MYP: Mind The Gap [MA Assignment]


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This is an assignment for my University of Bath MA in International Education, based on the tensions in transition from MYP to DP. It revolved around the different schools of through about learning and, most importantly, inquiry. It focuses on the different approaches to inquiry characterised by Dewey and Vygotsky, before moving onto a modern look at evidence-based practices.

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MYP: Mind The Gap [MA Assignment]

  1. 1. Stephen Taylor (@sjtylr) Understanding Learners and Learning     MYP: Mind the Gap Tensions in transitions between the International Baccalaureate’s Middle Years (MYP) and Diploma (DP) programmes: A pragmatic approach to finding a balance between the approaches to inquiry of John Dewey and L.S. Vygotsky. Stephen Taylor MA International Education University of Bath Assignment brief: “A critical analysis of an issue related to learners and learning.” This is an assignment for the University of Bath MA in International Education, Understanding Learners & Learning unit, uploaded with permission from my tutor and posted here as part of my professional learning portfolio. It builds on some of my blog posts ( and adds some theoretical background to my MYP Mind the Gap: Tensions in Transitions breakout session at the IB Asia Pacific regional conference in Kuala Lumpur in 2013. Given a greater scope for the assignment, I would build on the final section connecting current research to the discussion more clearly, though I have done this in some blog posts already (and it didn’t really fit). I’ve jazzed up the presentation of this paper a wee bit for the purpose of posting to the blog. Any oddities are on SlideShare. My definition of inquiry, based on this research and follow-up work: See blogposts here: “Inquiry is critical, creative, reflective thought, built on a foundation of well- taught knowledge, skills and concepts, that invites learners to take action on their learning and ask “what if…?”
  2. 2. Stephen Taylor (@sjtylr) Understanding Learners & Learning 2 Introduction “All social movements involve conflicts, which are reflected intellectually in controversies. It would not be a sign of health is such an important social interest as education were not also a source of struggles, practical and theoretical.” (Dewey, 1938, p.5) The transition from the International Baccalaureate’s (IB) Middle Years Programme (MYP), an international curriculum and assessment framework for students aged 11-16, to the higher-stakes Diploma Programme (DP), serving students aged 16-18 and acting largely as a globally-recognized university-entry pathway, is a microcosm of dialogue on educational principles and practices that represents debates about the nature of education that have been raging for centuries and show little sign of abating. I currently teach sciences in the MYP and the DP, as well as acting as MYP Coordinator in an international school in Japan after being a DP Coordinator in a school in Indonesia. Over the last ten years I have seen changes throughout the IB continuum of programmes, and through my own professional and academic learning have encountered multiple facets of tension across the transition between programmes. The International Baccalaureate Organisation (IBO) has been working hard to ease these tensions with significant current overhauls of the MYP (the Next Chapter) and a shift to a more concept-based DP. Yet in my anecdotal experience there is skepticism across the MYP-DP ‘gap,’ as MYP-purist teachers decry the dogmatic approach of their DP counterparts and some content-oriented DP teachers criticize the MYP for ‘not preparing students well enough’ for high- stakes assessment. In this assignment, I aim to explore these tensions in the transition from MYP to DP from the perspective of the cognitive/rationalist and behaviourist/empiricist views of learning and to further explore the contentious issue of inquiry through the similarities and differences between the beliefs of educational philosophers John Dewey and L.S. Vygotsky. I propose that some of the fundamental disagreements between practitioners across the MYP-DP ‘Gap’ are the result of a false dichotomy and
  3. 3. Stephen Taylor (@sjtylr) Understanding Learners & Learning 3 central to this analysis is a careful (re)definition of the term inquiry to mean critical and reflective thought (Elkjaer, 2009), and that through application of recent findings in educational research with regard to what makes effective teaching and learning (Hattie, 2012) teachers can act as mediators of inquiry (in Vygotsky’s sense) in order to work to the borders of a student’s Zone of Proximal Development. I opened with John Dewey’s quote on controversy as a sign of health in education, from his 1938 text Experience and Education, as a provocation for the discussion to come but also as part of the reflection of a lifelong educator. It is an influential book for me as a learner and a leader as he writes from the perspective of years of his own experience, the polemic views of his youth somewhat tempered by the pragmatism that comes with age and the testing of one’s theories over time through debate and practical reality, and quotes from this text serve an inspiration for various sections of this paper. I can appreciate this journey, mirroring my own transition over the last ten years from idealistic fledgling IB educator to a more pragmatic and critical proponent of both internationalism and ‘effective’ teaching and learning. I see his early ideas on education and its role in society as being in line with my own strong values with regard to internationalism, and the mission of the IBO to “develop inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people,” who are encouraged to become “active, compassionate and lifelong learners,” (IBO, 2012), yet, in more recent years (and in line with updates to the IB’s MYP, I have taken an increasingly evidence- based approach to pedagogy. As a result I feel personal dissonance with the debate of either-or in terms of inquiry versus direct instruction or between student-generated learning versus high-impact practices; as Dewey put it, I would rather “think in terms of Education itself rather than in terms of some ‘ism about education, even such an ‘ism as progressivism.” (Dewey, 1938, p.6). I hope with this paper to be able to outline a position that focuses not on ‘picking sides’ but on finding a common ground for success across the MYP-DP gap.
