27 mars 2012

Discovery learning (Critical Guide, E.D. Hirsch Jr)

   "Discovery learning." The phrase refers to the teaching method which sets up projects or problems so that students can discover knowledge for themselves through hands-on experience and problem solving rather than through textbooks and lectures. Progressivists made discovery learning the chief or exclusive form of teaching starting with the "project method" (which see.) 

   The premise is true that knowledge acquired on one's own, with difficulty and by expending lots of time and effort, is more likely to be retained than knowledge presented verbally. 
   It is also true that knowledge gained in a realistic context as part of an effort to solve a problem is likely to be knowledge that is well understood and integrated. 
   Unquestionably, then, discovery learning is an effective method-when it works. 

   But there are two serious drawbacks to preponderant or exclusive reliance on discovery learning. 
   First, students do not always make on their own the discoveries they are supposed to make; in fact, they sometimes make "discoveries" that aren't true. Hence, it is essential to monitor students to probe whether the desired learning goal has been achieved, and if not, to reach the goal by direct means. 
   Second, discovery learning has proved to be very inefficient. Not only do students sometimes fail to gain the knowledge and know-how they are supposed to gain, but they do not gain it very fast. Research into teaching methods has consistently shown that discovery learning is the least effective method of instruction in the teacher's repertory. 

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This was an excerpt from Hirsch's great book on education :
The Schools We Need 
 and Why We Don't Have Them.
Recension by Richard Askey :  
http://mathematicallycorrect.com/hirsch.htm  
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