Say it enough times and it becomes the truth, Dept.

There are certain narratives in education that are repeated so many times, that they become viewed as the absolute truth.  The idea of “learning styles” comes to mind. Although articles and papers have been written debunking the idea of learning styles, the idea persists in ed schools and in other fora.  I hear it at my school when, for example, a teacher will say that some student is a “visual learner” and thus finds listening to the teacher on a video to be disconcerting.  This is finished up with “Too much ‘teacher talk’ and not enough guidance.”

This last I can almost buy, because I believe students do need guidance, particularly in the form of direct and explicit instruction.  How you do this without talking, however, remains a mystery.

One of the many other myths is the one about “productive struggle”.  I saw this in an article about the difficulties of distance learning.

“Sometimes when you think, ‘oh my kid’s not getting it, they are having a hard time, they aren’t getting to the answer’, you might even know the answer, but they can’t make that connection and that’s okay because that’s what we call productive struggle,” Musick said. “We want them to struggle because when they are struggling, that’s when they are learning the most.” 

A friend of mine wrote me recently about his “struggles” to learn about web programming.  He writes:

Good teaching makes learning easier, not harder with more struggle. Students will struggle plenty with regular textbook problem sets even if you do everything possible to make learning easy.  This email comes after spending a good long time online trying to (and still trying to) understand what Node.js is and how it’s installed and used to simulate client-server programming. I have a master’s degree in computer engineering and taught computer science for years. I still don’t get it. Creating struggle is just an excuse for really bad teaching.

That’s the part you don’t read about in newspaper articles. If you do, someone will point out that that’s merely an opinion of what the person thinks is true. But the person provides no cites to studies, no evidence to support what is being said.

Right.  Say that enough times and people believe that as well.


3 thoughts on “Say it enough times and it becomes the truth, Dept.

  1. As the author of the second quote, it took me until the later years of college/grad school to fully realize that in most cases, it wasn’t me, but the teacher and the books. Since the time of that quote, I have come across a book that does a good job of explaining “Full Stack” software development. My life is easier and I don’t struggle as much. I’m learning and understanding faster.

    Most remember the struggle with word problems in math. No two were alike, and no in-class, group-based vague word problem will fix that struggle with some magical transference. I always told my college math students to work together on homework. Some benefited from that and others did not. There is nothing magic about forcing this model on students in class and making a problem more vague where they have to make up missing pieces. It just wastes time and takes away from productive learning.

    Once again, we all try to analyze and carefully respond to half-baked and unproven edu-thought. It has no effect. These are the people who claim to teach “deep understanding.” We might as talk to a brick wall.


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