  4. 4. Stephen Taylor (@sjtylr) Understanding Learners & Learning 4 Defining Learning “The history of educational theory is marked by opposition between the idea that education is development from within and that it is formation from without; that it is based natural endowments and that education is a process of overcoming natural inclination and substituting in its place habits acquired under external pressure.” (Dewey, 1938, p.17, emphasis mine) As far back as ancient Greece, with the emergence of the trivium (grammar, dialectic and rhetoric), ideas about how we learn and should therefore teach have been in competition (Robinson, 2013), with the grammar and dialectic approaches of most relevance to this paper. The grammar, defined as early as Dionysius Thrax’s (170-90 BCE) writings, highlights the study, discipline and tradition of language, and of the knowledge passed from teacher to student. However Socrates’ (and subsequently Plato’s) dialectic (or logic) - the modern - emphasizes the nature of questioning knowledge and challenging the status quo (Robinson, 2013). Almost a century ago the same debate was, in essence, still taking place between Vygotsky (most closely aligned with the grammar) and Dewey (the dialectic). As the field of educational research has grown this debate can be encompassed by three broader views of learning: the cognitive/rationalist view (with which the inquiry-focused MYP teacher might more strongly identify), the behaviourist/empiricist view (to which a typical exam-focused DP teacher might belong) (Greeno et al., 1996). This tension continues to the modern day, with competing ideologies vying for control over education and assessment; there is perceived disconnect between the ideals of inquiry-based (constructivist) learning - Dewey’s ‘formation from within’ - and practices of ‘direct instruction’ (formation from without) that are seen to help prepare students for high-stakes testing and university entry. Parallel to this is the pragmatic/sociohistoric view, to which Dewey and Vygotsky are classified and within which we see varying perspectives on the nature of inquiry and its relation to the community (Greeno et al., 1996).
