27 mars 2012

Hands-on learning (Critical Guide, E.D. Hirsch Jr)

"Hands-on learning." A phrase that implies the superiority of direct, tactile, lifelike learning to indirect, verbal, rote memorization. 

   Multisensory learning is indeed an excellent method for integrating and fixing what a child learns, for instance, the use of tactile methods to help children learn the letters of the alphabet. (In one version of that method, children run their fingers over bumpy cutouts of the letters, and this hands-on experience, combined with visual perception and with hearing and pronouncing the names of the letters, helps connect the letter shapes to the names by multiple sensory means that reinforce each other.) 
   Apprenticeship teaching, too, is an enormously effective, integrated, hands-on mode of learning a trade or profession. 

   Caution must be expressed, however, regarding the polemical use of the term to support a single kind of teaching. Very often the term "hands-on" is an honorific term used to praise the progressivist "project method" of education and to disparage a "whole-class instruction," which is conducted mainly by visual and verbal means. Experience does not bear out the superiority claimed for the project method in its various manifestations, called variously "discovery learning," "holistic learning," and "thematic learning." The research suggests that such methods are uncertain, unfair (not all children learn from them), and inefficient, and therefore should be used sparingly.   
   Caution is especially required when the phrase "hands-on" is used to imply disdainfully that visual and verbal learning is artificial and unengaging. Antiverbal prejudices spell disaster for disadvantaged students, who have not been exposed to a breadth of verbal learning outside the school. 

   In contemporary life, the verbal has a strong claim to being just as lifelike as the tactile.

Antipathy to subject-matter content  

"banking theory of schooling" 
"culturally-biased curriculum" 
"outcomes-based education" 
"research has shown"
Return to the main page : 

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 :  

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