How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School
National Research Council (2000)
Bransford, J. D., Brown, A. L., & Cocking, R. R. (Eds.)

Chapter 1:
  • Some of the most influential early work-Wilhelm Wundt—tried to subject human consciousness to precise analysis
  • School of Behaviorism—restrict study to observable behaviors and the stimulus conditions that controls them
  • Learning: process of forming connections between stimulus and response
  • Thorndike (1913)—hungry cats had to pull a string hanging in a puzzle box in order to open a door (let them escape and get food). Argued that rewards increased the strength of the connection between stimuli and responses
  • 1950’s Cognitive Science—multidisciplinary perspective
  • Research on expertise: experts’ abilities depend on a rich body of knowledge. Experts’ knowledge is connected and organized around important concepts (eg. Newton’s second law of motion). It is conditionalized to specify the contexts in which it is applicable; supports understanding & transfer to new contexts

  • People construct new knowledge & understanding based on what they already know & believe. Teaching explicit and clear background/correct misconceptions

-Common misconception of “constructivist” theories (that existing knowledge is used to build new) is that teachers should never tell students anything directly but instead should always allow them to construct for themselves. This confuses theory of pedagogy with theory of knowing.
Learning enhanced when teachers pay attention to the knowledge & beliefs learners bring to a task
  • Metacognition-people’s abilities to predict their performances on various tasks. Sense-making, self assessment, reflection

  • Scientific Basis of Learning:
-memory and the structure of knowledge
-problem-solving and reasoning
-early formulations of learning
-regulating processes that govern learning including metacognition
-how symbolic thinking emerges from culture

  • Key Findings:
1) Students come with perceptions about how the world works. If their initial understanding is not engaged, they may fail to grasp the new concepts and information that are taught, or they may learn them for purposes of a test but revert back to preconceptions outside the classroom.
2) To develop competence in an area of inquiry, students must a) have a deep foundation of factual knowledge, b) understand facts and ideas in the context of a conceptual framework, and c) organize knowledge in ways that facilitate retrieval and application.
-pattern relationships, discrepancies
-organizing information into a conceptual framework allows for greater transfer
3) A “metacognitive” approach to interaction can help students learn to take control of their own learning by defining learning goals and monitoring their progress in achieving them.
-predict outcomes, explain to oneself, note failures to comprehend, activate background knowledge, plan ahead, apportion time and memory

Implications for Teaching

  • Draw out pre-existing understandings
-use of frequent formative assessment—make students’ thinking visible
  • Teach some subject matter in depth—providing many examples—coverage of fewer topics that allows key concepts in that discipline to be understood
  • State testing should assess deep understanding rather than surface knowledge
  • The teaching of metacognitive skills should be integrated—explicitly emphasized

Chapter 2: Experts vs. Novices

· Experts—extensive knowledge that affects what they notice and how they organize, represent, & interpret information
· Meaningful patterns of information: (De Groot, 1965)—world class chess masters: Both chess masters and non-masters considered possibilities for moves that were of higher quality. Masters were more likely to recognize the meaningful chess configurations & realize the strategic implications
· -Superior recall ability of experts—they “chunk” various elements of a configuration that are related by underlying functions or strategies. Memory is enhanced when people are able to chunk information into familiar patterns.
· -Development of organized conceptual structures, or schemas, that guide how problems are represented and understood.
· Organization of knowledge: knowledge is organized around concepts of “big ideas” that guide thinking about domains
· -Experts possess an efficient organization of knowledge with meaningful relations among related elements clustered into related units that are governed by underlying concepts or principles. P. 38

· Context and Access to Knowledge:
-Experts do not have tosearch through everything they know in order to find what is relevant—such an approach would overwhelm working memory
-Experts are good at retrieving the knowledge that is relevant to a particular task ie., expert knowledge is conditionalized—it includes a specification of the contexts in which it is useful p. 43

