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KEY FINDINGS 17
facilitates objective scoring. Measuring depth of understanding can pose
challenges for objectivity. Much work needs to be done to minimize the
trade-off between assessing depth and assessing objectively.
3. The teaching of metacognitive skills should be integrated into the
curriculum in a variety of subject areas. Because metacognition often
takes the form of an internal dialogue, many students may be unaware of its
importance unless the processes are explicitly emphasized by teachers. An
emphasis on metacognition needs to accompany instruction in each of the
disciplines, because the type of monitoring required will vary. In history, for
example, the student might be asking himself, “who wrote this document,
and how does that affect the interpretation of events,” whereas in physics
the student might be monitoring her understanding of the underlying physical
principle at work.
• Integration of metacognitive instruction with discipline-based learn-
ing can enhance student achievement and develop in students the ability to
learn independently. It should be consciously incorporated into curricula
across disciplines and age levels.
• Developing strong metacognitive strategies and learning to teach
those strategies in a classroom environment should be standard features of
the curriculum in schools of education.
Evidence from research indicates that when these three principles are
incorporated into teaching, student achievement improves. For example,
the Thinker Tools Curriculum for teaching physics in an interactive computer
environment focuses on fundamental physical concepts and properties,
allowing students to test their preconceptions in model building and experi-
mentation activities. The program includes an “inquiry cycle” that helps
students monitor where they are in the inquiry process. The program asks
for students’ reflective assessments and allows them to review the assess-
ments of their fellow students. In one study, sixth graders in a suburban
school who were taught physics using Thinker Tools performed better at
solving conceptual physics problems than did eleventh and twelfth grade
physics students in the same school system taught by conventional methods.
A second study comparing urban students in grades 7 to 9 with suburban
students in grades 11 and 12 again showed that the younger students taught
by the inquiry-based approach had a superior grasp of the fundamental
principles of physics (White and Frederickson, 1997, 1998).
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18 HOW PEOPLE LEARN: BRIDGING RESEARCH AND PRACTICE
BRINGING ORDER TO CHAOS
A benefit of focusing on how people learn is that it helps bring order to
a seeming cacophony of choices. Consider the many possible teaching
strategies that are debated in education circles and the media. Figure 2.1
depicts them in diagram format: lecture-based teaching, text-based teaching,
inquiry-based teaching, technology-enhanced teaching, teaching organized
around individuals versus cooperative groups, and so forth. Are some of
these teaching techniques better than others? Is lecturing a poor way to
teach, as many seem to claim? Is cooperative learning effective? Do attempts
to use computers (technology-enhanced teaching) help achievement or hurt it?
How People Learn suggests that these are the wrong questions. Asking
which teaching technique is best is analogous to asking which tool is best—
a hammer, a screwdriver, a knife, or pliers. In teaching as in carpentry, the
selection of tools depends on the task at hand and the materials one is
FIGURE 2.1
With knowledge of how people learn, teachers can choose more purposefully
among techniques to accomplish specific goals.
problems
Knowledge of
How People Learn
Lecture
Based
Skills
Based
Inquiry
Based
Individual
vs.
Group
Technology-
Enhanced
oral
simulations
electronic
tools
assessment
opportunities
communication
environments
written
isolated
drill and practice
contectualized
practice
modeling
cases
projects
learning
by design
jigsaw
learning
self
study
cooperative
learning
narrative
videos
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KEY FINDINGS 19
working with. Books and lectures can be wonderfully efficient modes of
transmitting new information for learning, exciting the imagination, and honing
students’ critical faculties—but one would choose other kinds of activities to
elicit from students their preconceptions and level of understanding, or to
help them see the power of using meta-cognitive strategies to monitor their
learning. Hands-on experiments can be a powerful way to ground emergent
knowledge, but they do not alone evoke the underlying conceptual under-
standings that aid generalization. There is no universal best teaching practice.
If, instead, the point of departure is a core set of learning principles,
then the selection of teaching strategies (mediated, of course, by subject
matter, grade level, and desired outcome) can be purposeful. The many
possibilities then become a rich set of opportunities from which a teacher
constructs an instructional program rather than a chaos of competing
alternatives.
Focusing on how people learn also will help teachers move beyond
either-or dichotomies that have plagued the field of education. One such
issue is whether schools should emphasize “the basics” or teach thinking
and problem-solving skills. How People Learn shows that both are neces-
sary. Students’ abilities to acquire organized sets of facts and skills are
actually enhanced when they are connected to meaningful problem-solving
activities, and when students are helped to understand why, when, and how
those facts and skills are relevant. And attempts to teach thinking skills
without a strong base of factual knowledge do not promote problem-solving
ability or support transfer to new situations.
DESIGNING CLASSROOM ENVIRONMENTS
How People Learn proposes a framework to help guide the design and
evaluation of environments that can optimize learning (Figure 2.2). Draw-
ing heavily on the three principles discussed above, it posits four inter-
related attributes of learning environments that need cultivation.
1. Schools and classrooms must be learner centered. Teachers
must pay close attention to the knowledge, skills, and attitudes that learners
bring into the classroom. This incorporates the preconceptions regarding
subject matter already discussed, but it also includes a broader understand-
ing of the learner. For example:
• Cultural differences can affect students’ comfort level in working
collaboratively versus individually, and they are reflected in the background
knowledge students bring to a new learning situation (Moll et al., 1993).
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20 HOW PEOPLE LEARN: BRIDGING RESEARCH AND PRACTICE
• Students’ theories of what it means to be intelligent can affect their
performance. Research shows that students who think that intelligence is a
fixed entity are more likely to be performance oriented than learning
oriented—they want to look good rather than risk making mistakes while
learning. These students are especially likely to bail out when tasks become
difficult. In contrast, students who think that intelligence is malleable are
more willing to struggle with challenging tasks; they are more comfortable
with risk (Dweck, 1989; Dweck and Legget, 1988).
Teachers in learner-centered classrooms also pay close attention to the
individual progress of each student and devise tasks that are appropriate.
Learner-centered teachers present students with “just manageable difficul-
ties”—that is, challenging enough to maintain engagement, but not so difficult
as to lead to discouragement. They must therefore have an understanding
of their students’ knowledge, skill levels, and interests (Duckworth, 1987).
FIGURE 2.2
Design of learning environments.
Learner
centered
Assessment
centered
Knowledge
centered
Community
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KEY FINDINGS 21
2. To provide a knowledge-centered classroom environment,
attention must be given to what is taught (information, subject matter),
why it is taught (understanding), and what competence or mastery
looks like. As mentioned above, research discussed in How People Learn
shows clearly that expertise involves well-organized knowledge that sup-
ports understanding, and that learning with understanding is important for
the development of expertise because it makes new learning easier (i.e.,
supports transfer).
Learning with understanding is often harder to accomplish than simply
memorizing, and it takes more time. Many curricula fail to support learning
with understanding because they present too many disconnected facts in
too short a time—the “mile wide, inch deep” problem. Tests often reinforce
memorizing rather than understanding. The knowledge-centered environ-
ment provides the necessary depth of study, assessing student understanding
rather than factual memory. It incorporates the teaching of meta-cognitive
strategies that further facilitate future learning.
Knowledge-centered environments also look beyond engagement as
the primary index of successful teaching (Prawaf et al., 1992). Students’
interest or engagement in a task is clearly important. Nevertheless, it does
not guarantee that students will acquire the kinds of knowledge that will
support new learning. There are important differences between tasks and
projects that encourage hands-on doing and those that encourage doing
with understanding; the knowledge-centered environment emphasizes the
latter (Greeno, 1991).
3. Formative assessments—ongoing assessments designed to
make students’ thinking visible to both teachers and students—are
essential. They permit the teacher to grasp the students’ preconcep-
tions, understand where the students are in the “developmental cor-
ridor” from informal to formal thinking, and design instruction
accordingly. In the assessment-centered classroom environment, for-
mative assessments help both teachers and students monitor
progress.
An important feature of assessments in these classrooms is that they be
learner-friendly: they are not the Friday quiz for which information is memo-
rized the night before, and for which the student is given a grade that ranks
him or her with respect to classmates. Rather, these assessments should
provide students with opportunities to revise and improve their thinking
(Vye et al., 1998b), help students see their own progress over the course of
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22 HOW PEOPLE LEARN: BRIDGING RESEARCH AND PRACTICE
weeks or months, and help teachers identify problems that need to be rem-
edied (problems that may not be visible without the assessments). For
example, a high school class studying the principles of democracy might be
given a scenario in which a colony of people have just settled on the moon
and must establish a government. Proposals from students of the defining
features of such a government, as well as discussion of the problems they
foresee in its establishment, can reveal to both teachers and students areas
in which student thinking is more and less advanced. The exercise is less a
test than an indicator of where inquiry and instruction should focus.
4. Learning is influenced in fundamental ways by the context in
which it takes place. A community-centered approach requires the
development of norms for the classroom and school, as well as con-
nections to the outside world, that support core learning values.
The norms established in the classroom have strong effects on students’
achievement. In some schools, the norms could be expressed as “don’t get
caught not knowing something.” Others encourage academic risk-taking and
opportunities to make mistakes, obtain feedback, and revise. Clearly, if
students are to reveal their preconceptions about a subject matter, their ques-
tions, and their progress toward understanding, the norms of the school
must support their doing so.
Teachers must attend to designing classroom activities and helping
students organize their work in ways that promote the kind of intellectual
camaraderie and the attitudes toward learning that build a sense of commu-
nity. In such a community, students might help one another solve problems
by building on each other’s knowledge, asking questions to clarify explana-
tions, and suggesting avenues that would move the group toward its goal
(Brown and Campione, 1994). Both cooperation in problem solving (Evans,
1989; Newstead and Evans, 1995) and argumentation (Goldman, 1994;
Habermas, 1990; Kuhn, 1991; Moshman, 1995a, 1995b; Salmon and Zeitz,
1995; Youniss and Damon, 1992) among students in such an intellectual
community enhance cognitive development.
Teachers must be enabled and encouraged to establish a community of
learners among themselves (Lave and Wegner, 1991). These communities
can build a sense of comfort with questioning rather than knowing the answer
and can develop a model of creating new ideas that build on the contribu-
tions of individual members. They can engender a sense of the excitement
of learning that is then transferred to the classroom, conferring a sense of
ownership of new ideas as they apply to theory and practice.
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KEY FINDINGS 23
Not least, schools need to develop ways to link classroom learning to
other aspects of students’ lives. Engendering parent support for the core
learning principles and parent involvement in the learning process is of
utmost importance (Moll, 1990; 1986a, 1986b). Figure 2.3 shows the per-
centage of time, during a calendar year, that students in a large school dis-
trict spent in school. If one-third of their time outside school (not counting
sleeping) is spent watching television, then students apparently spend more
hours per year watching television than attending school. A focus only on
the hours that students currently spend in school overlooks the many oppor-
tunities for guided learning in other settings.
APPLYING THE DESIGN FRAMEWORK TO
ADULT LEARNING
The design framework above assumes that the learners are children, but
the principles apply to adult learning as well. This point is particularly
FIGURE 2.3
Students spend only 14 percent of their time in school.
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24 HOW PEOPLE LEARN: BRIDGING RESEARCH AND PRACTICE
important because incorporating the principles in How People Learn into
educational practice will require a good deal of adult learning. Many
approaches to teaching adults consistently violate principles for optimizing
learning. Professional development programs for teachers, for example,
frequently:
Are not learner centered. Rather than ask teachers where they need
help, they are simply expected to attend prearranged workshops.
Are not knowledge centered. Teachers may simply be introduced to
a new technique (like cooperative learning) without being given the oppor-
tunity to understand why, when, where, and how it might be valuable to
them. Especially important is the need to integrate the structure of activities
with the content of the curriculum that is taught.
Are not assessment centered. In order for teachers to change their
practices, they need opportunities to try things out in their classrooms and
then receive feedback. Most professional development opportunities do not
provide such feedback. Moreover, they tend to focus on change in teaching
practice as the goal, but they neglect to develop in teachers the capacity to
judge successful transfer of the technique to the classroom or its effects on
student achievement.
Are not community centered. Many professional development oppor-
tunities are conducted in isolation. Opportunities for continued contact and
support as teachers incorporate new ideas into their teaching are limited, yet
the rapid spread of Internet access provides a ready means of maintaining
such contact if appropriately designed tools and services are available.
The principles of learning and their implications for designing learning
environments apply equally to child and adult learning. They provide a lens
through which current practice can be viewed with respect to K-12 teaching
and with respect to preparation of teachers in the research and develop-
ment agenda. The principles are relevant as well when we consider other
groups, such as policy makers and the public, whose learning is also required
for educational practice to change.
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RESPONSES FROM THE EDUCATION AND POLICY COMMUNITIES 25
3
Responses from the
Education and Policy Communities
The Committee on Learning Research and Educational Practice invited
members of the teacher, administrator, policy, and research communities to
come together for the purpose of providing feedback on How People Learn
and discussing ideas regarding the potential for, and the barriers to, bridging
research and practice. The December 1998 conference provided exposure
to the report and an opportunity for panel members, as well as members of
a diverse audience, to comment. The smaller January 1999 workshop pro-
vided the opportunity for groups of teachers, education administrators and
policy makers, teacher educators, and researchers to suggest ideas regarding
the research and development that is required to link the findings in How
People Learn to classroom practice. They also noted areas in which addi-
tional research on learning is required. In what follows, we highlight many
of the responses the committee heard. More specific ideas regarding research
and development are incorporated into the agenda in Chapter 4.
