Knowing "how" and knowing "that"

In a robust curriculum, one finds at least two sorts of planned lessons: one that teaches students how to do something (process) and another that teaches them to express their content knowledge in un-prescribed, open-ended ways (expressive activities). In an English classroom, the writing process may be explicitly taught, so that students can express their own ideas on literary or curricular themes.

In his Educational Imagination, Eisner (2002) endorses a curriculum that is not measured merely by behavioral criteria, which tend to be expressed in behaviors (like writing argumentative essays or finding sentence flaws or word meanings) that can be reduced to procedures. Better to give students open-ended problems (the solutions to which may or may not reflect taught procedural knowledge) and get them using their higher thinking capacities. Solving a meaningful problem stimulates the student’s sense of engagement. Simpler learning activities, on the other hand, fail to stimulate a student’s ingenuity and grow tedious. But, as Eisner puts it, “the opportunity to use ingenuity breeds interest” (118).

When we focus on behaviors only, we ignore any inherent desire to learn in our students. In this way, behavior-based curricula (which go along very well with NCLB criterion-referenced testing regimens), reflect a de-humanized view of students. Engage a student with problem-solving learning games (via computers, say), and you humanize the educational act.

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