Friday, November 25, 2011

Facts and Myths of traditional learning in schools

It is little short of a miracle that modern methods of instructions have not completely strangled the holy curiosity of inquiry – Albert Einstein
From “Breaking Free from myths about teaching and learning” by Allison Zmuda, we learn about various myths and facts about learning in the traditional classroom, and my synopsis:
Myth: The rules of this classroom and subject area are determined by each teacher:
This is false as the push for meeting provincial (and state) standards increase, the autonomy of the individual teacher decreases.  Collaboration is being used to enforce compliance as well as standardizing the rules of each classroom.  For learning to be meaningful it must stem from personal experiences, current issues from students, as well as address the personal attributes of each student.  This cannot be achieved by blanket policies which affect all.
Fact: What the teacher wants me to say is more important than what I want to say:
This is truly a sad fact about our education system.  It is entirely summed up by a student who said:
It’s easy to take what the teacher says and regurgitate it without even thinking about what was said, and it’s how we’ve been taught to learn.  When I set out to write a paragraph, I actually thought I should ask my teacher to spell out what he wanted me to write… If I tried to challenge my teacher, all it would take is a little bit of him pushing back to make me drop my argument and look like a deer in the headlights, even if I had a decent argument.  Now that I know how passive I’ve been, I’m ready to make some changes in my learning style.
 Students need to have opinions in classes, and the teachers need to be cognisant of these ideas.
Fact: The point of an assignment is to get it done so that it’s off the to-do list:
In our schools, too many students are feeling overwhelmed to get the assigned readings complete, answer the repetitive math questions, study for the Biology exam and still have time to pursue to their own interests outside of school.  One student has even said
Most students just do the assignment because there is not time to really study it.  We don’t really get a chance to go further into the parts of the topic we are studying that aren’t part of the curriculum because we have already moved to a whole new topic.
We, as educators, must be aware that for students to complete all their “homework” they must take shortcuts and thus truly never understand the material at a deeper level.
Myth: I feel proud of myself only if I receive a good grade:
Students are using grades to truly sort themselves among their friends and classmates.  I believe all teachers have heard comments such as:
I got an F on this exam, but that is ok because I am not good at it.
I got a B like I always do, so I am doing fine.
No one is getting an A, so makes sense that I am not getting one either.
Grades and other extrinsic rewards are actually limiting the potential success of students.  Students are actually seeing the grade as an indicator as to how well they are playing the game of school.  As we push for improving learning we must move away from using grades to motivate students.  Students are proud of the product of their education not the mark they receive on how well they have manipulated their education
Myth: Speed is synonymous with intelligence:
Too many times we are pushing students to complete tasks at a speed which is unnatural to their own learning.  We are stripping education of passion and interest and replacing it with efficiency.  This can be seen in math classes when we teach “math tricks” and justify it by “this is the fastest way to get to the answer”.  Other educators validate this idea of rushing to complete the course due to the amount of material that is needed to be covered in a short amount of time.  The pressure to prepare students for standardized exams and complete the overwhelming curriculum is making it quite difficult for teachers to accept alternate views of learning, instruction using discovery methods, and taking time to allow for each student to deeply understand a topic before moving on.

More myths and facts exist, and I encourage all to read the book…WOW!


  1. Dave, let me see if I understand what you mean by teaching children at their own speed. Check out this discussion on Meyer's site...

    Here we have a case where teachers are saying that it is unwise to place students who have done very poorly in Algebra ! into the strong Algebra II classes, simply to fail. They are not saying to not teach them algebra, just to teach them at their speed, like you.

  2. A large part of the problem is the top down approach of education. Politicians decide what is best for schools. Administrators decide how their teachers will do that and in turn teachers decide how to disseminate.

    Sadly, you can only be as progressive as you are allowed to be. Their is this mob of people with pitchforks who run out any teacher who is not the same as the others. Whether it be parents, colleagues, administration, or all three.

    It is incredibly hard to do what you know and believe to be true when you are in a state of constant fear. The irony being that we know children can not earn when those types of emotions are in play yet we expect teachers to teach with a noose constantly knocking on their door.

  3. Finally we seem to agree. The current situation described here makes me think of a gardener who decides to give the same fertilizer and care to all plants and keeps only those plants that grow tall enough. The small and beautiful flowers, the tasty berries and lots of other wonderful stuff is simply burned. Isn't that a waste?

  4. I agree - I feel that there needs to be major reform in education, and that it needs to be coming from the family structure. If that begins to happen, I think we'll find that our methods will drastically become more effective. In the meantime, I feel ill-equipped to teach students more effectively because of a lack of time and resources. Great post, I think I'll check out the post. Awesome blog too. If you get a chance, check out the one I just started for science teachers at