  5. 5. Stephen Taylor (@sjtylr) Understanding Learners & Learning 5 In we are to effectively ease the tension and further the discussion, we need a working definition of learning. According to Knud Illeris (2009, p.7) “Learning can broadly be defined as any process that in living organisms leads to permanent capacity change and which is not solely due to biological maturation or ageing.” In simpler terms, Greeno et al. (1996), define learning as simply “the process by which knowledge is increased or modified,” and transfer as “the process of applying knowledge in new situations.” In each case, learning is defined as a process, the implication being that education is the catalyst for that process, the system within which permanent capacity change is facilitated, leading to an increase in or modification of knowledge. To characterize the nature of the process is to engage with opposing views of education. The practical conceptualizations of learning – curriculum, pedagogy and assessment - can look very different depending on which view one takes and I will outline the three major perspectives here, each in terms of epistemology, learning and transfer. With a focus on the open-ended, transferable and conceptual, the inquiry- driven MYP class has a strong sense of the cognitive/rationalist view of learning, suiting the dialectician as a teacher. The C/R perspective “emphasizes understanding of concepts and theories in different subject matter domains and general cognitive abilities, such as reasoning, planning, solving problems comprehending language” (Greeno et al., 1996). Learning is understood as “a constructive process of conceptual growth,” and through this constructivist approach transfer is based on the assertion that “concepts and principles of a domain are designed to provide generality [...] assumed to depend on an abstract mental representation in the form of a schema that designates relations that compose a structure that is invariant across situations“ (Greeno et al., 1996). In terms of practical conceptualization, the C/R classroom would be one of interactive environments, problem-solving (or problem-based learning) and group-work, in which a process of modeling and transfer of conceptual learning to new situations would be used to develop reasoning and higher-order thinking skills, as characterized through Blooms’ taxonomy (Bloom et al., 1956). Students may (or may not) have input in the design of the curriculum. However, these methodologies take time – more time than required to cover the same content
  6. 6. Stephen Taylor (@sjtylr) Understanding Learners & Learning 6 under didactic methods - and so if there is a criticism of the MYP it tends to come, in my experience, from teachers who are more concerned with the coverage of content and backwash-effect of high-stakes testing. In contrast these test-oriented practitioners better fit the behaviorist/empiricist (B/E) view of learning, which sees knowledge as an “organized accumulation of associations and components of skills,” where learning is the “formation, strengthening and adjustment” of associations between stimulus and response (Greeno et al., 1996). Transfer is dependent on a gradient of similarity between the known and the unknown, or “how many and which kinds of associations needed in the new situation have already been acquired in the previous situation.” (Greeno et al., 1996) This, perhaps reductionist, view of learning and the implications for practical conceptualization favour a learning environment in which the subject-area expertise of the teacher and the transmission of information are key, through which knowledge and skills are trained and tested and students are given explicit, content-oriented feedback for improvement. This approach is highly operable by the exam-oriented teacher or the grammarian: a clear set of goals can be defined, with limited parameters and a finite amount of time and resources in which to demonstrate competence. Where assessment might be more narrow-focused it might also be more reliable, generating large quantities of data that could be used for investigation into the impacts of pedagogical practices. I will return to this idea of measuring effect size of learning interventions later. As the organizational beliefs on education may remain stable through a continuum of education with a common misson, the nature of educational experience across the MYP-DP can show its own transition from the C/R view to the B/E view on learning and pedagogy. We need to then build on Illeris and Greeno et al.’s definitions of learning with one that recognizes the role of this experience in the process of change. I propose the use of David Kolb’s definition of learning as “the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience” (Kolb, 1984, p.38) (emphasis mine) in (Elkjaer, 2009, p.84), in which experience can be interchanged, dependent on context, with such terms as culture or practice (Elkjaer, 2009, p.75; Glassman, 2001).