· Fluent Retrieval: automatic and fluent retrieval are important characteristics of expertise
-effortless processing places fewer demands on attention (eg., LaBerge & Samuels, 1974).
-Learning to drive a car –good example of fluency and automaticity (Hasselbring, 1987)
-The use of instructional procedures that speed pattern recognition are promising (Hasselbring)

· Experts and Teaching
-The content knowledge necessary for expertise in a discipline needs to be differentiated from the pedagogical content knowledge that underlies effective teaching
Adaptive Expertise—routinized vs. flexible

Chapter 3: Learning and Transfer
· -Transfer—the ability to extend what has been learned in one context to new contexts
· -initial learning is important for transfer
· -knowledge that is overly contextualized can reduce transfer; abstract representations of knowledge can promote transfer
· -transfer is best viewed as an active, dynamic process rather than a passive end-product of a particular set of learning experiences
· -all new learning involves transfer based on previous learning, and this fact has important implications for the design of instruction that helps students learn p. 53

· Elements that Promote Initial Learning:
-understanding vs. memorization
-time-realistic about the amount of time it takes to learn complex subject matter. Eg. World class chess masters need 50,000 to 100,000 hours (10 yrs). They rely on a knowledge base containing about 50,000 familiar patterns (Chase and Simon 1973) p. 56
-pattern recognition skills that support the fluent identification of meaningful patterns
-Beyond “time on task”—learning most effective when people engage in “deliberate practice”
-“contrasting cases”
-Motivation to Learn: challenges must be at the appropriate level of difficulty in order to be and remain motivating
-contributing to group; sharing with others—we are social
-relevance—seeing the usefulness of what they are doing—especially impact on the local community (connection to Berger here)
· Other Factors that Influence Transfer:
-context—people can learn in one context and then fail to transfer (eg., Brazilian street children—perform math when making sales on the streets but fail similar math problems when presented in a school context)—situated learning
-transfer more difficult when subject is taught only in a single context
-case-based and problem-based learning—complex, realistic learning environments (Cognition and Teaching Group—Vanderbuilt)

-Problem representation—transfer is enhanced by instruction that helps students represent problems at higher levels of abstraction
-principles underlying the problems
-Relationships between Learning and Transfer Conditions:
-transfer between tasks is a function of degree to which tasks share cognitive elements
-knowledge representations are built up through many opportunities for observing similarities & differences across diverse events
-Active vs. Passive—learners to actively choose and evaluate strategies and receive feedback
-transfer should be viewed as increased speed in learning a new domain
· Transfer and Metacognition
-transfer can be improved by helping students become more aware of themselves as learners who actively monitor their learning strategies and resources & assess their readiness for particular tests & performances
-eg., Reciprocal Teaching: Provision of teacher as an expert model of metacognitive processes—teachers and students take turns in leading the group
-modeling coaching, scaffolding
· Learning as Transfer from Previous Experiences
-even the initial learning phase involves transfer because it is based on the knowledge that people bring to any learning situation
-Help activate prior knowledge
-Students may misinterpret new information because of previous knowledge they use to construct new understandings
-Students may have difficulty with particular school teaching practices that conflict with practices in their community
-existing knowledge can be a barrier—eg. Early knowledge of counting does not support concepts of fractions
-make sutdents’ thinking visible and find way to help faulty conceptualizations
-cultural knowledge sometimes supports and sometimes conflicts with school learning

Chapter 4: How Children Learn
· Infants: tabula rasa ideas/ language as a prerequisite for abstract thought
-it is now known that young children are active agents of their own conceptual development
-Piaget discussed (1920’s to mid century)
-Then information processing theories (see Connell)
-Vygotsky—zone of proximal development (1970’s)

· Infant studies with Habituation and Expectation Violation paradigms (infants look longer at impossible events)
-early number concepts
-concepts of mass
-concepts of movement

· Early attention to language: infants distinguish their own language, attend to features of speech such as intonation, attracted to human faces

