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How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School
to live in an environment: learning your way around, learning what resources are available, and learning how to use those resources in conducting your activities productively and enjoyably (Greeno, 1991:175). The progressive formalization framework discussed above is consistent with this metaphor. Knowing where one is in a landscape requires a network of connections that link one’s present location to the larger space.
Traditional curricula often fail to help students “learn their way around” a discipline. The curricula include the familiar scope and sequence charts that specify procedural objectives to be mastered by students at each grade: though an individual objective might be reasonable, it is not seen as part of a larger network. Yet it is the network, the connections among objectives, that is important. This is the kind of knowledge that characterizes expertise (see Chapter 2). Stress on isolated parts can train students in a series of routines without educating them to understand an overall picture that will ensure the development of integrated knowledge structures and information about conditions of applicability.
An alternative to simply progressing through a series of exercises that derive from a scope and sequence chart is to expose students to the major features of a subject domain as they arise naturally in problem situations. Activities can be structured so that students are able to explore, explain, extend, and evaluate their progress. Ideas are best introduced when students see a need or a reason for their use—this helps them see relevant uses of knowledge to make sense of what they are learning. Problem situations used to engage students may include the historic reasons for the development of the domain, the relationship of that domain to other domains, or the uses of ideas in that domain (see Webb and Romberg, 1992). In Chapter 7 we present examples from history, science, and mathematics instruction that emphasize the importance of introducing ideas and concepts in ways that promote deep understanding.
A challenge for the design of knowledge-centered environments is to strike the appropriate balance between activities designed to promote understanding and those designed to promote the automaticity of skills necessary to function effectively without being overwhelmed by attentional requirements. Students for whom it is effortful to read, write, and calculate can encounter serious difficulties learning. The importance of automaticity has been demonstrated in a number of areas (e.g., Beck et al., 1989, 1991; Hasselbring et al., 1987; LaBerge and Samuels, 1974; see Chapter 2).
In addition to being learner centered and knowledge centered, effectively designed learning environments must also be assessment centered. The key principles of assessment are that they should provide opportunities