Old Ideas Made New Again, pp. 6 of 10


Dewey’s ideas have resonated through the years and into the 21st century.  Research on how people learn reveals that when the learner is engaged and finds material meaningful in some way, he or she is more likely to develop deep understanding rather than simply memorizing material.  Studies also show we learn by connecting and sharing. I was sitting in on a first grade geography lesson recently and was surprised at how sophisticated the children’s understanding of maps seemed to be. I realized they were connecting the lesson to lessons they had learned by playing on computers. “Ohh, like Google Earth,” I heard one child say. Others referred to games they were familiar with. The learning that engaged them at home on the computer provided a basis for further learning as they discussed maps and globes in the classroom. In Deweyian terms, their engagement was “wholehearted” because what they were learning seemed relevant to them and they were able to build connections to something they knew.

I could cite many educators who today discuss ideas that sound very “Deweyian.” The work of Fred Newmann and his colleagues on what they have called authentic pedagogy seems to give us guidance for today (see, for example, Newmann, Secada & Wehlage, 1996). Newmann, working with several colleagues on a number of studies, argues that to create deep learning experiences learners must be engaged in using knowledge in meaningful, real-world ways. Authentic pedagogy, as they have developed the concept, asks learners to construct knowledge using disciplined inquiry to produce work that has value and impact beyond school (Saye, 2014). Let’s briefly consider each of these elements in turn.

The first element is the construction of knowledge. Instead of asking learners to simply reproduce knowledge, they are asked to use knowledge in new or different ways. Learners are asked to use higher order thinking. This means requiring students to use information and ideas in order to synthesize, generalize, explain, hypothesize, or arrive at some conclusion or interpretation. When students engage in higher-order thinking, they must solve problems and develop new meanings for themselves. There is an element of uncertainty and unpredictability in the process.

An Inspiring Quote

"[Open-mindedness] includes an active desire to listen to more sides than one; to give heed to facts from whatever source they come; to give full attention to alternative possibilities; to recognize the possibility of error even in the beliefs that are dearest to us."

~ John Dewey, How We Think

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