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Universalism and “The Devil’s Redemption”

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  • Phil Miller

    I find it kind of interesting that with all the attention the whole introvert/extrovert dichotomy has been getting lately, that most of the newer idea in education I still seem to be focused on the idea that the ideal student is an extrovert. As a natural introvert, many of these proposed new activities make me cringe.

    I also think it’s kind of funny that all of the activities seem to go out of their way in not issuing a right or wrong verdict on the work. I understand the motivation, but I still question whether or not that’s the best way for kids to learn.

  • Adam

    Hmmm, seems to be missing some key components of learning, namely repetition. Master musicians rehearse all the time. Professional sports players practice all the time. Same thing with more mental efforts. Repetition. The homework problems are not about evaluation they’re about practice. No one really learns from a lecture and no one learns from doing a thing once. The average person needs to repeat a concept 6-7 times before it sticks.

  • Jeff Martin

    The demonstration of what was taught (through a medium) would show if they understood and there would be clear right and wrong approaches. Also participation would be a grade as well in all these activities. I like this chart!

  • Phil Miller

    Exactly… People complain about homework being busy work, and honestly, I think some of it is, but some amount of rote repetition is needed in order to fully grasp concepts. I sometimes think you don’t really grasp a subject until it makes it way into your dreams… I used to have dreams about solving integrals when I was taking various calculus classes in college. Or perhaps they were nightmares… 🙂

  • jim

    Adam, you are right about memorizing facts and rote repetition. But this taps into low-level thinking skills. The things on the chart above tap into higher order thinking skills and thus are not something that can be memorized.

  • Adam

    Not so. Most of higher level math is practice. You have to practice calculus to get calculus. You have to practice trig to get trig.

    Practice is the name of the game whether it’s memorization, critical thinking, sports, music, or whatever.

  • Boyd

    ROFL–“not a final assessment but a ***QUICK*** activity in class” was probably written by an educational theorist, not an actual teacher because none of the examples given would allow for QUICK activities. Planning and organizing the groups and then executing ANY of the examples listed would end up dominating the entire teaching time … of more than one day.

  • Boyd

    As an introvert, all I can say is that I am ever so very thankful I attended school before the whole idea of group work as THE way to learn had become the academic gold standard it seems to be today. I feel so sorry for kids who are introverts–most of these suggestions could inhibit learning for them. And as I learned both in school and at work, often the whole group doesn’t do the work, so unless there is a way to examine who did what and evaluate each individual on his or her contribution, group work is problematic in that it often encourages high achieving kids to do all the work themselves (to protect their grade) while teaching other students to not work (because they aren’t evaluated individually). And, no, asking students to evaluate the other members of their group doesn’t often work since 1). they haven’t been taught how to impartially evaluate others, so they give people a pass who should be docked; and 2). some students simply dislike being “the mean one” who says the truth–that so ‘n’ so didn’t contribute to the group–because such a truthful evaluation conflicts with feelings about that other student outside of the scope of the group project.

    Also, the idea that students will work together as a group outside of class to prepare things??? Hahahahaha. That only works with older students who can control their own out-of-class life, and as I often found to be the case, students’ schedules do not often align in ways that allow for the necessary get-togetherness required to pull off a group project. And unless someone in the group has a “take charge” attitude, group work quickly dissolves into socializing, which then leaves the highly motivated students left to do all the work since those highly motivated students are concerned about the outcome.
    Lastly, I’ve done the “the grade doesn’t count” method of trying to remove pressure–all it does is TEACH students who aren’t already HIGHLY MOTIVATED TO LEARN that they should just blow off studying since whatever they get right or wrong on a quiz has no consequence. And that’s a problem with the overall chart–all of these ideas work in theory with highly motivated students, but then almost everything works with highly motivated students … because they are highly motivated.

  • jim


    I’m a math professor. I do not agree that most of higher level math is practice. I’m not saying practice is unimportant. I’m simply saying repetition is useful for lower level things. But practice by itself doesn’t develop higher order thinking skills. For example, doing the same proof over and over doesn’t not necessarily help someone do other proofs in different contexts. But thinking about questions “Why is it necessary to take this step in the proof here? Why did this approach work but that one did not? Is it possible to prove this idea with a more elegant approach?” do get at different kinds of thinking that are different than memorizing facts.