RESPONSES FROM THE
EDUCATION COMMUNITY
The teachers involved in the conference and workshop came from schools
that were both urban and suburban, public and private. They serve children
from a variety of socioeconomic backgrounds (see Appendix A for the list of
participants). Collectively, they represent vast experience in teaching, and
some now serve, or have served in the past, as school administrators. They
uniformly agreed that How People Learn provides knowledge that is impor-
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26 HOW PEOPLE LEARN: BRIDGING RESEARCH AND PRACTICE
tant and relevant for classroom teaching and that is not now reflected in
most teaching practice. But they also agreed that it was only a start. They
provided a number of suggestions for next steps.
• Research findings need to be organized and communicated to
teachers and other educators in a way that is easy to comprehend and
to integrate into their current thinking. To accomplish this, the language
and examples used in communicating research ideas must be familiar.
• The model of how people learn needs to be presented as a
standard, stable model that rests on solid research that will not alter
dramatically in the 5 or 10 years it will take to implement. The report, How
People Learn, is seen as a start in the direction of building such a model of
human learning. But more needs to be done. The model needs to make
sense of areas in which current practice is effective, it must ring true to the
everyday experience of teachers, and it must suggest changes to current
practice that is ineffective. It must allow practitioners to use the model to
guide solutions to their problems, not merely to explain successes after they
occur.
• Teachers need curriculum materials and support to adopt new
teaching methods. A clear discussion of how people learn will not be
adequate to influence teacher practice. Teachers need the research to be
elaborated in the form of many examples that are relevant to their own
teaching and in the form of curricula that they can use in their classrooms.
There is consensus among many of the educators that simply providing a
curriculum, however exemplary, is not enough. Teachers need visual models
of practice, and support over an extended period of time as they attempt to
use the curriculum. They need to have questions answered, and they need
feedback when what they observe is different from what they expect.
• Collaboration between teachers and researchers will require a
change in the relationship between the two groups. To achieve more
fluid communication between those who teach and those who do research,
a level of trust must be in place that does not currently exist. Teachers often
feel that researchers are unaware of the realities of classroom teaching, and
that research does not address the questions that they need to have answered.
If teachers are to buy into research-based changes in teaching, they must be
part of a collaborative effort that makes use of their knowledge and insights
and that responds to their needs. If they are invested in a research effort
from the beginning, they will be more open to its results.
• Teachers need time and incentives to reflect on their practice,
as well as opportunities to use that time to learn about new research
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RESPONSES FROM THE EDUCATION AND POLICY COMMUNITIES 27
and curricula. There appears to be widespread consensus among educa-
tors that time limitations are an enormous barrier to bridging research and
practice. Teachers’ days are so tightly scheduled that they barely have
adequate time to think about their lessons for the next day. Many have too
little time to reflect on their own practice and to engage in reflective dialogue
with their colleagues. Fewer still have the additional time and motivation to
investigate relevant research. If that is to change, time outside the classroom
needs to be scheduled into a teachers’ work week and work year.
• For teachers to change their practice, they need professional
development opportunities that are in-depth and sustained. In the
words of one workshop participant, a one-shot workshop simplifies com-
plex ideas until they become “meaningless mantras sold as snake oil.” Many
of the learning opportunities provided for teachers and other professionals
violate the principles for optimizing learning. Teachers need opportunities
to be involved in sustained learning, through teaching that models the methods
that they are being urged to adopt. Again, time must be scheduled for
teachers to engage in ongoing opportunities to learn. And arrangements
with those who provide professional development opportunities must
incorporate ongoing opportunities for contact between those who teach the
professional development courses and their teacher-participants.
The communities that interact with teachers on a regular basis,
including parents and administrators, must be persuaded of the value
of change. When educational practices change, parents who had a very
different type of education—particularly if that education was successful—
will be skeptical. When parents are dissatisfied, they take their complaints to
administrators. For the teacher to have the freedom to use research-based
ideas in classrooms, those ideas need to be effectively and persuasively
communicated to parents and administrators.
• Changing teaching practices will require an alignment with
assessment practices. Both parents and administrators tend to judge the
value of new initiatives in terms of student achievement as measured by test
scores. For parents and administrators to support research-based curricula,
success in producing measurable achievement must be demonstrated.
RESPONSES FROM THE POLICY COMMUNITY
Those from the policy community who participated in the conference
and workshop were a diverse group from the national, state, and school
district levels of government. The ideas of this group were as diverse as
their affiliations. If there was a common theme in this group at all, it was
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28 HOW PEOPLE LEARN: BRIDGING RESEARCH AND PRACTICE
that a report like How People Learn will not have an impact on education
policy unless its messages are communicated effectively for this audience.
They made varied suggestions for next steps.
• For research to be useful in policy arenas, it must emphasize
the link between research findings and policies that address the prac-
tical issues of education. Policy makers are concerned with the skills and
competencies required for young people to succeed in (school or work) and
to be active participants in their communities. Linking research findings to
such goals will enhance their value to policy makers. The more closely
research findings focus on the needs of the various communities served by
the education system, the more useful those finding will be to the legislative
process.
• Presentations of education research must emphasize the
scientific basis of the findings. Deep skepticism is expressed by elected
officials that there is much that is solid in the field of education research;
many consider the field “soft” or “fluffy.” The difference in levels of funding
between the National Institutes of Health and the Office of Educational
Research and Improvement reflects a judgment by policy makers regarding
the scientific basis of the work these agencies undertake. If policy makers
can be persuaded of the scientific basis of education research, the gap between
spending on health research and on education research might be narrowed.
• It would be useful to policy makers to highlight examples of
education success stories that use research-based innovations. Policy
makers want to do the right thing for the education system, but they are
uncertain as to what that right thing might be. Examples of successes that
are research based and focused on student achievement are very valuable
and influential in policy arenas.
• Agreement between researchers and the education community
on the needed changes must come first. The messages of the report are
primarily directed to the community of educators and teacher trainers. If
these communities can agree among themselves and with education research-
ers on the changes that need to take place, then these agreements can be
reflected in public policy. If such agreement is achieved, the high rate of
teacher turnover expected in the years ahead will provide an opportunity
for major change to be channeled through newly trained teachers.
• The public must be educated and engaged. For the findings from
How People Learn to have an impact on education policy, the public needs
to understand the significance of the findings, what they mean in the context
of their own experiences and for their children, and how schools and school
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RESPONSES FROM THE EDUCATION AND POLICY COMMUNITIES 29
systems can realistically respond to the findings. If the public understands
these issues, then they can influence their elected officials to think accordingly.
• Researchers must communicate with policy makers more
effectively. To be useful to policy makers, research findings should be
presented in a form that is brief, to the point, and jargon free. It must be
targeted to specific policy audiences. School superintendents, state legisla-
tors, governors, and federal policy makers each have separate policy
responsibilities. Each needs to have a brief description of key research
findings as they relate to their area of concern. And since policy making
tends to be reactive, learning opportunities need to be provided at opportune
moments. They should not be limited to written materials, with which policy
makers are inundated, but should include direct engagement in dialogue.
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30 HOW PEOPLE LEARN: BRIDGING RESEARCH AND PRACTICE
4
Proposing a
Research and Development Agenda
In designing a research and development agenda, the committee con-
sidered the mechanisms through which research influences practice, in light
of the feedback received at the two events organized around How People
Learn. Recall that Figure 1.1 from Chapter 1 depicts the committee’s view of
the paths through which research influences practice.
Several aspects of the figure are worth noting again here. First, the
influence of research on the four mediating arenas—education materials,
pre-service and in-service teacher and administrator education programs,
public policy, and public opinion and the media—has typically been weak
for the variety of reasons discussed earlier. Without clear communication of
a research-based theory of learning and teaching, the operational theories
held by the various stakeholders are not aligned. Teachers, administrators,
and parents frequently encounter conflicting ideas about the nature of learn-
ing and its implications for effective teaching.
Second, with the exception of the relatively small set of cases in which
teachers and researchers work together on design experiments, the arrows
between research and practice in Figure 1.1 are one-way. This reflects the
fact that practitioners typically have few opportunities to shape the research
agenda and contribute to an emerging knowledge base of learning and
teaching. The task of bridging research and practice requires an agenda
that allows for a flow of information, ideas, and research questions in both
directions. It requires an agenda that consolidates the knowledge base and
strengthens the links between that knowledge base and each of the compo-
nents that together influence practice.
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PROPOSING A RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT AGENDA 31
The potential benefits of bridging theory and practice are noted by Donald
Stokes in his recent work, Pasteur’s Quadrant (1997). Stokes observed that
many of the advances in science are intimately connected to the search for
solutions to practical problems. Pasteur appears in the book’s title because
his work contributed so clearly to scientific understanding while simulta-
neously focusing on practical problems. Such research is “use-inspired.” As
in Pasteur’s case, when executed as part of a systematic and strategic program
of inquiry, it can support new understandings at the most fundamental and
basic scientific level.
A central theme of Stokes’s argument is that the typical linear
conceptualization of research as a sequence from basic to applied is an
inaccurate characterization of much research, and it is highly limiting for the
envisioning of a research agenda. He proposes instead a quadrant in two-
dimensional space in which considerations of use and the quest for funda-
mental understanding define the horizontal and vertical axes respectively.
The quadrant allows for the possibility that research can be high in both
basic and applied values.
The committee is sympathetic to this perspective. We envision the need
for a comprehensive program of use-driven strategic research and develop-
ment focused on issues of improving classroom learning and teaching. The
facts that schools and classrooms are the focus and that enhanced practice
and learning are the desired goals render the program of research no less
important with respect to advancing the theoretical base for how people
learn. Indeed, many of the advances described in How People Learn are the
product of use-inspired research and development focused on solving prob-
lems of classroom practice.
It is worth noting that a wide array of quantitative and qualitative methods
drawn from the behavioral and social sciences are employed in education
research. The methods often vary with the nature of the learning and teach-
ing problem studied and the level of detail at which issues are pursued.
Given the complexity of educational issues in real-world contexts in which
variables are often difficult to control, the types of “use-inspired” research
that we envision will necessarily demand a variety of methods. These will
range from controlled designs to case studies, with analytic methods for
deriving conclusions and inferences including both quantitative and qualita-
tive procedures of substantial rigor. To build an effective bridge between
research and practice, such a multiplicity of methods is not only reasonable,
it is essential. No single research method can suffice.
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32 HOW PEOPLE LEARN: BRIDGING RESEARCH AND PRACTICE
OVERARCHING THEMES
Adopting the perspective of use-inspired, strategic research and devel-
opment focused on issues of learning and teaching is a powerful way to
organize and justify the specific project areas we describe. In light of the
many comments of workshop participants, the committee identified five
overarching themes that guided our understanding of the change that is
required to bridge research and practice more effectively. Three of these
themes point to the consolidation of knowledge that would help link research
and practice:
1. Elaborate the messages in How People Learn at a level of detail
that makes them usable to educators and policy makers. Workshop
participants were enthusiastic about the report and its implications for class-
room teaching. They were virtually unanimous, however, in the view that
the findings and their implications need to be substantially elaborated and
incorporated into curricula, instructional tools, and assessment tools before
their impact will be felt in the classroom. It is not enough to know, for
example, that subject-matter information must be tied to related concepts if
deep understanding and transfer of learning are the goals. Teachers must
recognize which particular concepts are most relevant for the subject matter
that they teach. And they need curriculum materials that support the effort
to link information with concepts. Similarly, policy makers need to know
quite specifically how the principles in How People Learn relate to state
standards. In this sense, the development aspect of the agenda is critical.
2. Communicate the messages in How People Learn in the manner
that is most effective for each of the audiences that influences educa-
tional practice. For teachers to teach differently and administrators and
policy makers to support a different model of teaching, they need opportu-
nities to learn about the recommended changes and to understand what
they are designed to achieve. Research must be done on effective methods
of communicating these ideas to teachers, administrators, and policy makers,
each of whom have different information needs and different ways of learn-
ing. Similarly, teachers, administrators, and policy makers all emphasized
that the public’s beliefs regarding education influence how they do their
jobs. They recommended research aimed at effectively communicating key
ideas from How People Learn to the public
.
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PROPOSING A RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT AGENDA 33
3. Use the principles in How People Learn as a lens through which
to evaluate existing education practices and policies. How People Learn
emphasizes that many existing school practices and policies are inconsistent
with what is known about learning. But there are also havens of exemplary
educational practice, and the report points to some of these as well. The
education landscape is dotted with reform efforts and with institutes and
centers that produce new ideas and new teaching materials. Educators,
administrators, and policy makers are eager for help in sorting through what
already exists. They want to know which of these current practices, training
programs, and policies are in alignment with the principles in How People
Learn, and which are in clear violation of them.
Moreover, educators emphasized that new ideas are introduced to schools
one after another, and teachers become weary and skeptical that any new
reform effort will be better than the last. Zealous efforts to promote the
newest idea often overlook existing practices that are successful. An effort
to identify such practices will build support from those who have long been
engaged in teaching for understanding.
