Schneider's From the Ivory Tower to the Schoolhouse, Chapter 5: Ideas Without a Foothold

In the first four chapters of From the Ivory Tower to the Schoolhouse: How Scholarship Becomes Common Knowledge in Education, Jack Schneider details how four ideas (Bloom's taxonomy, multiple intelligences, the project method, and Direct Instruction) traversed the gap between the education research world and K-12 classrooms. Now, in Chapter 5, he identifies counterparts to each idea that failed to make the leap: Krathwohl's taxonomy for the affective domain (the sequel to Bloom's Taxonomy for the cognitive domain), Sternberg's triarchic theory (which paralleled multiple intelligences), Wittrock's generative learning model (see Michael's post), and the behavior analysis model (similar to Direct Instruction in more ways than one). If my personal experience is any indication, Schneider has chosen these well, as I knew as a teacher about all the ideas in Schneider's first four chapters (to various degrees, anyway) but can't say I knew any of the four ideas compared in Chapter 5. To be honest, Chapter 5 served as my proper introduction to these latter ideas — not only did I not know of them as a teacher, I can't recall having learned about them in grad school, either.

In his review of Chapter 5, Michael Pershan takes the position that even though he hadn't heard of Wittrock's generative learning model, surely there existed some path by which he was at the tail end of some chain of Wittrock's influence. I think this is probably true; while teachers might only recognize Piaget and Vygotsky by name, the rise of the study of cognition and how we construct knowledge is the result of the work of many scholars, not just two. I think this falls under Schneider's concept of perceived importance: Piaget and Vygotsky seem important because so many scholars built upon their work, even if the scholars in that crowd remain nameless to us.

Still, it's difficult to say this is good enough. Even though it's not possible for a teacher (or anyone!) to have a direct connection to all available research, shorter paths would be preferable to long ones. I agree with Michael: teachers would likely benefit from knowing Wittrock and his work. But to what degree?

One of the things we learned from Schneider's first four chapters is that familiarity sometimes does not breed fidelity in education research. This felt most true in the multiple intelligences chapter, where some consultants seemed to play fast-and-loose with Gardner's theories, and I imagine the teachers who sat through those workshops or read those books played even faster-er and looser-er with multiple intelligences. Should we be worried that a little bit of knowledge is indeed a dangerous thing in education research?

I would be more worried if not for one thing: constructivist theories of learning tell us that not only to bits of knowledge matter, they're the stuff upon which more knowledge is constructed. In fact, there's a particular learning theory that addresses this called knowledge in pieces, and, if you can find it, it's worth reading Andy diDessa's 1988 chapter by that title. This should be of particular interest to Michael as the theory gives a nice way of explaining misconceptions, whether they be the ones we see in students or the ones we see teachers make when research finds its way to them by vague and indirect paths. In short, misconceptions aren't just the acquisition of "wrong" knowledge that needs to be confronted with "right" knowledge. Rather, knowledge in pieces says learners systematize their pieces of knowledge. What we think of as a "misconception" can be explained as a system of knowledge built upon pieces of available knowledge. The pieces aren't "wrong" and neither is the system, but as more pieces of knowledge get added we expect the system to adapt and become more sophisticated. Now, I admit that my understanding of the theory might be short a few pieces, but I think the key to wrapping your head around it is to force yourself to think knowledge exists with the learner, and nowhere else. Knowledge gets constructed from experience, not with the acquisition of knowledge from an external source. (See also: radical constructivism.)

Opening quote from diSessa's 1988 chapter

This leads us back to one of the ideas Michael mentioned in his post: teachers need exposure to research followed by opportunities to engage with the research more deeply. Teachers will take the pieces of knowledge they have — whether gained from teaching experiences, experiences engaging with research, or elsewhere — and systematize that knowledge in variously sophisticated ways. What we need, then, are opportunities for teachers to further systematize their knowledge. I'll talk about that in my next post, a review of Schneider's recommendations for improving research-to-practice.

Note: Michael Pershan (@mpershan) and I are reading Jack Schneider's book From the Ivory Tower to the Schoolhouse: How Scholarship Becomes Common Knowledge in Education. Our previous posts:


diSessa, A. A. (1988). Knowledge in pieces. In G. Forman & P. B. Pufall (Eds.), Constructivism in the computer age (pp. 49–70). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.