    Maybe this analogy will be helpful– there’s a difference between memorizing a passage of scripture and applying that scripture in a transformative way in one’s life. And both of these are different than exegeting a passage in order to get deeper insights.

    I hope this helps.


  • Damien

    As you state yourself, the proper way to evaluate group work is to state that each student is responsible for the entirety of the work. No division of labor (although, of course, they can still do that if they want to, but they can’t tell the instructor that they don’t know why they did step X because student Y handled that). If you find out that one student can answer all the questions that you ask them and the other can’t justify even basic steps that they supposedly took, then you can give a great mark to one and fail the other.

    If the goal is to allow students to learn from each other, an additional option is to randomize groups to avoid having groups with only the best students. Note that ability and motivation are on a continuum; there’s unmotivated and highly motivated students, but there’s also lots of students in between. Many letters between A and F.

  • Damien

    It looks like a mix of very good advice (short quizzes to see what students remember and what they don’t) and pretty poor advice (memorization tricks — they work occasionally — spelling for instance? — but are overall a pretty poor strategy).

    The real question of course is why we should study certain kinds of facts in the first place. I quite understand dates in history. You can’t really “get” history if you’re off by 200 years or are unclear about the sequence of events. But I wouldn’t get too hung up on a student being off by a couple years while understanding the chain of events.

    For the periodic table, however, I don’t see why students should “learn it”.Just give them the chart and let them work with it. It’s the 21st century and retrieving information is cheap. Even for math, I wouldn’t really care if students didn’t know by heart integration rules or what the PDF of a specific distribution is. Let them have the formula and, if they do continue using what they’ve learned, they’ll eventually remember it.

  • Boyd

    I usually ended up with something other than a Bell Curve–A’s and B’s were a few, C’s a bit more, and D’s and F’s were plentiful, so while there are varying degrees of ability and motivation in a given class, the norm was never a distribution that let groups work the way theorist suggest they will and should work. Due to grade inflation, however, students who actually worked at the C and D level were given ways to “bump up their grade” so it appeared to a more balanced class. And while allowing students to learn from one another is a lofty goal, often the case is that with only a few students actually having the ability to teach the rest of the students, mixing up the group members doesn’t really solve the problem. If too many groups are comprised of the blind leading the blind, students are reaching that lofty goal anyway.

    And if the teacher has to evaluate group presentations as a whole PLUS then individually test each student (via checking to see if everyone can justify basic steps, etc.) then why not just skip the group project entirely and check to see if everyone can answer each question from the get-go? Computer software may be the answer to individual assessment that allows for customized assignments and evaluation, but the cost to have such software installed in schools all over the nation is prohibitive. There simply is not enough resources (money AND time) to create a customized education for everyone.
    At the very least, limiting the amount of group work to a final project that isn’t a major factor in the overall grade means that enough time and testing has taken place on an individual basis to make it easier to determine the skill levels of the individual group members without the students being tasked to evaluate each other, AND it reduces the pressure on highly motivated students who worry that they’ll have to carry the group to save their grade. Having surveyed students post group project, my good students habitually would have preferred to “go it alone” even those who enjoyed the social aspect of group work. They simply disliked having to carry the weight of doing the majority of the work because their standards of quality didn’t allow for them to let low performing students’ work be submitted–the good students almost always admitted that they “re-did” the other students’ work in order to protect their own grade, or, worse, that low performing students did not do any work, and the good students did all the work. So, exactly what did other students learn from each other via the project? The answer is not nearly as lofty as theorists would like to submit.