Together, these three themes suggest that an effective bridge between
research and practice will require a consolidated knowledge base on learn-
ing and teaching that builds, or is cumulative, over time. Elaborating on the
committee’s conceptualization in Figure 1.1, this knowledge base appears at
the center of Figure 4.1. Fed by research, it organizes, synthesizes, inter-
prets, and communicates research findings in a manner that allows easy
access and effective learning for those in each of the mediating arenas.
Attending to the communication and information links between the knowledge
base and each of the components of the model simultaneously enhances the
prospect for the alignment of research ideas and practice.
Two additional themes that emerged from the discussions focus on how
research should be conducted to strengthen its link to practice:
4. Conduct research in teams that combine the expertise of
researchers and the wisdom of practitioners. Much of the work that is
needed to bridge research and practice focuses on the education and profes-
sional development of teachers, the curriculum, instruction and assessment
tools that support their teaching, and the policies that define the environment
in which teaching takes place. These are areas about which practitioners
have a great deal of knowledge and experience. Workshop participants
emphasized the need to have educators partnered with researchers in under-
taking these research projects. Such partnerships allow the perspectives and
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34 HOW PEOPLE LEARN: BRIDGING RESEARCH AND PRACTICE
knowledge of teachers to be tapped, bringing an awareness to the research
of the needs and dynamics of a classroom environment. Since such partner-
ships are novel to many researchers, exemplary cases and guiding principles
will need to be developed to make more likely the successful planning and
conduct of research team partnerships.
5. Extend the frontier of learning research by expanding the study
of classroom practice. Researchers and practitioners who participated in
the workshops recommended expansion of research efforts that begin by
observing the learning that takes place in the classroom. This research, as
the earlier discussion of the Stokes work suggests, may advance understand-
ing of the science of learning in important and useful ways.
Taken together, these latter two suggestions imply that the links between
research and practice should routinely flow in both directions. The insights
FIGURE 4.1
Proposed model for strengthening the link between research and practice.
Educational Materials
Classroom PracticeResearch on
Teaching and Learning
Policy
The Public
(including the media)
CUMULATIVE
KNOWLEDGE BASE
ON LEARNING
AND TEACHING
Pre-service and In-service
Education
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PROPOSING A RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT AGENDA 35
of researchers help shape the practitioner’s understanding, and the insights
of practitioners help shape the research agenda and the insights of researchers.
Moreover, the link between each of the arenas and the knowledge base
flows in both directions. Efforts to align teaching materials, teacher educa-
tion, administration, public policy, and public opinion with the knowledge
base are part of an ongoing, iterative research effort in which the implemen-
tation of new ideas, teaching techniques, or forms of communication are
themselves the subject of study.
The agenda that follows proposes research and development that can
help consolidate the knowledge base (which appears at the center of Fig-
ure 2.1) and can build the two-way links between the knowledge base and
each of the arenas that influences practice. But that knowledge base is also
fed by research on learning more generally and on classroom practice. The
committee also suggests additional research that would strengthen the under-
standing of learning in areas that go beyond How People Learn.
Finally, since communication and access to knowledge are key to align-
ment, the committee proposes a new effort to use interactive technologies to
facilitate communication of the variety of findings that would emerge from
these research and development projects.
In many of the proposed areas for research and development, work is
already under way. Inclusion in the agenda is not meant to overlook the
contributions of research already done or in progress. Rather, we are inclu-
sive in order to suggest that research findings need to be synthesized and
integrated into the knowledge base and their implications tested through
ongoing, iterative research.
RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT OF
EDUCATIONAL MATERIALS
The goal of the recommended research and development in this area is
to build on and elaborate findings in How People Learn so that they are
“applications ready” and more usable to those responsible for developing
curriculum, instructional, and assessment materials. It is designed to achieve
three interrelated goals: (a) to identify existing educational materials that
are aligned with the principles of learning suggested by the report and to
develop and test new materials in areas of need, (b) to advance the knowl-
edge base by significantly extending the work described in How People Learn
to additional areas of curriculum, instructional techniques, and assessments
that are in need of detailed analysis, and (c) to communicate the messages in
How People Learn in a manner appropriate to developers of educational
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36 HOW PEOPLE LEARN: BRIDGING RESEARCH AND PRACTICE
materials and teachers by using a variety of technologies (e.g., texts, elec-
tronic databases, interactive web sites). The research we recommend is
described in this section in seven project areas.
Examining Existing Practice
1. Review a sample of current curricula, instructional techniques,
and assessments for alignment with principles discussed in How
People Learn. The committee recommends that teams of discipline-specific
experts, researchers in pedagogy and cognitive science, and teachers review
a sample of widely used curricula, as well as curricula that have a reputation
for teaching for understanding. The envisioned research would involve two
stages; these might be conducted together in a project, or as sequential
projects.
Stage 1: These curricula and their companion instructional techniques
and assessments should be evaluated with careful attention paid to align-
ment with the principles of learning outlined in How People Learn. The
review might include consideration of the extent to which the curriculum
emphasizes depth over breadth of coverage; the effectiveness of the oppor-
tunities provided to grasp key concepts related to the subject matter; the
extent to which the curriculum provides opportunities to explore precon-
ceptions about the subject matter; the adequacy of the factual knowledge
base provided by the curriculum; the extent to which formative assessment
procedures are built into the curriculum; and the extent to which accompa-
nying summative assessment procedures measure understanding and ability
to transfer rather than memory of fact.
The features that support learning should be highlighted and explained,
as should the features that are in conflict. The report from this research
should accomplish two goals. First, it should identify examples of curricu-
lum components, instructional techniques, and assessment tools that incor-
porate the principles of learning. Second, the explication of features that
support or conflict with the principles of learning should be provided in
sufficient detail and in a format that allows the report to serve as a learning
device for those in the education field who choose and use teaching and
assessment tools. As such, it could serve as a reference document when
new curricula and assessments are being considered.
Stage 2: The curricula that are considered promising should be evalu-
ated to determine their effectiveness when used in practice. Curricula that
are highly rated on paper may be very difficult for teachers to work with, or
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PROPOSING A RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT AGENDA 37
in the light of classroom practice may fail to achieve the level of under-
standing for which they are designed. Measures of student achievement
take center stage in this effort. Through the lens of How People Learn,
achievement is indicated not only by a command of factual knowledge, but
also by a student’s conceptual understanding of subject matter and the ability
to apply those concepts to future learning of new, related material. If exist-
ing assessments do not measure conceptual understanding and knowledge
transfer, then this stage will require development and testing of such measures.
In addition to achievement scores, feedback from teachers and curriculum
directors who use the materials would provide additional input for stage 2.
Ideally, the review of curricula would take place at several levels: at the
level of curriculum units, which may span several weeks of instructional
time; at the level of semester-long and year-long sequences of units; and at
the level of multiple grades, so that students have chances to progressively
deepen their understanding over a number of years.
The curricula reviewed should not be limited to those that are print
based. As a subset of this effort, the committee recommends a review of
curricula that are multimedia. The number of computers in schools is expand-
ing rapidly. For schools to use that equipment to support learning, they
must be able to identify the computer-based programs that can enhance
classroom teaching or class assignments. The committee recommends that
research be done to:
a. Identify technology programs or computer-based curricula that are
aligned with the principles of learning for understanding. The programs
identified should go beyond those that are add-ons of factual information or
that simply provide information in an entertaining fashion. The investiga-
tion should explore how the programs can be used as a tool to support
knowledge-building in the unit being studied, and how they can further
enhance the development of understanding of key concepts in the unit. The
study should also explore the adequacy of opportunities for learning about
the programs and for ongoing support in using the programs in a classroom
setting;
b. Evaluate the aligned programs as teaching/learning tools by con-
ducting empirical research on their distinctive contribution to achievement
and other desired outcomes.
c. Investigate computer programs that appear to be effective teaching
devices but do not clearly align with the principles of learning. These might
suggest productive areas for further study.
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38 HOW PEOPLE LEARN: BRIDGING RESEARCH AND PRACTICE
Extend the Knowledge Base by Developing and Testing
New Educational Materials
2. In areas in which curriculum development has been weak,
design and evaluate new curricula, with companion assessment tools,
that teach and measure deep understanding. As an extension of
Recommendation 1 above, or in some cases as a substitute, the committee
recommends the development and evaluation of new curriculum and assess-
ment materials that reflect the principles of learning outlined in How People
Learn. Once again, the committee recommends that the development be
done by teams of disciplinary experts, cognitive scientists, curriculum devel-
opers, and expert teachers. Ideally, research in this category will begin with
existing curricula and modify them to better reflect key principles of learn-
ing. In some cases, however, exemplary curricula for particular kinds of
subject matter may not exist, so the teams will need to create them. This
research and development might be coordinated with the ongoing efforts of
the National Science Foundation to ensure complementary rather than
duplicative efforts.
The curricula should be designed to support learning for understanding.
They will presumably emphasize depth over breadth. The designs should
engage students’ initial understanding, promote construction of a founda-
tion of factual knowledge in the context of a general conceptual framework,
and encourage the development of metacognitive skills.
Companion teacher materials for a curriculum should include a “meta-
guide” that explains its links to principles of learning, reflects pedagogical
content knowledge concerning the curriculum, and promotes flexible use of
the curriculum by teachers. The guide should include discussion of expected
prior knowledge (including typical preconceptions), expected competen-
cies required of students, and ways to carry out formative assessments as
learning proceeds. Potentially excellent curricula can fail because teachers
are not given adequate support to use them. Although instructional guides
cannot replace teacher training efforts, the meta-guide should be both com-
prehensive and user-friendly to supplement those efforts. Finally, both
formative and summative tests of learning and transfer should be proposed
as well.
Once developed, the committee recommends field-testing of the cur-
ricula in order to amass data on student learning and teacher satisfaction,
identifying areas for improvement. Clearly, it is easier to field-test short
units rather than longer ones. Ideally, different research groups that are
focusing on similar topics across different age groups (e.g., algebra in
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PROPOSING A RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT AGENDA 39
elementary, middle, and high school) would work to explore the degree to
which each of the parts seems to merge into a coherent whole.
The committee recommends once again that careful attention be paid to
the criteria used to evaluate the learning that is supported by the materials
and accompanying pedagogy. Achievement should measure understanding
of concepts and ability to transfer learning to new, related areas.
3. Conduct research on formative assessment. The committee
recommends a separate research effort on formative assessment. The impor-
tance of making students’ thinking visible by providing frequent opportuni-
ties for assessment, feedback, and revision, as well as teaching students to
engage in self-assessment, is emphasized in How People Learn and in the
proposals above. But the knowledge base on how to do this effectively is
still weak. To bolster the understanding of formative assessment so that it
can more effectively be built into curricula, this research effort should:
a. Formulate design principles for formative assessments that promote
the development of coherent, well-organized knowledge. The goal of these
assessments is to tap understanding rather than memory for procedures and
facts;
b. Experiment with approaches to developing in students and teachers
a view of formative assessment and self-assessment as an opportunity for
providing useful information that allows for growth, rather than as an out-
come measure of success or failure;
c. Explore the potential of new technologies that provide the opportu-
nity to incorporate formative assessment into teaching in an efficient and
user-friendly fashion.
This research effort should consider as well the relationship between
formative and summative assessments. If the goal of learning is to achieve
deep understanding, then formative assessment should identify problems
and progress toward that goal, and summative assessment should measure
the level of success at reaching that goal. Clearly they are different stages of
the same process and should be closely tied in design and purpose.
4. Develop and evaluate videotaped model lessons for broadly
taught, common curriculum units that appear throughout the K-12
education system. Many lessons and units of study are taught almost
universally to students in the United States. Examples include the rain cycle
in science, the concept of gravity in physics, the Civil War in history, and
Macbeth in English. The committee recommends that a sample of familiar
teaching topics be chosen to illustrate teaching methods that are compatible
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40 HOW PEOPLE LEARN: BRIDGING RESEARCH AND PRACTICE
with the findings of How People Learn. The research and development
should be undertaken by teams composed of disciplinary experts, peda-
gogical experts, master teachers, and video specialists. The model lessons
or units envisioned by the committee would in all cases:
a. Illustrate a methodology for drawing out and working with student
preconceptions and assessing progress toward understanding (results from
project area 5 below could contribute to this endeavor);
b. Present the conceptual framework for understanding or organizing
the new material;
c. Provide clear opportunities for transfer of knowledge to related areas.
When appropriate, they would also:
d. Provide instruction on the use of meta-cognitive skills;
e. Include examples of group processes in the development of under-
standing, illustrating the nature (and potential advantages) of capitalizing on
shared expertise in the classroom.
The model units would be prefaced and heavily annotated to guide the
viewer’s understanding. Annotations would include both subject content
and pedagogical technique. Companion assessment tools should be devel-
oped that measure understanding of the core concepts taught in the lessons.
The committee recommends multiple models of teaching the same unit in
different school contexts. These could serve several purposes. First, the
goal of the videotaped models is to illustrate effective approaches to teach-
ing more generally, not just of teaching a particular unit. This learning is
more likely to occur with multiple examples that allow for variation in the
delivery of the lesson, holding constant the underlying principles of effec-
tive teaching.
Second, the classroom dynamics and level of preparation of the stu-
dents can vary significantly from one school to the next. It may be difficult
for a teacher to find relevant instruction in a videotape of a class that does
not resemble the one in which she or he teaches. Finally, the art of teaching
requires flexibility in responding to students’ inquiries and reflections. Mul-
tiple cases can demonstrate flexibility in response to the particular students
being taught while attending to a common body of knowledge.
