Smart Schools (Ch. 3-5) (Perkins, 1992)

Perkins, D. (1992). Smart Schools: From Training Memories to Educating Minds. Free Press.

Chapter 3: Teaching and Learning: Theory One and Beyond

Theory One:

  • “People learn much of what they have a reasonable opportunity and motivation to learn” (p. 45).
  • Optimal conditions: clear information; thoughtful practice; informative feedback; strong intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.
  • Methods: Didactic instruction; coaching; socratic teaching.
  • Beyond Theory One: Constructivist perspective; developmental perspective; cooperative and collaborative learning; care that extrinsic motivation doesn’t undermine intrinsic motivation; honoring multiple intelligences; situated learning.

Socratic teaching:

  • Select both positive and negative examples to illustrate all qualities relevant to the issue under consideration.
  • Vary cases systematically to help focus on specific facts.
  • Employ counter examples to question students’ conclusions.
  • Generate hypothetical cases to encourage reasoning about related situations that might not occur naturally.
  • Use hypothesis identification strategies to force articulation of a particular working hypothesis.
  • Use hypothesis evaluation strategies to encourage critical evaluation of predictions and hypotheses.
  • Promote identification of other predictions that might explain the phenomenon in question.
  • Employ entrapment strategies to lure students into making incorrect predictions and premature formulations.
  • Foster tracing of consequences to a contradiction to encourage the careful formation of sound and consistent theories.
  • Encourage the questioning of answers provided by authorities such as teacher and textbook to promote independent thought.

“If Theory One is central to these three rather different ways of teaching, what accounts for the contrasts among them? In a word, agenda. Didactic teaching serves a need that arises in instructional contexts, that of expanding learners’ repertoire of knowledge. Coaching serves another need: ensuring effective practice. Socratic teaching serves yet others: helping learners to work through concepts for themselves that they might not truly grasp in any other way, as well as giving them a chance to engage in and learn about inquiry…Theory One has different incarnations depending on the instructional agenda of the moment” (p. 58).

“Truly effective learning should be situated in a culture of needs and practices that gives the knowledge and skill being learn context, texture, and motivation” (p. 67-8).

Chapter 4: Content: Toward a Pedagogy of Understanding

Comparison btw knowing and understanding: “Knowing is a state of possession…But understanding somehow goes beyond possession. The person who understands is capable of “going beyond the information given,” in Jerome Bruner’s eloquent phrase. To understand understanding, we have to get clearer about that “beyond possession” (p. 76).

Kinds of understanding performances: (p.77)

  • Explanation – explain in your own words
  • Exemplification – give fresh examples
  • Application – use to explain a phenomenon
  • Justification – offer evidence in defense or formulate an experiment to test it
  • Comparison and contrast – note the form and relate it to others
  • Contextualization – explore the relationship to the bigger picture
  • Generalization – can something universal be drawn?

A pedagogy of understanding should attempt to “enable students to display a variety of relevant understanding performances surrounding the content that they are learning” (p. 78).

Mental images enable understanding performances and understanding performances build mental images. A mental image is defined as “a holistic, highly integrated kind of knowledge. It is any unified, overarching mental representation that helps us work with a topic or subject” (p. 80). [Not necessarily visual…can also be a feel for the shape of a story or personality…]

Four levels of understanding:

  • Content – facts and routine procedures
  • Problem Solving – solution of characteristic textbook problems
  • Epistemic – justification and explanation in the subject matter
  • Inquiry – the way results and challenged and new knowledge is constructed

Powerful representations are concrete, stripped, constructed analogs (p. 91).

Chapter 5: Curriculum: Creating the Metacurriculum

What is higher-order knowledge? (“aboutness”)

  • Knowledge about how to get knowledge and understanding
  • Knowledge about how to think well
  • Higher-order knowledge about thinking
  • Higher-order knowledge about the way the subject matter works (formal proof in mathematics, experiment in science, etc.)

Four levels of metacognition:

  • Tacit – unaware of metacognitive knowledge.
  • Aware – know about some kinds of thinking they do — generating ideas, finding evidence — but are not strategic in their thinking.
  • Strategic – organize their thinking by using problem solving, decision making, evidence seeking, etc.
  • Reflective – not only are strategic but reflect on their thinking-in-progress, ponder their strategies, and revise them.

Key components of the metacurriculum:

  • Levels of understanding (content, abstraction, generality, leverage)
  • Languages of thinking (verbal, written, graphic)
  • Intellectual passions
  • Integrative mental images
  • Learning to learn
  • Teaching for transfer

“…the metacurriculum is much more than thinking skills. It is a larger concept in several ways. Whereas thinking skills generally do not focus on the subject matters, the metacurriculum concerns their conceptual organization as well. Whereas thinking skills usually are seen as cross-disciplinary, the metacurriculum emphatically includes discipline-specific skills. Whereas thinking skills by name and nature center on thinking, the metacurriculum includes integrative mental images and teaching for transfer” (p. 104).

Perkins prefers to characterize the teaching of thinking skills as “cultivating languages of thinking.”

The general area of languages of thinking offers a major body of content for the metacurriculum, including (p. 113-4):

  • Restoration to the classroom of such familiar English thinking terms as belief, hypothesis, evidence;
  • Cultivation of concepts and strategies for decision making, problem solving, and related kinds of thinking;
  • Introduction of ways of thinking on paper, such as concept mapping and use of traditional text forms, to help manage the problem of cognitive load and afford more opportunities for capturing thoughts and reflecting on them;
  • Generally fostering the culture of a thoughtful classroom.

Robert Ennis – “thinking disposition,” which contrasts with the idea of ability. “…building up thinking abilities counts for little unless teachers also cultivate thinking dispositions” (p. 116).

Seven dispositions that make up a good thinker (p. 116):

  1. Broad and adventurous
  2. Sustained intellectual curiosity
  3. Clarify and seek understanding
  4. Planful and strategic
  5. Intellectually careful
  6. Seek and evaluate reasons
  7. Metacognitive

Note that there are “abilities within dispositions, so that dispositions become the most central thing, the heart of good thinking” (p. 116).

Instructional practices that can help transfer fall into two broad categories. Bridging – teacher helps students make connections btw what they are learning and other things (another subject matter or out-of-school activity). Hugging – keeping the instruction close to the target performances one wants to cultivate (ex: music instruction, problem-based learning).


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