How can cognitive science inform the future of education? | Lindsay Portnoy

September 23, 2019 0 By Ronny Jaskolski


We have this dichotomy in the land of education
whereby we have all of this beautiful research; we have decades, if not centuries, of research
on how people learn — which is ultimately cognitive science. And then we have the applied practice of what
is happening in schools. And there is a tremendous disconnect. We talk about ideas like information processing
and you think about a computer or your mind is a machine. We understand how children learn best. We understand how children learn and all of
us learn through experience. That’s cognitive science. The sociocultural tools that we have in the
world around us is something that Lev Vygotsky talked about many, many years ago and whether
those sociocultural tools are an iPhone or an abacus it doesn’t really matter. So when you talk about how can cognitive science
inform education I find that the answer is simply: We have to really look at it and apply
it. And so what that oftentimes means is how do
we get this understanding to folks that don’t understand it, which are oftentimes policymakers,
those that are determining the policy for schools. Demonstrating the power of perseverance or
maybe what Angela Duckworth would call grit, that’s predicated on cognitive science — allowing
a student or a human to learn from something that wasn’t successful the first time and
try again. That looks different than school currently
looks. I know that there are folks like the folks
at the Mastery Transcript Consortium that are looking at how grades could be different,
how we could even evaluate learning in a different way. There are education organizations across the
country and across the globe that are looking at what classrooms could do differently. Why are we beholden to bells and specific
times? Why don’t we have more flexible iterations
of what classes and what learning could look like? Why do we still have silos of knowledge? Why don’t we create inner disciplinary experiences
where students are learning about the history of science while they’re creating or constructing
some sort of permanent structure that is also requiring math and is requiring communication
which ultimately is going to require writing. So I think cognitive science is a really strong
foundation for saying, look, we understand how people learn; they learn by experience. They learn by applying multiple concepts and
constructs at a single time as opposed to the bell rings and now it’s time for math. There’s a disconnect, a tremendous disconnect,
that I see and that I struggle with in the standardization of individuals, of students,
of humans. Certainly, I understand and I value the use
of assessments but perhaps something that I would suggest or would like to see thought
more deeply about is our use of standardized assessments as mechanisms to determine the
efficacy of education. So if there was a piece that I would say,
look, we understand that learners need the opportunity to see where they are struggling
and obviously celebrating where they’re succeeding and the opportunity to then revise and iterate,
standardized testing doesn’t do that. When you evaluate a person and you determine
who they are or what schools they can or cannot go to or what opportunities are or are not
afforded to them based on an experience that they have on one day that is largely a snapshot
of who they are as a person, I find that that’s very much against equitable education. And if we want to really focus on how can
we equitably educate all learners, how can we be inclusive in our education, how can
we educate diverse populations and meet folks where they are to help them be as successful
as possible I think we have to look really hard at our use of standardized tests and
how much emphasis we’re putting on them. And instead of getting bigger sticks or maybe
bigger carrots, thinking about looking at learning differently, focusing more on formative
ways of assessing and check-ins while kids are learning. In the book, I talk about three cognitive
aspects of learning that, again, they’re interdisciplinary. I talk about metacognition and self-regulation
and epistemology. Metacognition is knowing when you know, and
that’s a really important quality for all of us to have. Even as a grownup when you go on the internet
and want to research something, I mean good luck, but how do you know when you’ve acquired
the knowledge that you need to be successful? So that’s a skill called metacognition. And the way that you do that through self-regulated
learning when you’re planning and monitoring and assessing your learning as you’re moving
through the process, you don’t measure that in a standardized test. And as you acquire knowledge because using
metacognition you know what you know, you’re also changing and evolving your beliefs about
the nature of knowledge, which is epistemology. And so the learner or any of our beliefs about
knowledge, which is epistemology, as they change from maybe more naïve beliefs, which
is that there is always a correct or an incorrect answer, to a little more advanced beliefs
which is to say certainly there’s a better answer right now but there’s always opportunities
to learn more. And so I think that infusing that into the
way that we assess instead of having that single summative benchmark that often prohibits
folks from access would be my suggestion for how we could improve education.