Whether providing multiple models does indeed achieve these purposes
is itself a research question worth pursuing. Such research should test the
effect of each additional model provided on the level of understanding of
key learning and teaching concepts, as well as the amount of variation between
models that optimizes the flexibility of understanding that viewers achieve.
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PROPOSING A RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT AGENDA 41
Once pilot versions of these lessons are designed, the committee recom-
mends rigorous field-testing, with time built into the research plan for revi-
sion and retesting. Video-based materials already developed and in use as
part of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards training and
assessment development process should be considered as possible candi-
date materials for further study as part of this process.
The committee recommends that the model lessons be organized in
widely accessible video and multimedia libraries that could serve multiple
purposes:
• The lessons could be used as anchors for discussions of pre-service
and in-service teachers and administrators, as they try to understand and
master the pedagogy to accompany the new forms of learning described in
How People Learn.
• The lessons could be instructive in administrative training programs.
School administrators responsible for hiring and evaluating teachers need
models of good practice that can inform their evaluations.
• With some modified annotations, the lessons could inform parents
about teaching techniques that promote learning for understanding. Chang-
ing classroom teaching can be problematic if new methods run counter to
parents’ perceptions of the learning process. The model lessons could help
parents understand the goals of the espoused approach to teaching.
Extend the Knowledge Base Through Elaboration and
Development of Key Research Findings
5. Conduct research on key conceptual frameworks, by discipline,
for the units that are commonly taught in K-12 education. A key finding
of the research reviewed in How People Learn is that deep understanding—
and the transfer of learning that is one of its hallmarks—requires that the
subject matter being taught be tied to the key concepts or organizing prin-
ciples that the discipline uses to understand that subject. The goal of teaching
about a given topic is not simply to convey factual information, although
that information is a necessary component. The meaning of that informa-
tion as it relates to basic concepts in the discipline, the related analytical
methods that answer the question “How do we know,” and the terms of
discourse in a disciplinary field are all components in developing competence.
To illustrate, consider the topic of marine mammals as it might be taught
in early elementary school. That unit would be likely to include identifica-
tion of the various marine mammals, information on the features that distin-
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42 HOW PEOPLE LEARN: BRIDGING RESEARCH AND PRACTICE
guish marine mammals from fish, and perhaps more detailed information on
the various types and sizes of whales, the relative size of male and female
whales, etc. To the marine biologist, this information is the interesting detail
in a larger story, which begins with the question: “Why are there mammals
in the sea?” A unit organized around that question would engross students
in an evolutionary tale in which the adaptation of sea creatures for life on
the land takes a twist: land mammals now adapt to life in the sea. The core
biological concepts of adaptation and natural selection would be at the center
of the tale. Students would come to understand the puzzle that marine
mammals posed for scientists: Could sea creatures evolve to mammals that
live on land and then evolve again to mammals that return to the sea? They
would come to understand the debate in the scientific community and the
discovery of supporting evidence. And they would have cause to challenge
the widespread misconception that evolution is a unidirectional process.
The approach of tying information on marine mammals to the concepts,
language, and ways of knowing in that branch of science can be used in
other areas of science, as well as in other disciplines. But the concepts and
organizing principles that provide a framework for particular subject matter
are often obvious only to those who are expert in the discipline. The com-
mittee recommends that discipline-specific research be conducted in his-
tory, mathematics, natural sciences, and social sciences to systematically
review units of study that commonly appear in K-12 curricula, specifying the
conceptual framework to which the unit should be tied. The results of this
effort will allow teachers and curriculum developers to see if a common
conceptual basis exists for separate units of study. Making those underlying
concepts explicit helps students construct a model for understanding that
facilitates transfer.
The committee further recommends that the work in each discipline be
reviewed by a panel of disciplinary experts to identify consensus and con-
tested areas. To the extent that there is a high level of agreement within a
discipline about the organizing constructs as they apply to units of class-
room study, the outcome of this research will be highly useful to those who
design and evaluate curricula and to those who teach.
6. Identifying and addressing preconceptions by field. The research
reviewed in How People Learn makes the case that new learning is built on
the foundation of existing knowledge and preconceived notions regarding
the subject of study. Learning is enhanced when preconceived understand-
ings are drawn out. When these are accurate, new knowledge can be directly
tied to what is already known. And when they are inaccurate, students can
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PROPOSING A RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT AGENDA 43
be made aware of how their existing conceptions fall short and be provided
with more robust alternatives. Teachers and curriculum developers can
build learning experiences into curricula that challenge typical misconcep-
tions, and that draw out and work with unpredictable preconceptions. The
committee recommends research by discipline and subject area:
a. To identify common preconceptions that students bring to the class-
room at different levels of education;
b. To identify links that can be made between existing learner under-
standings and the disciplinary knowledge, when they are compatible;
c. To identify progressive learning sequences that would allow students
to bridge naïve and mature understandings of the subject matter.
The research would be conducted independently for mathematics, natu-
ral sciences, social sciences, and humanities. The research teams should
combine disciplinary experts with cognitive scientists, expert teachers, and
curriculum developers. The range of topics covered in each disciplinary
area should allow for exploration of the key concepts in the field as they
arise in commonly covered course topics in the K-12 curriculum.
In some disciplines (e.g., physics), substantial research has already been
done to identify misconceptions. This project should build on those efforts
but extend them by developing and testing strategies for working with pre-
conceptions, providing tools and techniques for teachers to work with in the
classroom.
The research, as envisioned, would involve several stages:
• Stage 1 would involve the identification of the subject areas for study
and the key concepts that students must comprehend in order to understand
each subject area. Assessment tools that allow for a test of comprehension
of these concepts, including tests of the degree to which students’ under-
standing supports new learning (transfer), would also be developed at this
stage.
• Stage 2 would consist of a review of existing research that explores
the preconceptions that students bring to that subject area and an extension
of the research into areas that have not been adequately explored.
• Stage 3 would involve the development of learning opportunities and
instructional strategies that build on, or challenge, those preconceptions.
These might include experiments in physics that produce results contradicting
initial understandings, or research tasks in history that show the same event
from multiple perspectives, challenging good-guy/bad-guy stereotyping.
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44 HOW PEOPLE LEARN: BRIDGING RESEARCH AND PRACTICE
• Stage 4 would involve experimental testing of the newly developed
learning tools and instructional strategies, with the assessment tools devel-
oped in stage 1 used as a measure of comprehension.
The final products of this research in each disciplinary area would include
written reports of research results, as well as descriptions of tested instruc-
tional techniques for working with student preconceptions. The findings
could be incorporated into videotaped model lessons (project area 4 above)
or those used in the pedagogical laboratories proposed in the project area 13.
Develop Tools for Effective Communication of the
Principles of Learning as They Apply to Educational
Materials
7. Develop an interactive communications site that provides infor-
mation on curricula by field. Feedback from workshop participants
suggested a high level of frustration with the task of sorting through and
evaluating curricula. A central source of information on curricula and their
major features would be highly valued. The committee recommends the
development and maintenance of an interactive communications site that
provides information about design principles for effective curricula, and relates
these principles to particular curricula by subject area. The curriculum review
and development recommended above would provide a solid foundation of
information for creation of the site.
Comparing and rating curricula can be a difficult business. A good
curriculum will need to balance coverage of information with in-depth explora-
tion of concepts. But there is no magic balancing point. One curriculum
may provide more opportunities to explore interesting scientific narratives,
whereas another may offer more opportunities for valuable experimenta-
tion. But if the difficulty in evaluating curricula means backing away entirely
from the effort to compare and evaluate, then the information available to
those who must choose among curricula is diminished. Thousands of schools
and teachers must then bear a much heavier burden of information collection.
The committee recommends a comprehensive evaluation process that
does not rank-order curricula, but rather evaluates them on an array of rel-
evant features. A sample of such features taken from How People Learn
includes the extent to which the curriculum draws out preconceptions;
whether it includes embedded assessment (both formative and summative);
the extent to which it places information in the relevant conceptual frame-
work; the extent to which curriculum modules can be reconfigured in ways
that allow teachers to meet particular goals and needs, and the extent to
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PROPOSING A RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT AGENDA 45
which it encourages the development of metacognitive skills. Other useful
information on the curriculum would include the extent and results of field-
testing, the length of time it has been in use, the number of schools or
school districts that have adopted it, the opportunities for teacher learning,
and the amount and kind of support available to teachers using the curricu-
lum. Information on student response to and interest in the curriculum
would be useful as well.
Evaluating curricula in terms of their relevant features that align with the
principles in How People Learn is a massive undertaking. For its ultimate
success, such evaluations will need to represent expert judgments coming
from different perspectives, including the subject-matter discipline, master
teachers, learning and pedagogy experts, and curriculum developers. Users
of an interactive communications site that publishes these judgments can
then weigh the expertise they consider most useful for guiding their choice
of curricula. The site should invite their feedback on experiences with using
the curricula that this information led them to select. Ideally, the communi-
cations site will make it easy for teachers to access information that is directly
relevant to their particular goals and needs.
Success will also require a growing group of constituencies and experts
who can carry forward the principles in How People Learn to evaluating
curricula.
RESEARCH ON PRE-SERVICE AND
IN-SERVICE EDUCATION
The research and development proposed in this section is designed,
once again, to achieve three goals: (a) to look first at existing practice
through the lens of How People Learn, (b) to advance understanding in ways
that would facilitate alignment of teacher preparation with principles of learn-
ing, and (c) to make the findings of this research more widely accessible and
easily understood. The recommended research is described in seven project
areas.
Examine Existing Practice Through the Lens of
How People Learn
8. Review the structure and practices of teacher education for
alignment with the principles of learning. For teacher education and
professional development programs to be aligned with the principles of
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46 HOW PEOPLE LEARN: BRIDGING RESEARCH AND PRACTICE
learning, they need to prepare teachers to think about the enterprise of
teaching as building on the existing knowledge base and preconceptions of
their students, to teach skills for drawing out and working with existing
understandings, and to continually assess the progress of students toward
the goal of deep understanding. The programs need to provide for their
students the opportunity to develop a deep understanding themselves of the
subject matter they will teach and the ability to facilitate students’ transfer of
knowledge to related areas. They need to prepare teachers to be aware of
and directly teach metacognitive skills. And they need to convey a model of
the teacher as learner, who continually develops expertise that is flexible
and adaptive.
These are implications for what schools of education and professional
development programs should teach. But the students in those programs
will themselves learn more effectively if they are taught according to these
principles. How People Learn therefore has implications for how schools of
education do their job. Do those schools have program structures and prac-
tices that reflect the principles of learning discussed here?
The committee recommends that evaluation research be conducted to
examine current program structures and practices at schools of education
through the lens of How People Learn. This effort should not only synthe-
size what is already known about teacher training programs, but also under-
take a new evaluation. The sample of schools should be chosen to reflect
the wide range of program formats (which currently include undergraduate
and postbaccalaureate program designs), as well as the widely varying enroll-
ment demographics that exist across the more than 1,000 universities and
colleges that offer teacher certification programs. The goal of this research
is largely descriptive: to understand better how teachers are being trained
relative to current understandings of learning, teaching, and the develop-
ment of expertise; how much variation currently exists in teacher education
programs; and the factors that contribute to such variability. Of special
concern are program structures, course content, and instructional practices
that seriously conflict with the principles of How People Learn. The pro-
posed research should also bring into focus features of teacher education
programs that correspond to the principles of learning, and that enhance the
capability of future teachers to incorporate the principles into their practice.
9. Review professional development programs for alignment with
the principles of learning and for relative effectiveness in changing
teaching practice. The issue of teacher preparedness is rapidly becoming
one of intense focus in policy arenas. Professional development programs
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PROPOSING A RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT AGENDA 47
are an important policy tool available to concerned lawmakers. But there
are vastly different models of professional development, and relatively little
is known about the amount and type that is required to significantly change
teacher performance and student achievement. Existing research efforts
along these lines need to be extended and built on.
The committee recommends that alternative models of professional devel-
opment be reviewed for their alignment with the principles of learning.
Features that promote or conflict with the principles should be highlighted.
The research should also examine the effects of alternative types, and amounts,
of professional development training on teacher performance and student
achievement. As envisioned, the research would:
a. Define a small set of common models of professional development.
These should include individual workshops, more lengthy in-service pro-
grams, and university courses. They should include training that is tied to a
specific curriculum, as well as training in teaching techniques.
b. Review the features of those programs that do and do not support
learning, including the opportunities they provide for exploring teachers’
preconceptions, for assessing what teachers are learning as they go along,
and for teachers to provide feedback and receive ongoing support as they
attempt to use what they have learned in the classroom environment.
c. Define measures of teacher knowledge and performance that would
be expected to change as a result of the learning opportunity.
d. Define measures of student achievement that would be expected to
change as a result of the change in teaching.
e. Estimate the effect of quantity and type of training on teacher perfor-
mance and student achievement.
The envisioned research would require a major data collection effort.
Success is likely to require that researchers work closely with school districts
over a multiyear period. In states or school districts that are about to undergo
an expansion in professional development spending, conditions may be
particularly ripe for such a partnership.