  7. 7. Stephen Taylor (@sjtylr) Understanding Learners & Learning 7 Experience “is the concept Dewey used to denote the relation between ‘subject’ (individual) and worlds, as well as between action and thinking, between human existence and becoming knowledgeable about selves and worlds of which they are a part.” (Elkjaer, 2009, p.78) In this sense, Dewey’s concept of experience “is characterized by reaching forward towards the unknown” (Elkjaer, 2009, p.80), and as a result “experience occurs when habitual action and thinking are disturbed and calls for inquiry.” (Elkjaer, 2009, p.86). (emphasis mine) Building on these definitions (and in the context of schooling), we can see learning as a permanent change in capacity of the individual that arises as the result of the purposeful application of education; a process through which the relationship between knowledge, self and worlds is moulded by the experience of the learner, which is itself given meaning and future application (transferability) by the process of inquiry. And it is this term - inquiry - that acts as the battleground for debate between the modern C/R teachers of the MYP and the B/E teachers of the exam-oriented DP courses. A pragmatic approach to inquiry “Basing education upon personal experience may mean more multiplied and more contacts between the mature and the immature than ever existed in the traditional school, and consequently more, rather than less, guidance by others. The problem, then, is: how these contacts can be established without violating the principle of learning through personal experience.” (Dewey, 1938, p.21) At the crux of the perceived disconnect between the MYP and the DP is term inquiry and what might be a skewed perception of its meaning; in its loosest educational sense, inquiry refers to a student-driven educational experience, one in which all learning outcomes are directed by the child. However, even the IB’s Primary Years Programme, seen as the most open-ended of the continuum, defines inquiry as being “structured and purposeful” but in
  8. 8. Stephen Taylor (@sjtylr) Understanding Learners & Learning 8 which the students are engaged “actively in their own learning.” (IBO, 2009, p.29) This interpretation is highly important as it articulates the need for the teacher (and the curriculum) to provide the purpose (objectives) and the structure (instruction, learning engagements) under which the students may best learn. The IBO builds further on their description of inquiry, as a process in which the student is “invited to investigate significant issues by formulating their own questions,” where the goal is “active construction of meaning.” (IBO, 2009, p.29) The practical conceptualization of this is a curriculum in which units of inquiry are carefully planned by expert teachers and modified to include the genuine (and significant) interests of the students. As a result, the nature of inquiry is developed as “critical and reflective thinking,” (Elkjaer, 2009, p.75), and it is this definition of inquiry that I propose we use across the continuum. This can be modified further to include the pragmatic approach, in Dewey’s sense: “pragmatism is a method to think and act in a creative (imaginative) and future-oriented (i.e. consequential) manner. (Elkjaer, 2009, p.77). This pragmatic approach to inquiry can be applied to learning across the IB continuum with ease and clarity, for even the most structured of the IB’s DP exams and assessments require students to go beyond the simple recollection of facts into the application, synthesis and evaluation of ideals; students are required to be able to select and modify their learning to solve problems in unknown situations. The accomplished learner must act as a pragmatist, who recognizes that “the situation determines which concepts and theories are useful for analysis of a given problem” (Elkjaer, 2009, p.77), and who can use these as tools “to transform a difficult situation to one that is manageable and comfortable for the subject” (Elkjaer, 2009, p.77). We must ourselves be pragmatists and think, as Dewey noted, about how the contacts between the mature and immature (the expert and the novice) can “ can be established without violating the principle of learning through personal experience.” (Dewey, 1938, p.21) In order to do this, we can consider the ideas of L.S. Vygostky and then the findings of more recent educational research on how we learn and inquire.
  9. 9. Stephen Taylor (@sjtylr) Understanding Learners & Learning 9 Greeno et al. present Dewey and Vygotsky as figureheads of the situitive/pragmatist-sociohistoric (S/P) view of learning, in which knowledge is “distributed among people and their environment” and learning is interactive, taking place “by a group or individual (and) involves becoming attuned to constraints and affordances of material and social systems with which they interact” (Greeno et al., 1996). In the situitive sense, success is determined more by successful participation in the community, rather than through subsets of skills or tasks, and “the practices of a community provide facilitating and inhibiting patterns that organize the group’s activities and the participation of individuals who are attuned to those regularities” (Greeno et al., 1996). Although there are similarities between the views of Dewey and Vygotsky, their differences lie in their pragmatist (Dewey) and sociohistoric (Vygotsky) approaches to inquiry and the relationships between learning and the community (Greeno et al., 1996; Glassman, 2001). Both Dewey and Vygotsky recognized a strong interplay between the self and the social history (or ‘culture’), yet the directions of these interactions were somewhat opposite: in Dewey’s view, the child was a ‘free agent’ whose personal experience informs her thinking, which in turn contributes to the intellectual social tools of the culture (Glassman, 2001). On other hand, Vygotsky placed emphasis on the role of the social history of the culture as determining the ‘tools’ of education: as the child develops through her learning, she is better equipped to be part of the culture, and so her learning serves a social purpose over the personal intellectual (Glassman, 2001). Inquiry as Pedagogy “It is through the mediation of others, through the mediation of the adult that the child undertakes activities. Absolutely everything in the behaviour of the child is merged and rooted in social relations. “ Vygotsky, 1932, in (Daniels, 2001, p.18) The concept of mediation by the learned adult highlights both the similarities and the differences between Dewey and Vygotsky’s ideas about inquiry and pedagogy. From the constructivist perspective, both recognized the
  10. 10. Stephen Taylor (@sjtylr) Understanding Learners & Learning 10 role of social interaction in the process of learning. However Dewey was rather less the developmentalist than Vygotsky and was concerned more with the child as a ‘free-thinker’ whose learning was a result of facilitation by the adult (Glassman, 2001). Dewey’s adult (the facilitator) was responsible for the creation of opportunities for inquiry – or authentic ‘long-term projects’ - through which the child would develop the pragmatic use of concepts and ideas (Glassman, 2001). Although he promoted free inquiry, Dewey was careful to determine the importance of the adult facilitator as an expert learner: “A primary responsibility of educators is that they […] recognize in the concrete what surroundings are conducive to having experiences that led to growth. Above all, they should know how to utilize the surroundings, physical and social, that exist so as to extract from them all they have to contribute to building up experiences that are worth while.” (Dewey, 1938, p.40, emphasis mine) In comparison, Vygotsky’s approach to inquiry and the role of the teacher is more directive and purpose-driven; where Dewey’s inquiry works from the inside-out, Vygotsky’s is from the outside-in (Glassman, 2001), whereby the culture determines the curriculum (Lawton, 1975) and through which learning is driven by a process of adult mediation (Daniels, 2001, p.18). This draws parallels with the transition from MYP to DP, as the framework of the MYP curriculum model and the later prescription of the written and assessed curriculum of the DP appear to sit in greater alignment with Vygotsky’s approach to guided inquiry (Glassman, 2001) than to Dewey’s more open-ended philosophy. Vygotsky’s adult is an interlocutor, possessor of the knowledge of the culture and guide to the ‘neophyte’ (child’s) learning (Glassman, 2001), who makes expert use of the ‘zone of proximal development’ (ZPD) to steer the child’s path of learning towards the goal of becoming an active participant in the culture (Glassman, 2001; Daniels, 2001, p.58). The zone of proximal development is an enduring concept in pedagogy that allows for multiple interpretations and applications, though it is important to note, as did Vygotsky, that instruction (the actions of the adult interlocutor)
  11. 11. Stephen Taylor (@sjtylr) Understanding Learners & Learning 11 and development (the learning of the neophyte) do not coincide (Daniels, 2001, p.58). This is to say that the experience of learning created by the instructor must create a dissonance in the learner, or a gap between what they know and where they need to be in order to progress. It is the role of the adult to create that gap and to expertly guide the learner across it, not through presentation of pure fact but through challenge. However: “Vygotsky never specified the forms of social assistance to learners that constitute a ZPD…. He wrote about collaboration and direction, and about assisting children ‘through demonstration, leading questions, and by introducing the initial elements of the task’s solution’…but did not specify beyond these general prescriptions”. (Moll, 1990, p. 11, in Daniels, 2001, p.59) Moll further suggests that “The focus of change within the ZPD should be on the creation, development and communication of meaning through the collaborative use of mediational means rather than on the transfer of skills from the more to less capable partner.” (Daniels, 2001, p.60 emphasis mine) This returns us to the nature of inquiry as critical reflective thought, in a pragmatic sense, and the emphasis on collaboration and meaning continue to align with the IB’s guidance on inquiry mentioned earlier. I assert that by combining these ideals and practices into a pedagogy of pragmatic inquiry, centred around Vygostky’s ZPD, that we can overcome perceived tensions in the transition between the MYP and the DP.
