Introduction and general comments
Here are my comments on the book “How Learning Works, by S.A. Ambrose, M.W. Bridges, M. DiPietro, M.C. Lovett and M.K. Norman. For each chapter of the book, I’ll provide a very succinct summary of the main concepts, but then I’ll mainly focus on commenting and discussing such concepts based on my experience and what I observe in courses/classes. I’ll use this post for general comments. Comments specific to each of the seven book chapters will be written in different posts (titled How learning works 01 –> 07), one per chapter.
Introduction: Bridging Learning Research and Teaching Practice
The H.A. Simon’s quote: “Learning results from what the student does and thinks and only from what the student does and thinks. The teacher can advance learning only by influencing what the student does to learn” is impressivly true. However, my feeling is that it does not correspond to the actual way of thinking of many (school and academic) teachers.
My impression is that many academic teachers feel - for different reasons - they have not the power of actually influencing students. Others believe that teaching means just transferring content or explaining difficult concepts, not facilitating learning. I wonder how many academic teachers actively think about the process of learning and what they can do support it. Good ones aim at being as clear as possible. Some are “naturally carismatic”, others often prepare nice and complete materials. But most of them have no idea about what research on learning says and what are the implications for teaching.
It must be said that - in Italy - most academic teachers are scientists/researchers who - at the beginning of their career (in many cases during their PhD) - were thrown into a class to replace a professor for a single module or to carry out practicals, without having received any prior pedagogic training. Few of them develop a passion for teaching but most interpret teaching as something taking up time from their research.
Despite the situation is different for school teachers, it must be noticed that most of them too didn’t receive any formal pedagogic training. Depending on the historical period they finished their studies (laws are very changeable in Italy….), the pattern is that, after getting a master degree in a specific topics (e.g. mathematics), they start working as substitute teachers for years, in the meanwhile they have to pass a national exam and keep teaching as substitutes for further years in order to rise in a national ranking (very often commuting to a different city every new academic year), until they (usually) get a permanent position in a school of their choice.