The results of this research should be written up separately for the three
communities who are likely to find them useful: (a) for those who provide
professional development programs, the results should provide feedback
that allows for improvement in program design; (b) for administrators and
policy makers, the results should provide guidance in evaluating profes-
sional development programs; and (c) for researchers, the results should be
reported in detail sufficient to support further meta-analytic research.
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48 HOW PEOPLE LEARN: BRIDGING RESEARCH AND PRACTICE
10. Explore the efficacy of various types of professional develop-
ment activities for school administrators. School administrators at the
individual school and school district level are responsible for facilitating
teacher learning and evaluating teacher performance. If they are to support
teachers’ efforts to incorporate the principles of learning into classroom
practice, they will need professional development opportunities that pro-
vide an understanding of the principles and their enactment in a classroom
environment.
The committee recommends that research be conducted to identify the
amount and type of professional development needed to create in adminis-
trators an ability to differentiate between teaching practices that do, and do
not, incorporate what is known about how people learn. This research
should go beyond an effort to identify whether a particular professional
development opportunity effectively changes administrators’ evaluations of
teacher performance. It should vary the amount of such training and the
model through which training is provided (intensive workshops, monthly
seminars conducted over the course of a year, etc.). Measures of administra-
tors’ interpretations of teaching should be taken prior to training, at the
point of program completion, and again a year after completion in order to
ascertain the sustainability of change over time and the effect of prior beliefs
on post-training performance.
Extend the Knowledge Base Through Elaboration and
Development of Key Research Findings
11. Conduct research on the preconceptions of teachers regard-
ing the process of learning. Adults, as well as children, have preconcep-
tions that contribute to the ways in which they make sense of ideas and
evidence and the decisions they make in undertaking tasks. For teachers to
think about and conduct their teaching differently, they need to learn, and
the principles of learning should guide that effort. The committee therefore
recommends that:
a. Research be conducted that explores the prior conceptions and beliefs
of teachers and those learning to become teachers, identifying the common
pedagogical models that current and prospective teachers use;
b. Learning opportunities be developed that challenge misconceptions
about how people learn and support the development of a new model that
is based on learning research;
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PROPOSING A RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT AGENDA 49
c. Evaluations should be conducted of the effectiveness of those learn-
ing opportunities in changing understanding and conceptions of practice.
The outcome of this research would include both a description of common
preconceptions about learning, as well as tested techniques for working
with those preconceptions that could be incorporated into the curricula of
schools of education and professional development programs.
12. Conduct discipline-specific research on the level and type of
education required for teaching that discipline in elementary, middle,
and high school. How People Learn makes clear that to teach effectively in
any discipline, the teacher must link the information being taught to the key
organizing principles of the discipline. To achieve this, the teacher must be
provided with the discipline-specific training that allows for deep under-
standing of those principles. This type of teaching is not now a consistent
feature of teacher training programs.
The committee recommends that discipline-specific research be con-
ducted on the amount and type of training in content knowledge that teachers
need for various levels of schooling (elementary, middle, high) in order to
teach for understanding. The challenge in providing such training is to
equip the future teacher with both content knowledge and an understand-
ing of the thinking of children in the subject area at different developmental
stages. Each is a critical component for effective teaching in a subject area.
In light of this dual requirement, is content knowledge best obtained in
disciplinary courses that also service majors in the discipline, or in courses in
schools of education, or in jointly sponsored courses that emphasize effec-
tive teaching of the content of the discipline? When content and teaching
methods are taught separately, are teachers able to bridge the two? When
they are done together, is adequate attention given to the disciplinary content?
The committee recommends further that the discipline-specific research
teams evaluate existing tools for assessing teachers’ content knowledge and
knowledge of discipline-specific developmental trajectories and make rec-
ommendations regarding their adequacy.
Develop Tools for Effective Communication of the
Principles of Learning to Teacher Education
13. Develop model pedagogical laboratories. In many fields in
which scientific principles must be put to work, laboratory experiences pro-
vide the opportunity to experiment with applications of general and specific
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50 HOW PEOPLE LEARN: BRIDGING RESEARCH AND PRACTICE
principles. The expense of the laboratories is justified by the qualitatively
different experience made possible when the boundaries of an idea can be
tested or worked with in a laboratory or field-based setting.
To prepare students in schools of education to put to work the scientific
principles of how people learn, laboratory experience could provide the
opportunity to test the principles, become familiar with their boundaries,
and learn how to make them operational. The committee therefore recom-
mends the development of pilot pedagogical laboratories.
The teachers who worked with the committee emphasized that a first
classroom experience can so overwhelm a teacher that what was learned in
a preparatory program can quickly be cast aside. Norms of operating in a
school can quickly be adopted as survival techniques, however divergent
those norms and the principles of learning might be. Laboratory experience
could provide the opportunities for practice, as well as for observation and
diagnosis of events that are likely to arise in the classroom, that could ease
the transition into the classroom and allow for greater transfer of school-
based learning to the practice of teaching.
The laboratories, as envisioned, would have multiple purposes, the most
important of which would be to provide teaching practice. The laboratories
would need to develop ongoing relationships with a body of students to be
taught (e.g., partnerships with local schools or Saturday classes). How this
relationship would be established and maintained should be given careful
attention in the design proposal for such a laboratory. Expert teachers who
staff the laboratory would provide feedback and diagnosis of the teacher’s
lessons. The process could be aided by the use of a videotaped record of
the instruction. The analysis could be further augmented by viewing tapes
of other teachers who have attempted similar lessons. The teacher in train-
ing would work to improve the lesson through an iterative process of feed-
back and revision.
The laboratory setting would be ideal for helping teachers to develop
the ability to conduct formative assessment techniques. A theme that has
coursed through this report is that teachers must be able to draw out and
work with students’ preconceptions and assess their progress toward under-
standing. The laboratory could provide opportunities to develop those tech-
niques under guided instruction.
The lab, as envisioned, would not provide a teaching internship or serve
the function of a professional development school. Rather, it would provide
an opportunity for beginning teachers to experiment with the principles of
learning that are relevant to teaching practice. The goal is not to
decontextualize teaching, but to create an environment in which the imme-
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PROPOSING A RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT AGENDA 51
diate demands of the classroom do not prevent reflection on, or exploration
of, the process of learning. Exercises could be developed for laboratory use
that involve cognitive science findings of relevance to teaching, including
findings on memory, the organization of information, the use of metacognitive
strategies, and retrieval of knowledge when transfer is prompted and when
it is not. In addition to creating a deeper appreciation of the science of
learning, these opportunities would invite teachers to think of themselves as
scientists, to observe and reflect on learning as a scientist would. To the
extent that those skills transfer to the classroom, the goal of continuous
learning and reflection on practice will be well served.
The laboratories would also serve as a locus of information for teachers
in training, for practicing teachers in the community, and for researchers in
the learning sciences. “Protocol materials,” or materials for diagnosis and
interpretation, could be housed here. These might include model lessons or
units (project area 4) that could be incorporated into the teaching of diag-
nostic and interpretive competencies. They might also include protocols of
student creativity in scientific thinking, insight, reasoning like a novice versus
an expert in a task, failure to transfer, negative transfer, distributed cogni-
tion, using parental stores of knowledge in a class, concrete and operational
thinking, and inferring causation. These protocols, then, provide vivid cases
and examples that instantiate concepts relevant to teaching and learning.
Videotaped lessons of teaching in other countries produced by the Third
International Mathematics and Science Study project might also be made
available. Faculty-directed course projects could develop evaluations of
curricula in terms of the principles of learning and submit them to the inter-
active communications site described above (project area 7) for broad use.
Technology centers could be housed in the laboratory as well. Computer
programs to support classroom learning and technology-based curricula could
be made available for exploration in this setting. Opportunities to connect
with relevant communities of teachers and researchers via the Internet could
also be explored. Students graduating from these programs will then carry
to the schools in which they teach an ability to be connected to outside
communities with relevant knowledge that is not now a feature in many
school districts.
Well-equipped laboratories would be an asset in professional develop-
ment activities as well as in pre-service training. As such, the laboratories
could be used on a year-round basis.
14. Develop tools for in-service education that communicate the
principles of learning in How People Learn. For the principles of learn-
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52 HOW PEOPLE LEARN: BRIDGING RESEARCH AND PRACTICE
ing to be incorporated into classroom practice, practicing teachers are a key
audience. They are also a very busy audience. The challenge of developing
ways to effectively communicate to those teachers is a central one. The
committee recommends research and development that distills the messages
of How People Learn for teachers and develops examples that are relevant to
the classroom context. These messages should be communicated in a variety
of formats, including text, audiotapes, videotapes, CD-ROMS, and Internet-
based resources.
Researchers should design and study the effectiveness of the different
media in communicating key ideas, as well as the satisfaction of teachers
with the various media and the change in practice that ensues. This research
should focus on the format of the material as well. For example, case-like
stories could be compared with more didactic methods often used in texts
and lectures.
RESEARCH ON EDUCATION POLICY
How People Learn, we have argued, suggests far-reaching reform of edu-
cation. It has direct implications for what is taught in the classroom, how it
is taught, the relationship between students and teachers, the content and
role of assessments, and the preparation of those who undertake the daunt-
ing task of classroom teaching. Yet How People Learn is not a blueprint for
redesigning schools.
Policy makers involved in the workshop were interested in the critical
components of change that the report implies, as well as their associated
costs. Given the task that is before them, this focus can be easily under-
stood. But just as a doctor who recommends a healthy diet, stress reduction,
exercise, adequate rest, and a personal support system cannot say which is
most critical to health, researchers cannot identify the most critical change in
the education system. The parts of the system cannot be isolated; the inter-
actions among them have powerful influences on outcome.
And just as the exercise requirement has no single attached cost—it can
be met by a run through the park or an indoor tennis game at a posh racket
club—teaching for understanding has no obvious price tag attached. Elicit-
ing and working with student ideas and preconceptions will be easier in a
small class than in a larger one, just as exercise in a sports club will be easier
in inclement weather. But with a diverse clientele, a doctor will do best to
focus on the principle of raising the heart rate for a sustained period of time
rather than dictate the method for achieving the goal. Similarly, we focus on
the principles of teaching for understanding with the recognition that, in the
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PROPOSING A RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT AGENDA 53
diverse landscape of schooling, the manifestations of those principles will
vary. This does not diminish what is known with certainty: teaching for
understanding is a clear goal with several well-defined components (discussed
in Chapter 2).
Our focus here is on policies that have a direct impact on attainment of
those goals. Many of the research efforts already recommended will help
inform policy; research on the efficacy of professional development pro-
grams, for example, will be of use to policy makers who set requirements
for receiving funds for that purpose. At the urging of both policy makers
and educators who participated in the workshop, we propose further research
to review standards and assessments at the state level, and to examine teacher
certification requirements at both the state and national level.
At the district level, reform can be notoriously difficult to implement or
extend. In order to identify the policies that appear to facilitate or impede
the adoption and expansion of new teaching practices, we propose case
study research on schools and school districts that have successfully imple-
mented reform. Although we don’t envision a blueprint, there may be orga-
nizational features, operational policies, or incentive structures in these schools
that create an environment conducive to change.
The recommended research is described in five project areas.
State Standards and Assessments
15. Review state education standards and the assessment tools
used to measure compliance through the lens of How People Learn.
Forty-nine states now have a set of education standards that apply to their
schools, and most have or are developing assessment tools to hold school
districts accountable for implementation. Standards vary considerably in the
amount of control they exercise over what is taught, in the content they
impose, and (implicitly or explicitly) in the model of learning that they imply.
The committee recommends that a sample of state standards be reviewed
through the lens of How People Learn for the following purposes:
a. To identify features of standards that support and violate the prin-
ciples of learning in How People Learn;
b. To evaluate the alignment of desirable features in a state’s standards
with the assessment tools used for measuring compliance;
c. To evaluate the features of compliance assessments that support and
conflict with the principles of learning;
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54 HOW PEOPLE LEARN: BRIDGING RESEARCH AND PRACTICE
d. To identify incentives and penalties that support the goal of effective
education and those that appear to undermine that goal.
16. Conduct research on measures of student achievement that
reflect the principles in How People Learn and that can be used by
states for accountability purposes. Tests of student achievement that can
be widely and uniformly administered across schools are the key mecha-
nism by which policy makers hold schools accountable. How People Learn
has clear implications for the measurement of student achievement. It
suggests, for example, that recall of factual information is inadequate as a
measure of deep understanding or as an indicator of the ability to transfer
learning to new situations or problems.
Conventional psychological and educational testing is an outgrowth of
theories of ability and intelligence that were current at the beginning of the
century. Psychometrics has become increasingly sophisticated in its measure-
ments; yet it does not attempt to look inside the “black box” of the mind.
Now that the newer sciences of cognition and development have trans-
formed our understanding of learning and the development of expertise,
measurement theory and practice need fundamental rethinking. There is
much in the traditional methods that is valuable, including a focus on objec-
tivity and reliability of measurement. There is a problem, however, with
what is being measured.
As a first step in the process of rethinking educational testing, the com-
mittee recommends that assessment tools be designed and tested with the
goal of measuring deep understanding as well as the acquisition of factual
knowledge. This is both a modest beginning and a challenging task. To be
useful for policy purposes, these assessments should be in a form that can
be administered widely and scored objectively and that meets reasonable
standards of validity and reliability. These requirements can be at odds with
the measurement of deep understanding, at least in the current state of the
art. But it is important to begin finding solutions that, for example, minimize
the trade-off between assessing for understanding and scoring objectively.