-One view of learning in children is that they have less memory capacity than adults. eg., short term memory capacity increases as children mature
-Another view- the mental operations of older children are more rapid, enabling them to make use of limited WM capacity more effectively p. 96
-another view is that children have to develop strategies (eg. Rehearsal, chunking, elaboration, summarization)
-clustering—organizing disparate pieces of information into meaningful units. Depends on organizing knowledge
Miller (1956) and famous chunking experiments
· -MI Discussed: different approaches to the topic
· -Self-directed vs. Other-directed learning
-natural curiosity’
-drive to solve problems
-learning strongly influenced by social interaction

· Scaffolding children’s learning p. 104
-interesting the child in the task
-reducing # steps required to solve a problem by simplifying the task, so that child can manage components & recognize when a fit with the task requirements is achieved
-maintain pursuit of the goal
-making the critical features of discrepancies between what a child has produced and the ideal solution
-controlling frustration & risk in problem solving
-demonstrating an idealized version of the act to be performed

· Learning to read and tell stories discussion
-early literacy experiences and story telling—practice with books, “reading” and modeling

· Cultural Variation in Communication
-some variations are more likely than others to encourage development of the specific kinds of knowledge and interaction styles that are expected in typical US school environments
-eg. Learning may occur through observing adults
-some environments adults directly interact
-participating in adult activities in some cultures but not others
-language learning occurring by eavesdropping
-extended family-community-tutoring in school-based skills and general knowledge
Schooling and the Role of Questioning:
-striking differences in how adults & children interact verbally
-eg. 1 study examined differences in how people treat questions & answers: Questioning behavior of white middle class teachers and questioning behavior of working class African American pupils’ homes
White: questioning begins almost immediately. Children in these contexts are happy to provide information they know the adult already has
African American: less central role for questioning. No known answer rituals. Common question forms were analogy, story starting, accusatory. These forms rarely occurred in white homes. Eg., “what’s that like?” and “Who’s he acting like?” instead of “What’s that?” (Heath, 1981;1983) P. 111

Chapter 5: Mind and Brain
· Discusses “Neuromyths”

· Key Findings from Neuroscience:
1) Learning changes the physical structure of the brain
2) These structural changes alter the functional organization of the brain (learning organizes and reorganizes)
3) Different parts of the brain may be ready to learn at different times
  • Role of experience in wiring the brain

-Example: If eye is deprived of visual experience early in development it loses ability to transmit visual information into the CNS. When the eye that was incapable of seeing was corrected later, the correction did not help—neurons died. Pathway for each eye is “pruned” down to right # of connections. By overproducing synapses and then selecting the right connections, the brain develops an organized wiring diagram that functions optimally.
-different roles in different parts of the brain—other changes in addition to overproduction and pruning include modification of existing synapses and the addition of new synapses. Driven by experience.
-interactive presence of a social group and direct physical contact with the environment are factors
-different kinds of experiences condition the brain differently—not just activity alone—but learning. Learning imposes new patterns of organization on the brain.
-Brain development is often timed to take advantage of certain types of experiences (eg. The vision example).
-Different brain systems develop according to different time frames. Childrens’ brains may be more ready to learn different things at different times.
-There appear to be separate brain areas that specialize in subtasks such as learning words, seeing words, speaking words, etc.—Coordinated practice for related skills with different brain representations is recommended p. 122
-Example of ASL p. 123—When a deaf individual learns to communicate with manual signes, different nervous system processes have replaced the areas normally used for language. Cortical areas that normally process auditory information become organized to process visual information.
  • Memory and Brain Processes:
-Two major groups of studies:
1) Show that memory is not a unitary construct
2) Studies that relate features of learning to later effectiveness in recall
-declarative –hippocampus

-Superiority effect for pictures (Roediger, 1997)
-mind is actively at work in storing and recalling
-people organize into sequences that make sense to try to recall
-mind using an inferencing process to relate events
-mind creates categories for processing information
ie., the mind imposes structure on the information available from experience
  • Practice Increases Learning
  • Mentions John Bruer’s Bridge Too Far article from 1997