  12. 12. Stephen Taylor (@sjtylr) Understanding Learners & Learning 12 The Gap: A modern approach to the Zone of Proximal Development “It does not follow that all authority is rejected, but rather that there is need to search for a more effective source of authority.” (Dewey, 1938, p.21) The ZPD is further enhanced by the description of two further zones by Valsiner (1997): the Zone of Free Movement (ZFM), which describes the constraints (and possibilities) of the learner’s access to the environment, and the Zone of Promoted Action (ZPA), which describes the encouraged actions (engagements) that might take the learner through and beyond the ZFM (Valsiner, 1997), summarized in (Daniels, 2001, pp.61-64). If we consider these zones in combination with our pragmatic approach to inquiry, we can see the outline of a framework of pedagogical practices that could promote learning, yet is in need of an evidential foundation. In our search for a more effective source of authority.” (Dewey, 1938, p.21), we may look to more recent educational research for inspiration on the choice of practices that will promote effective action and facilitate the learner’s growth. With Visible Learning for Teachers (2012) and Visible Learning and the Science of How We Learn (2013), John Hattie builds on his wide-ranging 2008 meta-analyses to provide teachers with a toolbox of strategies to use in the classroom in order to achieve ‘effective’ learning. Using decades of educational research data, he provides us with ‘effect sizes’ for various learning interventions (strategies), noting that almost all actions we take as teachers cause learning (d>0), but an impact score of d=0.4 represents the mean average achievement of a student in a normal class, in a normal year; the student who advances by one academic grade level. He defines high-impact practices (d>0.6) and urges teachers to use these data to inform their educational decision-making. It is important to note, though, that although these data are from incredibly large meta-analyses and so are statistically reliable, the underlying practices are potentially highly-variable. Furthermore, these data are backward-looking, not predictive, so a teacher’s own implementation may experience a different level of success. Finally, as is the nature of assessment, these data tend to come from the
  13. 13. Stephen Taylor (@sjtylr) Understanding Learners & Learning 13 results of standardized tests and it is not always our intention to educate students with these in mind – though with the MYP-DP gap under discussion in this paper, this is an important consideration. These data do provide signposts for teachers as we design educational experiences for students, and Hattie is able to use them to exemplify the difference between teachers as facilitators of learning and as activators of learning (Hattie & Yates, 2013, p.73). He asserts that as a result of employing successful high-impact strategies, we can close ‘the Gap’ between where the learner is and where he needs to be. Teacher as Facilitator d Teacher as Activator d Inductive teaching 0.33 Teaching students self-verbalisation 0.76 Simulation and gaming 0.32 Teacher clarity 0.75 Inquiry-based* teaching 0.31 Reciprocal teaching 0.74 Smaller classes 0.21 Feedback 0.74 Individualized instruction 0.22 Metacognitive strategies 0.67 Web-based learning 0.18 Direct instruction 0.59 Problem-based learning 0.15 Mastery learning 0.57 ‘Discovery’ mathematics 0.11 Providing worked examples 0.57 Whole language instruction 0.06 Providing goals 0.50 Student control over learning 0.04 Frequent testing (testing effect) 0.46 Behavioural organisers 0.41 Average Facilitator 0.19 Average Activator 0.61 *this refers to more open-ended inquiry, rather than our working definition of pragmatic inquiry as critical, reflective thought. There appears to be a clear division in the effectiveness of methods favoured by the practical conceptualizations of the cognitive/rationalist view (facilitator) and the behaviorist/empirical view (activator) of learning and anecdotally this is used as justification for resistance to inquiry as a method of lerning in MYP as we prepare students for DP. Similarly, we can identify some of the practices favoured by Dewey (facilitator: inquiry-based, problem-based, student-control over learning), and Vygotsky (activator: self-verbalisation, feedback, reciprocal teaching). These meta-analyses support the connection between the actions of the teacher and the learning of the student and that if we
  14. 14. Stephen Taylor (@sjtylr) Understanding Learners & Learning 14 have to meet goals of high-stakes assessment, then we ought to adopt higher- impact practices. This is not to suggest, though, that we remove inquiry from the curriculum. On the contrary, Hattie’s meta-analyses are but one set of learning impacts; in others, inquiry-based learning scores much higher, with an increasing impact on reasoning and critical thinking (Mayer & Alexander, 2010, p.372). Instead we should use these ideas in combination to outline a pedagogy for effective inquiry: we engage students in critical reflective thought in order to form meaning and we employ practices that will afford them robust raw materials (foundational knowledge) upon which they can build deeper learning. The power of prior (mis)learning “The belief that genuine education comes about through experience does not mean that all experiences are genuinely or equally educative.[…] Any experience is miseducative that has the effect of arresting or distorting the growth of further experience.” (Dewey, 1938, p.25) It seems Dewey recognized early on the power of misconception in arresting the development of later learning and the importance of the learning experience in creating or removing that ill-conceived concept. Hattie recognizes that prior learning effects are very powerful (d=1.04), and quotes David Ausubel as saying “the most important single factor that influences learning is what the learner already knows. Ascertain this and teach him accordingly” (Hattie & Yates, 2013, p.114). Implicit in this statement are a number of factors. First, the nature of the knowledge gap and the diversity of learners that enter our classrooms, for each possess his own zone of proximal development and a different stage of readiness to learn the objectives of our course or lesson. Through employing high-impact strategies such as self-assessment (now ‘student expectations’ d=1.44), formative assessment (d=0.73) and through giving effective feedback (d=0.74), we can acknowledge the zone of free movement and promote actions that will move learning forward for that student. The second implication is that we “teach him accordingly,” rather than perhaps
