Wednesday, June 30, 2010

EDUC 511: Taxonomic tea leaves

This afternoon we practiced classifying questions you could ask a student about an article they had read according to the types of knowledge being considered (factual, conceptual, procedural, or metacognitive) and the types of thinking involved (remember, understand, apply, analyze, evaluate, create). This is based on a learning taxonomy according to Anderson et al.

We spent a solid 15 minutes discussing whether the question, "Which of the three trend lines on the graph in the article shows the greatest amount of change?" represented engaging students in

a) factual knowledge (reading data in front of you, with Understanding / Interpretting cognitive processes)

b) conceptual knowledge (steeper lines represent greater change)

c) procedural knowledge (do you know the process for reading a graph)

The problem is that any of those answers could be valid depending on the context -- depending on the intention of the teacher, and the background and knowledge base of the student.

Then we spent another 15 minutes discussing whether it's possible to use this taxonomy in a unique way -- whether there can be a single correct answer, or whether the individual diversity of minds and cognitive processes makes it impossible for the taxonomy to be unique.

The professor is advocating for a common language to describe thinking, which is fine, and probably useful for lesson planning and aiming to provoke a diversity of types of thinking from your students. But assuming all the students will use the same knowledge and cognition categories to answer a given question just doesn't seem possible to me. It's non-unique, because people are non-unique.

This is probably why I've always shied away from the social sciences -- the fuzziness of it, combined with the discipline-level impulse to overlay scientific precision on human messiness. Wish me luck with ed school.

My favorite phrase from the readings for today:

"Many of the classifications and categories students encounter represent relatively arbitrary and even artificial forms of knowledge that are meaningful only to experts who recognize their value as tools and techniques in their work."

The taxonomy is definitely seeming arbitrary and artificial to me today. We'll see if I become expert enough to value it in my work.

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