Knowledge is the Foundation of Learning

“Although debate continues in the educational arena over the importance of acquiring knowledge versus “learning how to think,” the Brain-Targeted Teaching (BTT) Model is built upon the assumption that the latter is in many ways dependent on the former. In other words, in order to be effective thinkers, children must possess the background knowledge needed to be literate in today’s society.” (Hardiman, p. 95)

The pendulum swings back and forth in education from one extreme to another. Forever the same battle seems to be waged, but on different fronts: basic skills versus higher level thinking. This debate is played out in specific terms in things like the whole language versus phonics debate, but also in more general terms, with some education stakeholders calling for a “back to basics” approach to education while others are demanding that schools focus instead on higher level thinking schools.

This makes me think of the changes that I have seen in Math instruction in the primary and elementary years. When I first started, students had workbooks with very sequential activities. Teachers supplemented these workbooks with in-class instruction and various hands-on activities. Students were expected to practise a new skills many times. For example, when the book covered a new skills like subtraction with borrowing, the book would then give twenty to fifty practise questions.

Then, a couple years later we transitioned to a new textbook series. The practise questions were gone and replaced with word problems. Many students – and parents – were lost. I heard over and over “what is this question asking?” Students were being challenged by the word problems, but they lacked the basic arithmetic skills to solve the questions, and many lacked the language skills to translate the question into the required numbers and operations. Teachers started allowing students to use calculators and stopped stressing, or even teaching, how to manually calculate the answers. Of course some teachers supplemented the program with worksheets to provide additional practise, but many did not. Some teachers started to think that they were no longer required to teach arithmetic, that it had been replaced by problem solving.

I remember back to my Bachelor of Education and learning about Bloom’s Taxonomy: knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. A simplified version I also remember was knowledge and everything above knowledge.

The pyramid of Bloom’s Taxonomy is built on a foundation of knowledge. The top of the pyramid is the star of the show, but it is the very bottom pieces that are the most important. They hold everything else up. The Great Pyramid of Giza has been missing its peak for years, but it’s still a “Great” pyramid.

Evaluation without knowledge is prejudice, superstition, or both.

Hardiman, M. (2012). The brain-targeted teaching model for 21st century schools. Thousand Oaks, California: Corwin.

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