A variety of experiments is needed, both with new forms of standardized
tests (including computer-based instruments that permit “virtual” experiments),
and with alternative assessments (such as portfolios) that have become more
popular in recent years.
The committee further recommends research on assessment tools of
different types to determine:
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PROPOSING A RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT AGENDA 55
a. Whether alternative assessments yield significantly different measures
of student achievement or highly correlated results.
b. How alternative assessment measures might be combined to offer a
balanced view of achievement.
17. Review teacher certification and recertification requirements.
Currently, 42 of the 50 states assess teachers as part of the certification and
licensure process. But states vary enormously in the criteria used and the
amount and type of assessment they require. The federal government also
has provided support for an assessment process for advanced certification
that is developed and administered by the National Board for Professional
Teaching Standards. The committee recommends that research be conducted
to review the requirements for teacher certification in a sample of states
(selected for their diversity). Specific focus should be given to the types of
assessments currently in use across the continuum of teacher development,
from initial licensure to advanced status. This would include standardized
tests, performance-based assessments under development (Interstate New
Teacher Assessment and Support Consortium), and the National Board as-
sessments. Efforts should be made to determine:
a. The features of certification that are aligned with the principles of
How People Learn and those that are in conflict.
b. To the extent that data are available, the relationship between certi-
fication and increases in student learning.
This project should also recommend, when appropriate, strategies to
reform certification processes so that they provide better signals of a teacher’s
preparedness for the task of teaching for understanding.
District-Level Policy
18. Conduct case study research of successful “scaling-up” of new
curricula. School districts set a variety of policies that influence the envi-
ronment in which teachers operate. Even when a new curriculum is pilot-
tested with positive results, it can be very difficult to extend that curriculum
into other schools in the district, sometimes even to other classrooms in the
same school. The committee recommends case study research of successful
scaling-up efforts to determine which district-level and school-level policies
facilitated reform. The case studies should include information on features
that teachers often identify as obstacles to reform:
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56 HOW PEOPLE LEARN: BRIDGING RESEARCH AND PRACTICE
a. How much scheduled time do teachers have in their work day that is
not in the classroom and that can be used for reflection, study, or discussion
with other teachers?
b. How much training was offered to teachers who adopted the new
curriculum? Is there ongoing support for the teacher who has questions
during implementation? Is there evaluation of the teacher’s success at imple-
mentation?
c. Is there a community within the school, or extending beyond the
school, that provides support, feedback, and an opportunity for discussion
among teachers? Existing research suggests that the development of a pro-
fessional community as part of the school culture is one of the most impor-
tant determinants of successful school restructuring to implement a more
demanding curriculum (Elmore, 1995; Elmore and Burney, 1996). These
studies should focus on the features that hold that community together. Are
there key players? Are there structured or informal opportunities for the
exchange of ideas? What can be learned from these successes about the
opportunities for enhancing teacher access to communities of learning using
Internet tools?
d. Did the school attempt to involve parents and other community
stakeholders in the change?
Some case study research of this type has already been done or is now
under way. The effort to extend the knowledge base in this area should be
coupled with an effort to synthesize the research results, making them easily
accessible to school communities interested in reform.
Develop Tools for Effective Communication of the
Principles in How People Learn to Policy Makers
19. Conduct research on the effective communication of research
results to policy makers. Policy makers do not routinely look to research
as a source of information and ideas. But there are windows of opportunity
for research in policy making. Researchers who study this issue suggest that
the windows are more likely to open during crises, when issues are new and
policy makers have not yet taken a position, or when issues have been
fought to a stalemate. When those opportunities arise, information must be
communicated to policy makers in a manner that optimizes the chance that
they will learn from research findings.
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PROPOSING A RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT AGENDA 57
The committee recommends that research be conducted to:
a. Assess preconceptions of education policy makers regarding the goals
of K-12 education and the strategies for achieving those goals. Are they
consistent with the principles of learning in How People Learn?
b. Identify examples that engage the preconceptions of policy makers
(if those preconceptions diverge from research findings on how people learn)
and test their effectiveness at changing the initial understanding.
c. Identify methods of communication that are most likely to reach, and
teach, policy makers.
d. Compare the effectiveness of alternative approaches, including con-
cisely written materials, personal contact, and briefings or seminars.
The product of this research should be both a report of the findings
regarding how policy makers learn most effectively and concisely written
material that can be used for communicating effectively to policy makers.
PUBLIC OPINION AND THE MEDIA
Information communicated to the public through the media can influ-
ence practice in two ways. First, to the extent that the public is aware of the
implications of learning research for classroom practice, teachers, adminis-
trators, and policy makers will receive more support for the types of changes
that How People Learn suggests. Second, many teachers, administrators, and
policy makers themselves are influenced by ideas that reach them through
popular media. As we heard from participants in the workshops, How People
Learn is not a document that is likely to be widely read by educators and
policy makers. Information presented in a more popular format will have
far better prospects of reaching this audience.
20. Write a popular version of How People Learn for parents and
the public. Everyone has preconceptions regarding the process of learning
and effective methods of education. Those theories are put to work on a
daily basis when we model behaviors for children, provide instructions to
coworkers, or explain a problem to a friend. These models are likely to be
influenced by personal experience.
The translations of these experience-based models to the evaluation of
classroom teaching can lead to expectations that conflict with the principles
of learning drawn from research. A parent who is accustomed to teaching a
child through direct instruction, for example, may be baffled by mathematics
homework that requires the child to find a method of adding five two-digit
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58 HOW PEOPLE LEARN: BRIDGING RESEARCH AND PRACTICE
numbers, rather than instructing the child to line those numbers in columns
and add the columns in turn. The importance of grappling with the problem
and searching for a solution method, and the appreciation that such grap-
pling brings to the conventional method of solution, can be lost on the
parent.
How People Learn develops many concepts and ideas that could inform
parents about models of learning that are research based, thus influencing
the criteria that parents use to judge classroom practice. But those ideas are
embedded in a report that is not designed specifically to communicate to
parents. The committee recommends the writing of a popular version of
How People Learn. The popular presentation should address common pre-
conceptions held by the public regarding learning. It should couch research
findings in multiple examples that are relevant to parents’ observations of
children at a variety of ages. And it should help parents who are interested
in understanding or evaluating a school formulate questions and make
observations.
Some particularly effective examples and their implications for teaching
should be highlighted in a manner that makes them easy to extract from the
text. The children’s book, Fish is Fish by Leo Lionni (1970) mentioned in
How People Learn, can serve as an effective example. In the story, a frog
adventures onto the land and comes back to describe what it saw. The fish
who listen to the frog imagine each description to be an adaptation of a fish:
humans are imagined to have fish bodies but walk upright, etc. The visual
image powerfully describes the problem of presenting new information with-
out regard to the learner’s existing conceptions. Examples such as these
would allow the popular media to communicate key ideas to the broader
public who might not read the report.
The popular version of the report should itself be a subject of study.
The committee proposes that a second stage of this project should involve
research to assess whether the popular report effectively communicates its
messages to a sample of parents.
BEYOND HOW PEOPLE LEARN
The research and development agenda proposed thus far focuses on the
question that the Office of Educational Research and Improvement posed to
the committee: How can the insights from How People Learn be incorpo-
rated into educational practice? How People Learn reviews a burgeoning
literature that, taken collectively, provides the foundation for a science of
learning. But more work needs to be done to extend that foundation. The
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PROPOSING A RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT AGENDA 59
committee proposes three research projects that hold promise for advancing
the understanding of learning in ways that will be useful for educational
practice.
21. Investigate successful and creative educational practice. There
are well-known cases of exceptional teaching by educators who, often with-
out the help of educational researchers, have created innovative and successful
classrooms, programs, curricula, and teaching techniques. The committee
recommends that case study research be conducted to investigate the prin-
ciples of learning that underlie successful educational experiments. The
conceptual framework provided by How People Learn can be employed as a
lens through which that practice can be viewed, and such case studies could
challenge and inform the science of learning.
The research would have several potential benefits: it would ground in
sound theory innovations that often exist in isolation, that often cannot be
evaluated well by traditional methods, and that cannot be explained well to
others. This research could contribute an understanding of why the innova-
tions work, perhaps leading to improvements in them. Moreover, it may
stimulate researchers to pursue new theoretical questions regarding cogni-
tion. In innovative classrooms, students may engage in forms and levels of
learning that are not anticipated by current cognitive theory. From studying
such classrooms and the learning that takes place in them, researchers may
modify their conceptions about learning.
22. Investigate the potential benefits of collaborative learning in
the classroom and the design challenges that it imposes. Outside the
classroom, much learning and problem solving takes place as individuals
engage with each other, inquire of those with skills and expertise, and use
resources and tools that are available in the surrounding environment. The
benefits of this “distributed cognition” are tapped inside the classroom when
students work collaboratively on problems or projects, learning from each
others’ insights, and clarifying their own thinking through articulation and
argument (Vye et al., 1998a). Some research indicates that group problem
solving is superior to individual problem solving (e.g., Evans, 1989; Newstead
and Evans, 1995), and that developmental changes in cognition can be gen-
erated from peer argumentation (Goldman, 1994; Habermas, 1990; Kuhn,
1991; Moshman, 1995a, 1995b; Salmon and Zeitz, 1995; Youniss and Damon,
1992), and peer interaction (Dimant and Bearison, 1991, Kobayashi, 1994).
For these reasons, the community-centered classroom described in Chap-
ter 2, in which students learn from each other, can have substantial benefits.
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60 HOW PEOPLE LEARN: BRIDGING RESEARCH AND PRACTICE
But working in groups can have drawbacks for learning as well, particu-
larly in the early grades. Societal stereotypes or classroom reputations can
determine who takes the lead, and whose ideas are respected or dismissed.
Differences in temperament can produce consistent leaders and followers.
Group products can advance each members’ understanding of a problem, or
they can mask a lack of understanding by some.
The committee recommends that research be conducted by teams of
cognitive scientists, developmental psychologists, curriculum developers, and
teachers to investigate the potential benefits of collaborative learning in the
classroom and the problems that must be addressed to make it beneficial for
all students. The research should explore and field-test alternative design
strategies. The results should be presented both as scholarly research, and
as a discussion addressed to teachers who are interested in collaborative
learning in the classroom.
23. Investigate the interaction between cognitive competence and
motivational factors. Much of the research on learning has been con-
ducted outside the classroom. Inside the classroom, issues of cognitive
competence are intertwined with issues of motivation to perform. The chal-
lenges of learning for today’s world require disciplined study and problem
solving from the earliest grades. To meet the challenges, learners must be
motivated to pay attention, complete assignments, and engage in thinking.
Although cognitive psychologists have long posited a relationship
between learning and motivation, they have paid little attention to the latter,
despite its vital interest to teachers. Research has been done on motivation,
but there is no commonly accepted unifying theory, nor a systematic appli-
cation of what is known to educational practice (National Research Council,
1999b).
The committee recommends that research be conducted to elucidate
how student interests, identities, self-knowledge, self-regulation, and emo-
tion interact with cognitive competence. This research should combine the
efforts of social and developmental psychologists with those of cognitive
psychologists. A variety of approaches should be considered, including
case studies of small numbers of individual children and the study of the
classroom practice of teachers with reputations for promoting achievement
among average students, as well as those at high risk for failure.
24. Investigate the relationship between the organization and
representation of knowledge and the purpose of learning that knowl-
edge. Research in cognitive science suggests that knowledge is organized
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PROPOSING A RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT AGENDA 61
differently depending on the uses that need to be made of it. In other
words, the structure of knowledge and memory and the conditions under
which it is retrieved for application evolves to fit the uses to which it is put.
Similarly, what counts as understanding will also be defined in terms of
means, rather than as an end in itself. Just as there is no perfect map, but
only maps that are useful for particular kinds of tasks and answering particu-
lar kinds of questions, there is no perfect state of understanding, but only
knowledge organizations that are more or less useful for particular kinds of
tasks and questions.
For example, relatively superficial knowledge of the concept of gold
may be sufficient to differentiate a gold-colored watch from a silver-colored
watch. But it would not be sufficient to differentiate a genuine gold watch
from one made of other gold-colored metals or alloys, or fool’s gold from
the real thing.
This empirical insight has profound implications for the organization of
education, teacher education, and curriculum development. The committee
recommends research to deepen understanding of the kinds of knowledge
organizations that will best support particular kinds of activities. For example,
the kinds of biology needed to know how to take care of plants (e.g., knowing
when, where, and how to plant them in different climates and soil condi-
tions) differs from the knowledge necessary to genetically engineer them.
These kinds of issues become particularly important when considering
the nature of the content knowledge that teachers need in order to teach
various disciplines. For example, the most useful knowledge for a middle
school mathematics teacher may not come from taking a higher-level course
in a traditional mathematics sequence, particularly if that course was designed
for the uses of that knowledge by mathematics and engineering students in
problems suited to the work activities of those disciplines. Instead, it may
come from a course that integrates mathematics with particular kinds of
inquiry involving design and other tasks.
These considerations are also important for curriculum. Research inves-
tigations could yield better understanding for guiding curriculum design so
that the knowledge that learners develop from their experiences in courses
will be better retrieved in anticipated contexts of use for that knowledge.