  15. 15. Stephen Taylor (@sjtylr) Understanding Learners & Learning 15 “teach the content clearly.” It places the emphasis on the teacher as a guide to learning, in Vygotsky’s sense; the curriculum content may indeed be a product of the culture, but access to that knowledge is activated by the instructor, who must employ high-impact methods that will work for that learner. The third implication is the importance of what the student already knows, for no student enters our classroom a blank slate. If a student has a strong prior knowledge of a concept or field of learning, this will have a high positive impact on his learning; it is “easier to build on coherently organized existing knowledge than it is to learn new materials de novo” (Hattie & Yates, 2013, p.114). Conversely, misconception “will create an obstacle, an effect called interference.” Inquiry needs raw materials and we cannot create a critical reflective thinker without the content upon which a conceptual foundation can be built. We have seen that a ‘pure’ inquiry approach in the vein of Dewey is not likely to be effective alone, and so we must decide upon which factual foundations concepts and critical thinking can be built (Willingham, 2007). I propose here that we take the opportunity in MYP to ensure that: 1.   Understandings are made explicit to students and that high-impact practices are employed in order to help students achieve them. 2.   Content is substantive and strategies are taught in order to help students commit this to memory, but content is not so exhaustive so that it results in ego-depletion (expanded below). 3.   Meta-cognitive strategies (d=0.67), analogous to the IBO’s Approaches to Learning, are carefully planned and taught in order to develop students’ thinking skills and to lead to a perhaps transformative learning experience form the novice to the expert learner (Kegan, 2009; Hattie, 2012). 4.   Vertical connection of concepts, knowledge and skills allow for continuity of experience in line with Dewey’s ideas that “the future has to be taken into account at every stage of the educational process.” (Dewey, 1938, p.47), for this future-oriented thinking is at the heart of a pragmatic approach to inquiry. 5.   All teachings are planned carefully in order to avoid the effect of interference, or misconception. If we are to reduce the content of the
  16. 16. Stephen Taylor (@sjtylr) Understanding Learners & Learning 16 MYP in order to better meet the goals of inquiry, it is our responsibility to ensure as best we can that the knowledge students do learn is conceptually accurate and it takes significant efforts to reverse misconceptions once formed (Abdi, 2006). Proposal two might seem to run counter to IB’s (and certainly to Dewey’s) philosophy of inquiry. If we focus on inquiry as critical reflective thought, however, then we must accept the need for significant raw materials for that inquiry: the over-learning of basic skills and content are encouraged in order to commit foundational knowledge to System I memory (thinking fast), so that when needed, the student has the cognitive surplus to be able to make effective use of System II memory (thinking slow) (Kahnemann, 2011), summarized in (Hattie & Yates, 2013). This line of thinking follows Kahnemann’s (2011) dual- system theory on learning for automaticity and ego-depletion: where the practice of what is often derided as ‘rote’ learning is used to commit content and operations to permanent memory (System I), activation of System II can lead to ego-depletion or mental exhaustion, yet it is needed for the higher-order pursuit of inquiry as critical, reflective thought. Consequently, if we aim to teach students to be critical thinkers without helping them to commit meaningful (and useful) content to memory, we may actually be hindering their progress (Willingham, 2007). Although I propose above that we should be actively teaching substantive content for memory, I do not favour the pre-teaching of the DP syllabus in the MYP courses, and this comes from largely from the perspective of motivation. We must invite students to inquire through experiences that “arouse curiosity (and) strengthen initiative,” (Dewey, 1938, p.38), ensuring that the experiences we create for learners are indeed moving forces for their future development (Dewey, 1938, p.38),. From Principles into Practice As long as secondary school education is characterized by high-stakes terminal assessment and university entry there will inevitably be a degree of backwash through the curriculum that will cause tension and debate about the pedagogies that are used to cause learning. I hope that I have succeeded in
  17. 17. Stephen Taylor (@sjtylr) Understanding Learners & Learning 17 characterizing a pragmatic approach to inquiry – critical reflective thought – as being one which encompasses not only the intellectual ideals of Dewey but the developmental practicalities of Vygotsky, and in connecting these to more discussion of effect sizes have made some worthwhile recommendations for teaching students across the MYP-DP transition. “What we want and need is education pure and simple, and we shall make surer and faster progress when we devote ourselves to finding out just what education is and what conditions have to be satisfied in order that education may be a reality and not a name or a slogan.” (Dewey, 1938, p.91) Thanks Thank-you to Dr. Rita Chawla-Duggan for her support as tutor during this unit.
