“If students do not learn the way we teach, then let us teach the way they learn”
Kenneth Dunn – Expert on Learning Styles (Ryan and Cooper 72)
How can teachers generate particular classroom settings to motivate students to most effective learning? How can they use diverse methods to bring students to deep understanding of a discipline? The report “How People Learn – Brain, Mind, Experience and School” (1999) by John D. Bransford et al. is the basic foundation for my paper, because the authors seek for answers to these questions. Bransford et al. collect and analyze many studies concerning experts and novices and their behavior towards experimentally set up problems in their particular area. In their report they state thee key findings as most important for teaching: first of all, students have preconceptions (sometimes misconceptions) about the world and how it works, which must be known by the teacher. He has to work with and “directly address” (15) these preconceptions and, if necessary, slowly transform them into scientific beliefs. The second finding regards the development of students’ competence. They need a deep understanding of facts within a “conceptual framework” (16) as well as a readily accessible organization of knowledge. Thirdly the students can only reach “adaptive expertise” (18) with the help of meta-cognitive monitoring of their own process of learning and achieving the previously set learning goals. They need to understand how they learn and become able to use strategies for an effective study. These three prime learning principles influence teaching significantly.
But to what extend are these principles embedded into the classroom environment yet and what should be done to support the process of embedding to make learning more efficient? To find out more about these questions, I will first make a distinction between experts and novices to come to know to what extent effectiveness is possible and how the most effective mastery can be achieved. I will analyze expertise within the teaching profession and find out, how teachers are supported. Moreover it helps to deduce practicality in class from scientific assumptions. It also shows that a special teacher training is indispensable. Ongoing it is necessary to have a look at the teacher’s sensitivity concerning his students and his self-reflection towards his lessons. An analysis of the characteristics of the subject matter will facilitate a well-conceived choice of topics. I will have a look at difficulties with the design of tasks and problems with the concept of expert teachers.
An expert is the cognitive and intellectual ideal. He is able to find a solution by working systematically and in one distinct way, he gathers information from the presentation of the problem instead of working back from the aim to the outset (Middleton 177, 178). Bransford et al. go along with Middleton when they regard the six core characteristics of an expert. In their opinion experts likewise detect important peaces of information, which are hidden for novices, because they cannot distinct between meaningful and irrelevant information for the problem. Experts are characterized by plenty of well organized content knowledge. This knowledge is easily applicable and can be accessed almost without effort. Scientists talk about “conditionalized” (31) knowledge, which is connected to a specific context. Experts have a deep understanding of the issues of their discipline and are flexible in their way of thinking and acting in respect of solving problems (31). They are also patient, if they make mistakes, they learn from them and they are also able to cope with pressure as well as with the feeling of permanently being observed and expected a lot (Welker 88).
On the contrary novices memorize a quite huge amount of factual knowledge, but it is not well-structured yet and therefore not easily accessible (Bransford et al. 38). Their solution strategies are still inflexible, unsystematic, and bound to general rules (Middleton 179). They start to solve a problem, but if they are confused or not immediately successful, they might stop working on different interpretations and only analyze the data superficially. They have to go a long way of learning and pass many interstages to achieve expertise (Bransford et al. 47).
The principle of experts and novices is not restricted to any profession; I will apply it to the teaching profession. Now, merely teachers who participated in a teacher training of high quality are able to convey deep understanding of the subject matter to their students. For example, studies on expert and novice teachers show that expert teachers recognize more features in a classroom than novice teachers. With the help of think-aloud protocols and experimental set-ups, it was found out that the expert teaches had a better understanding of the situation. These insights into thinking help to improve teacher training (Bransford et al. 33, 36), whereas the teacher should always reflect himself and autonomously work on his flaws as well (Ryan and Cooper 164). As additional support and guidance, the teacher can be advised by a mentor, who will observe and assist him at regular intervals. This is important because even good teachers need feedback of high quality to improve their teaching (Tomlinson and Allan 94-95). It is also significant that teachers learn not to convey the idea that expertise means to know everything. Students should never be afraid to ask questions or to confess a fault; they should learn to recognize when their knowledge is limited and to expand it by asking for help. Teachers must be able to see themselves as “accomplished novices” (Bransford et al. 48), who are proud of being lifelong learners (Tomlinson and Allan 13). As Bransford et al. argue, they let their students benefit from their own problem solving approach (42).