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Educ Psychol Rev (2012) 24:1318 DOI 10.

1007/s10648-011-9189-0 COMMENTARY

What Every Teacher Should Know: Reflections on Educating the Developing Mind
Lorin W. Anderson

Published online: 27 December 2011 # Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Abstract Over the past half century, much has been learned about the ways in which students develop and learn. Unfortunately, this knowledge often does not find its way into the classroom. Teachers can begin to use this knowledge by focusing on a few key ideas. They need to go beyond the presentation of content to helping students acquire strategies for processing that content. They need to achieve a balance between knowledge and process (rather than choose one or the other). They need to minimize teaching content in isolation, choosing instead to contextualize the content in real-life experiences and applications. Finally, they need to help students learn to make informed, defensible decisions on their own. Changes in curriculum, both at the macro- and micro-levels can assist teachers in making these changes in their teaching. Keywords Teaching . Teachers . Curriculum . Knowledge . Cognitive processes . Evaluation . Contextual learning

Among their conclusions, Demetriou, Spanoudis, and Mouyi write that the realization of the educational implications of the theory discussed here requires extensive changes in a number of domains that are relevant but distinct from education as such. Specifically, three domains are mentioned: (1) new curricula, (2) teacher education, and (3) modern technology. To these, I would add a fourth domain, namely, teachers. Teachers are the ones who decide how the written curriculum becomes the enacted curriculum (Porter 2006). Teachers determine what they will take away from teacher education, with a fairly typical take away being a belief in the importance of interpersonal and affective factors and a downplaying of the importance of academic ones (Weinstein 1989). Finally, teachers decide whether and how they will use technology as part of their general approach to teaching (Shimabukoro 2010). Reflecting on the successes and failures of educational reforms in Latin American and Caribbean countries, Campos (2005) stated boldly that without the participation of teachers, changes in education are impossible (p. 7).
L. W. Anderson (*) University of South Carolina, Columbia, SC, USA e-mail: andregroup@sc.rr.com


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Because teacher education is the first formal exposure of college-age students to the craft of teaching, it holds the key to how well teachers are prepared when they first enter their classrooms. Unfortunately, there is a general feeling among educators, including teachers, that teacher education at present is largely ineffective and badly in need of substantial improvement (Berry 2010). There is agreement that there is a problem, but the recommended solutions are many and varied. The United States National Academy of Education, for example, has suggested that the knowledge base of teacher education consists of three overarching content domains: (1) knowledge of learners and their development in social contexts; (2) knowledge of subject matter and curriculum goals; and (3) knowledge of teaching and teacher education (Darling-Hammond et al. 2005). As anyone with even a rudimentary knowledge of teacher education can see, the amount of content that can be packed into each of these knowledge domains is staggering. Demetriou, Spanoudis, and Mouyi speak to the heart of the content of teacher education in a way that cuts across all three domains. They assert, for example, that

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Knowledge in each discipline is affected by the political, social, and historical context in which it was developed (domain 1). Students should create and use mental models to understand and solve problems (domain 2). A well-structured learning environment enables the students who are weak in their processing and representational capabilities to learn despite their weaknesses (domain 3).

Although there are numerous implications for teacher education inherent in the paper, I will focus my remarks on four things that every teacher should know. I will end my commentary with a short discussion of the role of curriculum in fostering and facilitating teacher change.

Teaching Is More than Simply Presenting Content to Students For many teachers, particularly those in secondary schools and beyond, the job of teaching is equated with presenting content to students. Once students are exposed to the content, the rest, according to this view, is left up to the students. Some will learn the content well, some will learn enough to get by, and some will learn very little, if anything at all (Bloom 1968). Because these differences in learning have historically been attributed to differences in general ability (which has been understood to be a stable trait), teachers have accepted differences in learning as givens. Within this frame of reference, then, once the content has been presented, teachers can do no more. Over the past several decades, as Demetriou and his colleagues have summarized, theorists and researchers have begun to offer an alternative explanation for student learning differences. If students are presented the exactly the same content, their learning will depend largely on (1) the ways in which they process the content and (2) the mental models, templates, or schemas that are used to make sense of the content they process. Within this framework, teaching is far more than content presentation. Teaching involves helping students acquire cognitive processing strategies that they can use on or with content so they can learn what teachers intend them to learn. If, for example, teachers want students to simply memorize the content, they must teach students memorization strategies in addition to the content (e.g., rehearsal, elaboration, the use of mnemonics). If, on the other hand, teachers want students to analyze the content, they must teach students analytical strategies in addition to the content (e.g., the use of graphic organizers, the use of metaphors and analogies). Furthermore, teachers must assist students in the development of mental

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templates for specialized structure systems that facilitate their use as knowledge extraction systems. Rather than a singular focus on content presentation, then, teaching requires a complex blend of content, process, and mental models. In a phrase, teaching requires that teachers mess with students minds.

