Experts and Novices, IV

I’m really enjoying the rhythm of blog posts here, shared on Google+ and Twitter, with continuing conversations in all three places.  Yesterday’s post, shared on this Google+ thread, led to another set of amazing comments that I’d like to explore today.

Laura Gibbs points out that the expert-novice distinction is more complex than the simple either-or distinction we’ve been using or even than the continuum which I really had in mind.  In addition to *experts* and *novices*, in any field there are also those who know how (like an expert) but just don’t want to.  I’m not sure what to call that group!  But I am definitely a member when it comes to mowing the lawn.

Ira Socol noted that “the rules” (the kinds that we teachers tend to present to our students, then ask them to regurgitate or apply) are actually

made up, then applied to make it work….  So I think we need to see frameworks which allow us to understand each other, not “rules” which create limits.

I thought at once of Plato’s allegory of the cave, but with an added twist.  In Plato’s version, the inhabitants of the cave think that the shadows (which they can see projected on the wall of their prison) are the only reality, and they’re unaware of the real things that create the shadows.  Linguists in the tradition of Chomsky would argue that there are, in fact, universal rules that govern human languages … but those aren’t the “rules” that we teach our students!  For one thing, they already know them on some unconscious level, and for another thing, we probably can’t know them directly.  Instead, we teach “rules” that we’ve derived from real examples of language, but we teach them as if they were more real than the examples themselves.  The same thing happens, I suppose, when we aim for computation rather than understanding  in mathematics, or when we “teach history” rather than helping students learn how to think like historians.  Or, for that matter, when we “teach science” rather than helping our students apply the scientific method to generate and test their own hypotheses.

In the framework of Plato’s cave, are we developing *theories about the shadows*, teacingh them to our students, and then assuming that the *theories* are more real than the shadows?

Pam Moran made a great set of comparisons to gymnastics and working with metal screws.  I’d like to explore both in more detail, but that will have to wait for another day.  In the meantime, please visit the Google+ thread, read Pam’s comments, and add your thoughts there or here.

quid respondētis, amīcī?  Have I taken the cave metaphor too far?  If I haven’t, how can we change the system so that we at least focus on the shadows themselves rather than on our shadow theories?

Published in: on August 3, 2012 at 2:33 pm  Comments (1)  

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  1. […] We made progress on our own journeys from novice to expert. […]

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