For example, too little is known about the kinds of activities in which an
educated person—but not a future scientist—will be expected to use the
scientific knowledge that they may acquire in science courses. Research on
these considerations is important to pursue.
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62 HOW PEOPLE LEARN: BRIDGING RESEARCH AND PRACTICE
COMMUNICATING RESEARCH KNOWLEDGE
When one considers the complexity of the ways in which research influ-
ences practice (as depicted in Figure 1.1), the heterogeneous audiences for
research and their very different needs become apparent. As we have noted
throughout this report, the ways in which the principles of learning depicted
in How People Learn will be incorporated into practice raise unique prob-
lems for pre-service and in-service education, for educational materials, for
policy, and for the public (including the media). The pathways by which
research knowledge travels, and the transformations it must undertake for
each of these audiences, raise striking challenges for communications design.
To be effective, such communications cannot serve merely as dissemina-
tions of research knowledge. Translating and elaborating that knowledge
for each audience has been a theme throughout the agenda. In this final
section, we propose an effort to make these translations widely accessible.
25. Design and evaluate ways to easily access the cumulative
knowledge base. Adaptive communications about the science of learning
are very much needed that can evolve to fit the distinctive needs of the
various education audiences for knowledge derived from research. For such
conversations to occur between the research communities and these diverse
constituencies, experimentation with Internet-based communications forums
is needed.
The Internet is becoming a social place for the formation and ongoing
activities of distributed communities, not only a digital library for browsing
and downloading information. Current electronic communities with tens of
thousands of members share information and convene around a broad range
of topics. High-quality resources on the science of learning will be needed
to spur on-line discussions among the communities they are designed to
serve, and to invite suggestions about how communications concerning the
science of learning can better fit the needs of those who will use their results
(Pea, 1999). Today one may find a great range of web sites that are devoted
to education. But far fewer are devoted to research advances, much less
their alignment with educational materials, practices, or policies that are
depicted in the web sites.
The committee recommends the development and continuous improve-
ment of a national communications forum for research knowledge on learning
and teaching. This new media communications forum would be accessible
through the Internet and would provide illustrative cases and usable infor-
mation about both the research depicted in How People Learn and new
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PROPOSING A RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT AGENDA 63
findings that will continue to emerge in ongoing research. It would provide
opportunities for different contributors who are stakeholders in education to
post messages and rate the usefulness of documents and materials. Experi-
mentation is needed in establishing “virtual places” online where diverse
groups could convene to reflect on how these research advances could be
incorporated to improve the practices of education and learning. Such a
“learning improvement portal” would provide a vital national resource, guiding
research-informed improvements of education.
CONCLUSION
The research efforts that we have proposed make a serious effort to
combine the strengths of the research community with the insights gained
from the wisdom and challenges of classroom practice. Our suggestions for
research do not assume that basic research should first be conducted in
isolation and then handed down to practitioners. Instead, we propose that
researchers and practitioners work together to identify important problems
of inquiry and define the kinds of research and communication strategies
that would be most helpful to both groups.
Because of our emphasis on bridging research and practice, many of the
efforts that we have proposed here are nontraditional. They combine research
and development, rather than undertaking the two separately. It is the
committee’s view that such combined efforts are most likely to focus the
attention of researchers on problems that are central to education, and they
are more likely to ensure rigor and consistency with the principles of learn-
ing in the programs and products that are developed.
Moreover, many of the efforts combine research and communication.
Often, the two are considered separate domains. But the goal of communi-
cation is learning, and How People Learn provides guidance for effective
communication. For each audience, preconceived understandings must be
identified and addressed in the effort to communicate. And examples that
situate ideas in experiences relevant for that audience are crucial.
Combining expertise for the proposed projects will be challenging. There
are still relatively few arenas in which researchers work as partners with
teachers, administrators, and communications developers (who might film
model lessons, develop web sites, produce brochures, etc.). But to be effec-
tive, systematic efforts to reform education will require that more of these
partnerships be forged. Research and development grants that reward exist-
ing partnerships and encourage new ones to be formed could provide a
much-needed impetus.
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64 HOW PEOPLE LEARN: BRIDGING RESEARCH AND PRACTICE
And finally, the agenda proposed is expansive. Many of the recom-
mended projects are time-intensive, multiyear efforts. The nation’s decen-
tralized education system is vast. To don the lens of How People Learn to
evaluate the various facets of that system is in itself a daunting task. We
propose further the development and testing of new classroom teaching
tools, techniques of teacher and administrator training, further research on
human learning, and applications of technology that could provide dynamic
mechanisms for bringing advances in how people learn and how people
teach into continual cycles of coordination and improvement. From the
committee’s perspective, the integration of these efforts holds the potential
to bring research and practice together in the interest of improved education.
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1995a Reasoning as self-constrained thinking. Human Development 38:53-64.
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1999a How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School. Committee on
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Roots of Minority Child Development, P.M. Greenfield and R.R. Cocking,
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MEETING PARTICIPANTS 71
A
Meeting Participants
CONFERENCE ON LEARNING RESEARCH AND
EDUCATIONAL PRACTICE
Friday, December 18, 1998
Bruce Alberts, National Research Council
Robert Bain, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
David Berliner, Arizona State University, Tempe
John Bransford, Vanderbilt University
Deanna Burney, Camden City Schools, Camden, NJ
Myrna Cooney, Taft Middle School, Cedar Rapids, IA
Ron Cowell, Education Policy and Leadership Center, Harrisburg, PA
Arthur Eisenkraft, Bedford Public Schools, Bedford, NY
Karen Fuson, Northwestern University
Herbert Ginsburg, Teachers College, Columbia University
Robert Glaser, Learning Research and Development Center, University of
Pittsburgh
Louis Gomez, Northwestern University
Paul Goren, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
William Greenough, University of Illinois
Janice Jackson, Boston College
Jack Jennings, Center on Education Policy, Washington, DC
Jean Krusi, Ames Middle School, Ames, IA
Gloria Ladson-Billings, University of Wisconsin
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72 HOW PEOPLE LEARN: BRIDGING RESEARCH AND PRACTICE
Lucy Mahon, District 2, New York, NY
Kerry Mazzoni, California State Assembly
C. Kent McGuire, U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational
Research and Improvement
José Mestre, University of Massachussetts
Robert Morse, St. Alban’s School, Washington, DC
Linda Nathan, Boston Arts Academy
Annemarie Palincsar, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
Roy Pea, SRI International, Menlo Park, CA
James Pellegrino, Vanderbilt University
Penelope Peterson, Northwestern University
Thomas Romberg, University of Wisconsin
Carol Stewart, Office of the Governor, Columbia, SC
WORKSHOP ON LEARNING RESEARCH AND
EDUCATIONAL PRACTICE
January 13-14, 1999
Amy Alvarado, Sanders Corner Elementary School, Ashburn, VA
Karen Bachofer, San Diego City Schools, San Diego, CA
Robert Bain, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
David Berliner, Arizona State University, Tempe
John Bransford, Vanderbilt University
Cathy Cerveny, Logan Elementary School, Baltimore, MD
Rodney Cocking, National Research Council
Cathy Colglazier, McLean High School, Fairfax, VA
Myrna Cooney, Taft Middle School, Cedar Rapids, IA
Ron Cowell, Education Policy and Leadership Center, Harrisburg, PA
Suzanne Donovan, National Research Council
Arthur Eisenkraft, Bedford Public Schools, Bedford, NY
Jean Krusi, Ames Middle School, Ames, IA
Luna Levinson, U.S. Department of Education
José Mestre, University of Massachusetts
Robert Morse, St. Alban’s School, Washington, DC
Barbara Scott Nelson, Center for the Development of Teaching, Education
Development Center, Newton, MA
Annemarie Palincsar, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
Ron Pedone, U.S. Department of Education
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MEETING PARTICIPANTS 73
James Pellegrino, Vanderbilt University
Iris Rotberg, George Washington University
Leona Schauble, University of Wisconsin
Carol Stewart, South Carolina Chamber of Commerce, Columbia, SC
Lucy West, PS/IS 89, Math Initiative, New York, NY
Alexandra Wigdor, National Research Council
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74 HOW PEOPLE LEARN: BRIDGING RESEARCH AND PRACTICE
B
Biographical Sketches
JOHN D. BRANSFORD (Co-chair) is Centennial professor of psychology
and co-director of the Learning Technology Center at George Peabody College
of Education and Human Development, Vanderbilt University. He is also a
senior research scientist at the university’s John F. Kennedy Center and senior
fellow at the Institute of Public Policy Studies. His research has focused
primarily on the nature of thinking and learning and their facilitation, with
special emphasis on the importance of using technology to enhance learn-
ing. His projects include the videodisc-based Jasper Woodbury Jasper Problem
Solving Series, the Little Planet Literacy Series, and other projects that involve
uses of technology to enhance thinking and learning in literature, science,
history, and other areas. Bransford currently serves as a co-chair for the
National Research Council’s Committee on Developments in the Science of
Learning and is a member of the National Academy of Education. He has a
Ph.D. in cognitive psychology from the University of Minnesota.
JAMES W. PELLEGRINO (Co-chair) is the Frank W. Mayborn professor of
cognitive studies at the Peabody College of Education and Human Develop-
ment at Vanderbilt University. His research focuses on the application of
cognitive research and technology to instructional problems on human
cognition and cognitive development. Dr. Pellegrino currently serves on the
National Research Council’s Committee on Foundations of Educational and
Psychological Assessment. He has been a faculty member at the University
of Pittsburgh and at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He has a
B.A. in psychology from Colgate University and M.A. and Ph.D. degrees
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BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCHES 75
from the University of Colorado, both in experimental, quantitative
psychology.
DAVID BERLINER is professor of educational leadership and policy studies,
professor of curriculum and instruction, and professor of psychology in edu-
cation at Arizona State University. His recent research has focused on the
study of teaching, teacher education, and education policy. His publications
include Putting Research to Work in Your Schools (1993, with U. Casanova)
and A Future for Teacher Education (1996). Dr. Berliner currently serves on
the National Research Council’s Board on Testing and Assessment. Among
his many awards are the research into practice award of the American Edu-
cational Research Association, and the Distinguished Service Award of the
National Association of Secondary School Principals. He has served as presi-
dent of the American Psychology Association’s division of educational
psychology and the American Educational Research Association. He has a
Ph.D. in educational psychology from Stanford University and has taught at
California State University at San Jose, the University of Massachusetts, and
the University of Arizona.
MYRNA S. COONEY is a teacher with over 35 years of classroom experi-
ence. She currently teaches grades 6 and 7 at the Taft Middle School in
Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and serves on curriculum committees for language arts
and social studies. She has previously taught grades 4, 5, and 6 at Cleveland
Elementary School in Cedar Rapids. Ms. Cooney has a B.A. in education
from Coe College and an M.A. in education from the University of Iowa. She
has been an instructor in a teacher-in-service program at the University of
Iowa and a teacher-in-residence at Vanderbilt University.
M. SUZANNE DONOVAN (Study Director) is a senior program officer at the
National Research Council’s Commission on Behavioral and Social Sciences
and Education and study director for the Committee on Minority Represen-
tation in Special Education. Her interests span issues of education and public
policy. She has a Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley, School
of Public Policy and was previously on the faculty of Columbia University’s
School of Public and International Affairs.
ARTHUR EISENKRAFT is the science coordinatory (grades 6-12) and physics
teacher in the Bedford Public Schools in Bedford, New York. He has taught
high school physics in a variety of schools for 24 years. Dr. Eisenkraft is
currently on the Interstate New Teacher Assessment and Support Consor-
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76 HOW PEOPLE LEARN: BRIDGING RESEARCH AND PRACTICE
tium Science Standards Drafting Committee, and on the National Research
Council’s Advisory Panel to the Center for Science, Mathematics and Engi-
neering Education. He is the editor and project manager of the National
Science Foundation-supported Active Physics Curriculum Project of the
American Institute of Physics and the American Association of Physics
Teachers. His many publications include a lab text on laser applications, an
audiotape history of the discovery of nuclear fission, middle school and high
school curriculum materials, and numerous audiovisual productions. He
holds a U.S. patent for a laser vision testing system. Dr. Eisenkraft serves on
several science award committees and has served as executive director for
the International Physics Olympiad. He has a Ph.D. in science education
from New York University and received the Presidential Award for Excel-
lence in Science Teaching in 1986.
HERBERT P. GINSBURG is the Jacob H. Schiff foundation professor of
psychology and education at Teachers College, Columbia University. His
work focuses on the intellectual development and education of young chil-
dren, particularly poor and minority children. He has conducted research
on the development of mathematical thinking and cognition in children,
examining the implications for instruction and assessment in early educa-
tion. His many publications include The Development of Mathematical
Thinking (1983), Piaget’s Theory of Intellectual Development (1988), Children’s
Arithmetic (1989), Entering the Child’s Mind: The Clinical Interview in
Psychological Research and Practice (1997), and The Teacher’s Guide to
Flexible Interviewing in the Classroom (1998). Dr. Ginsburg currently serves
on the National Research Council’s Committee on Early Childhood Pedagogy
and on the Committee on Strategic Education Research Program Feasibility
Study. He has a Ph.D. in developmental psychology from the University of
North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and has taught at Cornell University, the University
of Maryland, and the University of Rochester.