    Having done it enough to discuss this beyond theory, group work tends to work best in homogeneous groups because then the levels of all the participants is fairly equal. That may mean that lots of groups do a poor job with a particular project, but that simply demonstrates their true skill level since no one in the group was able to compensate for any lack of motivation or skill within the group. I’m speaking from years and years of experience. The hardest part of my teaching job was creating groups since I had to factor in so many variables to ensure that SOME learning MIGHT occur. It was almost impossible to create multiple groups that were all equally balanced with various levels of ability. A class with 30 students often does NOT have enough highly motivated students who not only the academic skills but also have the leadership skills necessary to organize a group and pull off the task of “pulling up the weaker ones” so that those students can learn via the group.

    Unfortunately people often compare apples to oranges. Group work in the workplace cannot be compared to group work in school since the workplace has a much better motivational system–if the project doesn’t get done, people may lose their jobs, which can be quite motivational compared to a system that has social promotion engrained into it. Demanding that someone do his or her portion of the project at work carries a lot more of a threat that can be imposed by multiple members working on the project. Kids in school simply do not have that kind of leverage. A boss who determines that the company lost $$$ due to an employee’s failure to contribute to a project in a timely fashion has a much greater ability to produce motivated people than a teacher who increasingly has to deal with parents who won’t accept that their child is not an A or B student or with a school district that needs to use social promotion to maintain a high tax base–parents do tend to get grumpy when they live in affluent communities that don’t have high performing schools.

  • Boyd

    Sorry, should read “are NOT reaching that lofty goal.”
    Not enough coffee

  • I’m a relatively new chemistry professor and for the first two years of teaching General Chemistry I assumed “they’ll learn it as they use it” when it came to the periodic table. What I found was quite the contrary. At the end of one year, the students who didn’t know the periodic table before my class hardly knew any of it after a year of “using” it.

    Retrieving information is cheap, but they need to get it quickly. I can’t have my students googling every compound in a lab to figure out whether they are mixing the right chemicals.

  • DamienLi

    I agree to some extent, but I’m not sure I’d trust students mixing stuff based on their often inaccurate recollections either 😉

    Now, I confess that I used the periodic table example without knowing all that much about it (my chemistry classes date back to high school). So perhaps it is in fact a bad example and it’s very useful to know it by heart. But I seem to remember that one the reasons why this chart exists is that it’s a useful reference tool and that we can use it to look up all kinds of information quickly.

  • Courtney Rae

    By far the most intelligent teacher I’ve ever heard.
    Also, to add to your points about students disliking groups, in my personal experience throughout elementary & high school, the lower grade students are just as annoyed by them as the “motivated” ones. As you pointed out, no learning gets done because the the “A” students won’t/can’t teach the students who are trying but just don’t understand as well. I can only imagine how embarrassing it would be to try your best on your portion of the work only to have one student re-do it for you.That just creates shame and makes the kid feel like they should not bother to try at all next time. I recall being paired once for an in class science experiment with a student that refused to let me do ANYTHING, and I was an “A”-“B” student. Last I heard, 10 years later, that girl still hates me for telling the teacher about it, because I actually wanted to, you know, learn.

    Personally I preferred short answer questions as long as they are written intelligently and the teacher doesn’t make you add in fluff like repeating the question in your answer. You get to work on your own and think deeper about the subject than “yes” or “no”, “this” or “that.”

    Oh and did I read that right? Are they actually requesting that kids work together on a single math problem? How does that even work?

  • Courtney Rae

    I’d have to question the definitions of using it & memorizing it. I mean, I can’t remember every abbreviation of chemicals for my chemistry class at all, but I know how to find out and can do so quickly on my phone. You need to learn how to use the periodic table, how it’s set up, why it’s set up that way, and then anyone can easily use it as a reference when they can’t remember the atomic weight of Helium, or whatever. But the mind numbing, time wasting practice of forcing us to memorize it every element, abbreviation, atomic number, atomic weight, etc. is really quite useless in the long run, save for maybe those who are actually going to school to be chemist.

  • Boyd

    It may depend on the discipline. I use the memorization of multiplication tables all the time–I do not whip out my cell phone to do BASIC math, although I did see a kid use his cell phone when making change because the electricity was out. Chemistry may not be a skill most people use on a day-to-day basis, so certain information may not need to be in LONG-TERM memory.