  18. 18. Stephen Taylor (@sjtylr) Understanding Learners and Learning     References Abdi, S.W., 2006. Correcting student misconceptions. Science Scope, January. Bloom, B.S. et al., 1956. Taxonomy of educational objectives: The classification of educational goals. Handbook I: Cognitive domain. New York: David McKay Company. Daniels, H., 2001. Vygotsky and Pedagogy. London: Routledge/Falmer. Dewey, J., 1938. Experience and Education. Indianapolis: Kappa Delta Pi. Dewey, J., 1964. The need for a philosophy of education. In R.D. Archambault, ed. John Dewey on Education: Selected Writings. Chicago: University of Chigao Press. pp.3-14. Elkjaer, B., 2009. Pragmatism: A Learning Theory for the Future. In K. Illeris, ed. Contemporary Theories of Learning: Learning Theorists. In Their Own Words. London: Routledge. pp.74-89. Glassman, M., 2001. Dewey and Vygotsky: Society, Experience, and Inquiry in Educational Practice.. Educational Researcher, 30(4), pp.3-14. Greeno, J., Collins, A. & Resnick, L., 1996. Cognition and Learning. In D. Berliner & R. Calfee, eds. Handbook of Educational Psychology. New York: Prentice Hall International. pp.15-46. Hattie, J., 2012. Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning. London: Routledge. Hattie, J. & Yates, G., 2013. Visible Learning and the Science of How We Learn. London: Routledge. IBO, 2009. Making the PYP Happen: A curriculum framework for international primary education. Revised ed. Cardiff, UK: International Baccalaureate Organisation. IBO, 2012. Mission and strategy. [Online] Available at: HYPERLINK "" [Accessed 16 Feb 2014]. Illeris, K., 2009. A Comprehensive Understanding of Human Learning. In K. Illeris, ed. Contemporary Theories of Learning: Learning Theorists. In Their Own Words. London: Routledge. pp.7-20. Kahnemann, D., 2011. Thinking Fast, Thinking Slow. New York: Farrar Strauss Giroux. Kegan, R., 2009. What "form" transforms? A constructive-developmental approach to transformative learning. In K. Illeris, ed. Contemporary Theories of Learning: Learning Theorists. In Their Own Words. London: Routledge. pp.35-52.
  19. 19. Stephen Taylor (@sjtylr) Understanding Learners & Learning 2 Kolb, D.A., 1984. Experiential learning: Experience as the source of learning and development. Englewood Clffs, NJ: Prentice Hall. Lawton, D., 1975. Class, Culture and the Curriculum. London. Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd. Mayer, R.E. & Alexander, P.A., 2010. Handbook of Research on Learning and Instruction. London: Routledge. Mezirow, J., 2009. An overview of transformative learning. In K. Illeris, ed. Contemporary Theories of Learning: Learning Theorists. In Their Own Words. London: Routledge. pp.90-105. Moll, L., 1990. Vygotsky and Education. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Morais, D. & Ogden, A., 2011. Initial Development and Validation of the Global Citizenship Scale. Journal of Studies in International Education, 15(5), pp.445-66. Robinson, M., 2013. Trivium 21C: Preparing young people for the future with lessons from the past.. Kindle Edition ed. London: Independent Thinking Press an imprint of Crown House Publishing. Valsiner, J., 1997. Culture and the Development of Children’s Action: A Theory of Human Development. 2nd ed. New York: John Wiley. Willingham, D., 2007. Critical Thinking: Why is it so hard to teach?. American Educator, Summer.