PAUL D. GOREN is the director of Child and Youth Development, Program
on Human and Community Development, at the John D. and Catherine T.
MacArthur Foundation. Previously, he was the executive director of policy
and strategic services for the Minneapolis Public Schools and spent two
years teaching middle school history and mathematics. He also worked as
the director of the Education Policy Studies Division of the National Gover-
nors’ Association, and as the coordinator of planning and research for the
Stanford Teacher Education Program. He has a Ph.D. from the Stanford
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BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCHES 77
University School of Education (1991) and an M.P.A. from the Lyndon B.
Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas (1984).
JOSÉ P. MESTRE is a professor of physics and astronomy at the University
of Massachusetts, Amherst. His research interests include cognitive studies
of problem solving in physics, with a focus on the acquisition and use of
knowledge by experts and novices. Most recently, his work has focused on
applying research findings to the design of instructional strategies that pro-
mote active learning in large physics classes, and on developing physics
curricula that promote conceptual development through problem solving.
He is currently a member of the National Research Council’s Committee on
Developments in the Science of Learning and its Mathematical Sciences Edu-
cation Board; the College Board’s Sciences Advisory Committee, SAT Com-
mittee, and Council on Academic Affairs; the Educational Testing Service’s
Visiting Committee; the American Association of Physics Teacher’s Research
in Physics Education Committee and of the editorial board of The Physics
Teacher; and the Federal Coordinating Council for Science, Engineering and
Technology’s Expert Panel. He has a Ph.D. in physics from the University of
Massachusetts, Amherst.
ANNEMARIE SULLIVAN PALINCSAR holds a chair in the University of
Michigan’s School of Education, where she prepares teachers, teacher edu-
cators, and researchers to work in heterogeneous classrooms. She has con-
ducted extensive research on peer collaboration in problem-solving activity,
instruction to promote self-regulation, the development of literacy among
learners with special needs, and the use of literacy across the school day.
She is an editor of the books, Strategic Teaching and Learning and Teach-
ing Reading as Thinking. Her cognition and instruction article on reciprocal
teaching (co-authored with Ann Brown in 1984) is a classic. Dr. Palincsar
currently serves on the National Research Council’s Committee on the Pre-
vention of Reading Difficulties in Young Children. She received an early
contribution award from the American Psychological Association in 1988
and one from the American Educational Research Association in 1991. In
1992 she was elected a fellow by the International Academy for Research in
Learning Disabilities. She has M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in special education
from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
ROY PEA is director of the Center for Technology in Learning at SRI Inter-
national, in Menlo Park, California, and consulting professor in the School of
Education at Stanford University. He also directs the multi-institutional Center
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78 HOW PEOPLE LEARN: BRIDGING RESEARCH AND PRACTICE
for Innovative Learning Technologies, which aims to create a national knowl-
edge network for catalyzing best practices and new designs for improving
learning with technologies among researchers, schools, and industries. Pre-
viously, he was a John Evans professor of education and the learning sciences
at Northwestern University, where he founded and chaired the learning
sciences Ph.D. program and served as dean of the School of Education and
Social Policy. He works as a cognitive scientist to integrate theory, research,
and the design of effective learning environments using advanced technolo-
gies, with particular focus on science, mathematics, and technology. Dr. Pea
currently serves on the National Research Council’s Committee on Develop-
ments in the Science of Learning. He has a doctorate in developmental
psychology from the University of Oxford, England, where he was a Rhodes
scholar.
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... Targeting gaps in the literature around learner experiences in fully online programs, we ask: What program characteristics and structures do students value most from their learning experiences in a fully online program? Second, we use the learner-centered and community-centered dimensions of the How People Learn (HPL) framework (Bransford et al., 2000;Donovan et al., 1999) as an analytic lens to organize and interpret themes that emerged from the student-reported experiences. As a research-based framework capturing different dimensions of effective learning environments, HPL provides a theoretical foundation to validate our examination of a fully online learning environment. ...
... It is imperative, HPL states, that the thinking of both the instructor (expert) and the student (novice) are made visible during the teaching and learning experience. To effectively promote visible thinking, the HPL framework emphasizes four dimensions of effective learning environments: learner-centered, knowledge-centered, assessment-centered, and community-centered (Bransford et al., 2000;Donovan et al., 1999). ...
Article
Full-text available
Background Enrollment in online degree programs has grown rapidly in U.S. higher education institutions, but much of the research on online learning draws from student experiences in a singular online course. Student experiences in fully online programs likely differ from the experience of taking a one-off online class, especially as students become more familiar with online learning after multiple courses. Yet, research examining student experiences in fully online programs remains sparse. Objective In this exploratory and theory-building study, we examine student experiences after they have taken multiple courses in a fully online degree program. Relying on the perspective of students, our goal is to better understand what elements of fully online learning programs are most valued by learners. Setting We examine a fully online EdD program in leadership and learning at a private university in the United States. The program includes a series of courses that all include both asynchronous (e.g., readings and lecture videos) and synchronous activities. For synchronous sessions, students log in with their computers every week using teleconferencing software that allows them to interact with the instructor and with classmates in real time. Research Design We qualitatively analyze student interview data. We employ the How People Learn Framework to guide our analysis and extend our understanding of two of its key learning-environment dimensions: the learner-centered and community-centered dimensions. We purposively sampled 31 students for the semistructured interviews. To analyze interview transcripts, we used a grounded theory approach that began with line-by-line codes that we aggregated into categorical tags that were used to support the emergent themes. Results We find that students value four learner-centered program characteristics (diversity, authenticity, safety, and individuality) and five community-centered program structures (facilitating peer-to-peer interactions, establishing norms and expectations, differentiating for learning preferences, explaining the strengths and limitations of technology, and supporting student-driven initiatives). Conclusion We discuss cognitive tensions in students’ self-reported perceptions of their experiences and highlight the need for future research to examine how online learning programs can be better structured to support students in diverse and inclusive learning communities.
... Innovative and collaborative problem solving, central to engineering, are key for 21 st century learning (Donovan et al., 1999), yet the dominant instructional focus in many low-income, minority-serving school districts offers the opposite. Students in urban schools represent a large segment of learners who lack exposure to the broad and sophisticated curriculum they actually need (Milner, 2013). ...
... The question of "transfer" is a central question in cognitive training research. In line with the literature (e.g., Donovan et al., 1999), we define near transfer as the generalization of acquired skills across two (or more) domains that are closely related to each other (e.g., studying algebra to be better in geometry), and far transfer as the generalization of acquired skills across domains that are only loosely related to each other (e.g., studying algebra to improve in Chinese). 2 While this definition of transfer is qualitative and while there are undoubtedly some ambiguous cases, in most cases it is fairly easy to decide between near and far transfer. ...
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Full-text available
Considerable research has been carried out in the last two decades on the putative benefits of cognitive training on cognitive function and academic achievement. Recent metaanalyses summarising the extent empirical evidence have resolved the apparent lack of consensus in the field and led to a crystal-clear conclusion: the overall effect of far transfer is null, and there is little to no true variability between the types of cognitive training. Despite these conclusions, the field has maintained an unrealistic optimism about the cognitive and academic benefits of cognitive training, as exemplified by a recent article (Green et al., 2019). We demonstrate that this optimism is due to the field neglecting the results of meta-analyses and largely ignoring the statistical explanation that apparent effects are due to a combination of sampling errors and other artifacts. We discuss recommendations for improving cognitive training research, focusing on making results publicly available, using computer modelling, and understanding participants’ knowledge and strategies. Given that the available empirical evidence on cognitive training and other fields of research suggests that the likelihood of finding reliable and robust far-transfer effects is low, research efforts should be redirected to near transfer or other methods for improving cognition.
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Neoliberal critiques of university-based teacher education programmes have led to policy changes such as the rise of alternative certification programmes, bringing in to question the role of the university in teacher education. Concomitantly, such changes probematise the place of knowledge and evidence in in teacher education. This issue is of particular importance given extant debates about the place of propositional knowledge about children with special educational needs in inclusive education. This paper explores these debates in terms of recent international trends in policy and practice in teacher education for inclusion and argues for an explicit role for universities as custodians and curators of propositional knowledge in pre and in service teacher education.
Book
Full-text available
Buku ini merupakan kumpulan tulisan hasil kajian literatur psikologi pembelajaran, adapun buku yang menjadi rujukan utama dalam kajian ini, yaitu Advances in Learning and Instruction Series: Instructional Psychology: Past, Present, And Future Trends, karya De Corte, E., Verschaffel, L., Dochy, F., Boekaerts, M., & Vosniadou, S. (2006).
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While there has been a wave of interest in epistemology as a field of study, there have been few studies focused on primary-aged children and even fewer on their epistemic beliefs about history. Due to the lack of research with younger age groups, much of the explanatory power of the prevailing frameworks in epistemic research has been extrapolated from research conducted with older populations. To address this concern, this paper reports on a series of semi-structured interviews designed to identify primary children’s beliefs about the nature of history and historical knowledge. Thematic analysis of the data provided a rich and textured insight into their understanding of the nature of history and historical knowledge and it was found that these beliefs appear to have their origins in both the children’s experiences of history and their common sense (or domain-general) ideas of how the world works. This analysis also highlighted a number of “epistemic bottlenecks” (beliefs about the nature of history and historical knowledge that served to constrain historical understanding). Though emergent, these bottlenecks parallel older students’ preconceptions of the nature of history. This suggests that if unchallenged, the epistemic beliefs young children form about history in the early years can remain relatively stable throughout their education. Identifying and challenging those beliefs that can constrain student understanding is therefore crucial to both a student’s learning experience and the progression of their conceptual understanding of history.
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Full-text available
Authentic learning is the actual life learning. It is a style of learning that promote the students to create a valuable product. Authentic learning concentrate on real-world, complex problems and their solutions. The teacher becomes a guide on the side as a facilitator. Authentic learning catches all the senses allowing students to make a significative, favorable, and shared outcome. The importance of authentic teaching and learning include Students are more likely to be interested in what they are learning, students are better prepared to succeed in college, careers, and adulthood, Meet the students' learning needs, Stimulate personal motivation, Assure the much needed mental comfort and confidence, Encourage learners to assimilate and connect knowledge that is unfamiliar, Enhance transferability and application of theoretical knowledge to the real world and Students practice higher-order thinking skills. The outcome of any education system should be to send students into the world prepared for both their personal and professional lives. Education and life should not be isolated from each other. What we can do is teach our students to be adaptable and creative thinkers who are able to utilize the skills and knowledge they do have to create new solutions to problems. By giving students the opportunity to learn through authentic, real-life, relevant learning experiences, we are giving them the ability to apply their learning, to learn through doing, to see their abilities, to adapt and change, and to form the habits required to do this successfully in their lives beyond medical school.
Article
While instruction on control of variables has been shown to be effective, especially when it encourages students to focus explicitly on rules or procedures, little evidence of application to novel problems has been obtained. We hypothesized that prompting students to understand their own learning processes while doing experiments involving control of variables would allow them to activate their repertoire of knowledge and strategies and learn in a way that would enhance transfer of learning. Students were assigned to one of four versions of a computer-based biology simulation learning environment, each employing a different type of prompt: reason justification, rule based, emotion focused, or none (control). Learning in this computer environment, college biology students designed and conducted experiments involving control of variables. Students' ability to solve both contextually similar (near transfer) and contextually dissimilar (far transfer) problems was assessed. The treatment groups performed equally well on contextually similar problems. However, on a contextually dissimilar problem, the reason justification group had significantly higher scores than the other groups. Qualitative data showed that the reason justification prompts directed students' attention to understanding when, why, and how to employ experiment design principles and strategies, and this in turn helped students to transfer their understanding to a novel problem. © 1999 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. J Res Sci Teach 36: 837–858, 1999
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This article describes the rationale for and the methods used in the 4 case studies of mathematics teaching discussed in the 5 articles that follow this one in this issue. Building on earlier research, we have examined how calls by the California Mathematics Framework for change in teaching are influenced by the resources teachers bring to teaching. Focusing specifically on mathematics teaching in elementary schools, we use narrative, descriptive, and in-depth interview techniques to elicit possible relationships between teachers' knowledge of mathematics and beliefs about the nature of mathematics teaching and learning, and their mathematics instruction. Each of the 4 fifth-grade teachers whose cases are described in the articles in this issue reflects the complex nature of this relationship. We hope this research will prove useful to teachers and policymakers interested in reforming instruction.
Article
This paper presents a preliminary attempt to characterize number sense theoretically as a form of cognitive expertise. I propose a way to view conceptual domains using a metaphor of an environment in which one can know how to find resources and use them to make things. I discuss the domain of numbers and quantities as an example of a conceptual environment, and I interpret number sense as a set of capabilities for constructing and reasoning within mental models. This perspective provides reasons that support considering various aspects of number sense as features of students' general condition of knowing in the domain of numbers and quantities, rather than skills that should be given specific instruction. Some current trends in research about cognition and learning support this view of knowing in conceptual domains, including number sense.
Article
L'A. examine le sens social ou interpersonnel de l'argument qu'il appelle argumentation. Il s'interesse a l'argumentation theorique, i.e. celle qui est a la base des croyances et des incredulites. Deux questions principales sont posees: Quelles sont les normes de la bonne argumentation? Quelle est la base de ces normes?