Facilitating Learning Requires that Attention Is Paid to Both Knowledge and Cognitive Processes In too many classrooms in too many schools throughout the world, knowledge and cognitive processes are seen as independent entities, quite often, polar opposites. Entire programs are developed with either a knowledge orientation or a process orientation. Cultural literacy programs (Hirsch 2007) emphasize knowledge at the expense of process. Higher-order thinking skills programs (Pogrow 1990) emphasize process at the expense of knowledge. Science curriculums in many states in the USA include separate process standards alongside subject-specific content standards, rather than being fully integrated one with the other (California State Board of Education 2000). Demetriou and his colleagues make a compelling argument that knowledge and cognitive processes are interdependent. For example, although more complex cognitive processes (e. g., analysis, evaluation, critical thinking) are often thought of as general (that is, applicable across a wide variety of settings and subject matters), they tend to interact variably with the various knowledge [subject matter] domains. For example, literary analysis and statistical analysis, although related in some general sense, are quite different from one another in many respects. This interdependence of knowledge and process is inherent in the structure of the objectives that define the intended learning outcomes for their students. Grammatically speaking, all objectives share a common format: subjectverbobject (Anderson et al. (2001)). The subject is the student or the learner. The object indicates the content and the verb, the process. Suppose, for example, the objective is that students will be able to compare various literary genres. The verb is compare and the object is literary genres. Without some rudimentary knowledge of literary genres, students cannot make the comparison. And, as the comparisons are made, students gain greater knowledge of literary genres. As students improve their learning, then, content knowledge and cognitive processes must go hand in hand.

Virtually Everything Should Be Taught in Context, Rather than in Isolation Demetriou and his colleagues argue that education in the primary school years must focus on revealing connections between concepts [mental categories] and operations. In later years, categories become theories as concepts are defined on the basis of other concepts. This conceptual knowledge is the basis for meaningful learning. Anderson et al. (2001) contrast meaningful learning with rote learning. Simply stated, teaching in isolation results in rote learning (that is, memorization without understanding); teaching in context produces meaningful learning. Giving students a list of vocabulary words and having them copy definitions from a dictionary or the glossary of a textbook may result in memorization of word definitions but it does not yield understanding of word meaning. Promoting word meaning requires that teachers help students use context clues to determine which of the multitude of definitions found in a dictionary or glossary is the right one in that context.


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Teaching in context also ensures that students understand the conditions under which what they are taught holds true. For example, the validity of the statement that water boils at 100C depends on the altitude and the type of water (fresh vs. salt). Similarly, the validity of the statement that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line depends on the number of dimensions in the space in which the line is drawn (two vs. three dimensions). And, as Demetriou and his colleagues point out, understanding the political, cultural, and historical context often aids in understanding the content being taught. Eventually, students must come to the realization that ones epistemological stance defines ones interpretation and even handling of knowledge. That is, how one sees and understands the world depends to a great extent on the lens through which one looks at the world. This is the personal context of learning, the context associated with metacognition (Anderson et al. 2001).