Chapter 6: The Design of Learning Environments
  • Early 1900’s—assembly line analogy. Teachers as technicians
-Development of standardized tests
-Today students have to understand the current state of their knowledge and build on it, improve it, and make decisions in the face of uncertainty. John Dewey identified these two notions of knowledge
  • Learner Centered Environments:
-environments that pay careful attention to the knowledge, skills, attitudes, and beliefs learners bring to the setting
-Culturally responsive
-building on the conceptual and cultural knowledge students bring
-key strategy is to prompt children to explain & develop their knowledge by asking them to make predictions about various situations and explain their reasons
-help students test their thinking
-teachers deliberate in learning about students’ home and community cultural practices and language use—incorporate into literacy instruction
  • Knowledge Centered Environments
-well organized bodies of knowledge that support planning and strategic thinking
-understanding and transfer
-standards—define the knowledge and competencies students need to acquire
-critical examination of existing curricula
-explore and test big ideas
-issue of “mile wide and inch deep”
-emphasis on sense making—helping students become metacognitive
-eg. it is possible to make sense of mathematics and think mathematically
-acquiring the concepts and procedures of a discipline
-Older views that young children are incapable of complex reasoning have been replaced by evidence that children are capable of sophisticated levels of thinking and reasoning when they have the knowledge necessary to support these activities.—early access to students of important conceptual ideas
-organizing knowledge into coherent wholes
-balance understanding and automaticity of skills necessary to function efficiently withot being overwhelmed by WM demands (LaBerge & Samuels, 1974; Hasselbring, et al., 1987)
  • Assessment-Centered Environments
-key principles of assessment are that they should provide opportunities for feedback & revision
-formative vs summative
-studies of adaptive expertise, learning, transfer, and early development show that feedback is very important. Students’ thinking must be made visible & specific feedback provided. Opportunities for feedback should occur continuously but not intrusively (eg. CBM). Students should also learn to assess their own work. Feedback most valuable when students have the opportunity to use it to revise their thinking as they are working. New technologies. Working in groups.
  • Formats for Assessing Understanding:
Use actual situations to assess depth of understanding
-Portfolio assessments provide format for keeping ongoing records of student work & for allowing students to discuss their achievements with others (eg. Berger).
  • Theoretical Frameworks for Assessment:
-Characterizing student performance in terms of cognitive activities focuses attention on the differences in competence and subject-matter achievement that can be observed in learning and assessment situations.
-combinations of content knowledge and process skills
  • Community-Centered Environments:
-people learning from one another and continually trying to improve.
-degree of connectedness is important
-Norms and practices impact what is learned and how it is learned.
-positive and negative impact of grading practices—eg., Navajo students do not treat tests and grades as competitive events—example of a “high achiever” bulleting board making them uncomfortable.
-Japanese teachers spend considerable time with the whole class, and they frequently ask students who have made errors to share their thinking with the rest of the class. Classroom culture where students learn from one another and respect analysis of error as a learning tool…
-connections to family, community, experts outside of school (eg. Berger)
-motivating fro students to share their work withothers in the community (eg. Berger)
  • Discussion of television and educational programming p. 150
-Provides images and role models (TV) p. 150
-Sex role stereotypes p. 151
-educational programming—beneficial effects on school achievement p. 151
  • The Importance of Alignment:
-task analysis
-alignment between what they are learning and the assessment of that learning
- A systems approach to promote coordination among activities is needed to design effective environments
-competing activities and interruptions discussed/schedules p. 152
Chapter 7 : Effective Teaching—Examples in History, Mathematics, and Science
  • See examples from various classrooms p. 155-189

Chapter 8: Teacher Learning:
  • -relatively new research topic
-own practice
-interacting with other teachers
-formal inservice
-consultants, teacher education programs, PD in schools
Action research and preservice education discussed
-one-shot PD, fragmented and decontextualized
-no opportunity to try techniques or skills
  • National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future:
-inadequate time
-uninspired teaching methods
-superficial curriculum-little depth, not enough focus on research in teaching and learning, not enough subject-matter courses