Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The Difference Between a Novice and an Expert

What defines the difference between a novice and an expert? Fact recall and content knowledge? 

Probably not.

A research study documented in How People Learn explored how two sets of people handled historical information. The first group, accomplished historians, hailed from many different universities and many different specializations. The second group, AP US History students, had spent the last several months carefully preparing for the advanced placement exam.

Although the AP US history students scored much higher on an exam of basic facts, they were not able to distinguish between competing claims or see patterns between events and concepts.

Consider the following quote from How People Learn:

What does this mean for teachers?
  1. Spend less time focusing on content acquisition. In today's "on demand" world, there is a limited need to memorize aimless facts or figures.
  2. Spend more time helping students craft powerful stories and themes that connect events within and between disciplines. For example, how is loyalty expressed in the American Revolution, the Civil War, and the progression of scientific discovery?
  3. Spiral your curriculum around big ideas and transfer goals. For example, how does the concept of identity change as you explore different periods of classical literature? By continuing to envelope new content into students' big ideas and enduring understandings, they will be better prepared to use their knowledge beyond the classroom.

Let's build classrooms of experts.


  1. Don't skip some of the important parts of "How People Learn" that talk about content! I love that book - and one of the eye opening lessons for me was the intimate connection between content and discipline-based thinking. You can't have the latter without the former. I think there's a dangerous tendency to think we can just teach kids general thinking skills - and that book repeatedly states the opposite.

  2. Neil, great point! You need mastery of the content to some degree to see patterns within it. I think most teachers already believe the content is important. Now we just need to see analysis and evaluation of content as equally important. ;-)



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