Teaching Students to Make Informed Judgments About the Material They Encounter and How Well They Are Learning Is a Critical Component of Learning to Learn In todays information-rich world, there are far more sources of information than teachers and textbooks. In fact, one could argue that students have access to too much information, much of which is contradictory, some of which is simply wrong. One of the primary goals of education thenDemetriou and his colleagues argue that it is the ultimate goalis to help students make informed, defensible judgments. Evaluation can take on a number of forms, many of which can be phrased as questions. Is this information accurate? Is this argument valid? Do I understand what I am doing? Does this make sense? Do I have enough information to solve this problem? Am I getting closer to getting an answer or solving the problem? The first two questions deal with material external to the student. The remaining questions deal with the students interface with that material. Separating the questions in this manner allows us to understand how students can come up with answers that are accurate, but make no sense. Consider, for example, the following mathematics problem: Three hundred twenty-eight senior citizens are going on a bus trip. A single bus can seat 40 people. How many buses are needed so that all senior citizens can go on the trip? (DeFranco and Curcio 1997). Relying exclusively on mathematical operations, the answer is 8.2 buses. However, the answer 8.2 buses, although accurate, makes no sense. If we follow the general rule of rounding whole numbers taught to students beginning at age 7 or 8, we would arrive at an answer of 8 buses, which is simply wrong. With only eight buses, eight senior citizens would be left behind. The correct answer, 9 buses, requires students not only to go beyond mathematical operations, but also to violate the basic rule of rounding whole numbers. Evaluation is key component of self-regulation (Boekaerts et al. 2000) and critical thinking (Ennis 1996), both of which are discussed in great detail by Demetriou, Spanoudis, and Mouyi. Similarly, evaluation is an integral part of the concept of assessment. As summarized by Demetriou and his colleagues, assessment in education can help students (a) enhance their knowledge of their own minds, (b) sharpen their self-monitoring, selfrepresentation, and self-regulation skills, and (c) make them aware of their strengths and weaknesses in the various components of the mind and the different domains of knowledge. Unlike content which has a very short shelf life, teaching evaluation criteria (content) and strategies (process) is a gift that keeps on giving.

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Changing the Way Students are Taught by Changing the Curriculum I began this commentary by arguing that all educational change goes through the teacher. Some teachers embrace change, while others resist it (Fullan 2001). Some teachers work in schools in which the culture supports change, while others work in schools in which maintaining the status quo is of paramount importance (Hinde 2004). With this in mind, the question becomes How do we get teachers to act on the knowledge summarized by Demetriou and his colleagues or even on the four knowings that form the basis for my commentary? One possible answerone that I endorseis that we build it into the curriculum at both the macro and micro levels. One of the most important recommendations offered by Demetriou, Spanoudis, and Mouyi is that education should be guided by an overall roadmap that takes into account how the developing person relates to the world at different phases of development. Traditionally, this macro-level issue has been addressed by means of scope and sequence charts, visual representations of how the curriculum should play out over grade and school levels. However, scope and sequence charts typically include the topics (that is, content) that should be taught at each grade level in each subject matter. Notice that this approach to macro-level curriculum design reinforces the notion that teaching is simply presenting content to students. In recent years, alternatives to scope and sequence charts have been proposed. Heritage (2008) has suggested that learning progressions be used as the basis for macro-level curriculum development, while Daro et al. (2011) have suggested learning trajectories. This focus on learning as the basis for structuring the curriculum over time is far more consistent with the recommendation made by Demetriou and his colleagues than any previous efforts. At a micro level, educators have begun to work with experienced teachers on the design of curricular units that emphasize major concepts and principles and include classroom activities that promote student processing of content at a variety of cognitive levels. Brophy and Alleman (2003), for example, have prepared a series of social studies units for primary school students that they call excursions. These excursions are structured around powerful ideas and contain real-life (that is, out-of-school) applications. Curriculum units offer three advantages over the more traditional lesson-based curriculum structure (Anderson et al. 2001). First, they provide the time needed for more integrated, holistic learning. Second, they provide a context that enables students (and teachers) to understand both the why and what of classroom life over time. That is, why are we doing this, what are we supposed to learn from it, and where are we headed? Third, they provide the amount of time needed to enable students to truly learn how to analyze, evaluate, and create. Learning to think takes far more time than memorizing content. In their paper, Demetriou, Spanoudis, and Mouyi provide a wealth of information, some old, some new, but most importantly, all connected. In this commentary, I have chosen to focus on four things that I believe to be consistent with their recommendations and worthy of consideration by teachers, administrators, teacher educators, and curriculum developers at all levels of our education system. An implicit point in their paper is that decisions about curriculum, teacher education, and technologytheir three domainsshould be based primarily on what is best for our students over the long haul. To make wise decisions, educators must begin to incorporate and use the knowledge base summarized by Demetriou and his colleagues.


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