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How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School
ful ways. Using Haitian Creole, they designed their studies, interpreted data, and argued theories; using English, they collected data from their mainstream peers, read standards to interpret their scientific test results, reported their findings, and consulted with experts at the local water treatment facility.
Outstanding teaching requires teachers to have a deep understanding of the subject matter and its structure, as well as an equally thorough understanding of the kinds of teaching activities that help students understand the subject matter in order to be capable of asking probing questions.
Numerous studies demonstrate that the curriculum and its tools, including textbooks, need to be dissected and discussed in the larger contexts and framework of a discipline. In order to be able to provide such guidance, teachers themselves need a thorough understanding of the subject domain and the epistemology that guides the discipline (for history, see Wineburg and Wilson, 1988; for math and English, see Ball, 1993; Grossman et al., 1989; for science, see Rosebery et al., 1992).
The examples in this chapter illustrate the principles for the design of learning environments that were discussed in Chapter 6: they are learner, knowledge, assessment, and community centered. They are learner centered in the sense that teachers build on the knowledge students bring to the learning situation. They are knowledge centered in the sense that the teachers attempt to help students develop an organized understanding of important concepts in each discipline. They are assessment centered in the sense that the teachers attempt to make students’ thinking visible so that ideas can be discussed and clarified, such as having students (1) present their arguments in debates, (2) discuss their solutions to problems at a qualitative level, and (3) make predictions about various phenomena. They are community centered in the sense that the teachers establish classroom norms that learning with understanding is valued and students feel free to explore what they do not understand.
These examples illustrate the importance of pedagogical content knowledge to guide teachers. Expert teachers have a firm understanding of their respective disciplines, knowledge of the conceptual barriers that students face in learning about the discipline, and knowledge of effective strategies for working with students. Teachers’ knowledge of their disciplines provides a cognitive roadmap to guide their assignments to students, to gauge student progress, and to support the questions students ask. The teachers focus on understanding rather than memorization and routine procedures to follow, and they engage students in activities that help students reflect on their own learning and understanding.