Review: Making Learning Whole–How Seven Principles of Teaching can Transform Education

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5.0 out of 5 stars Beyond 5–SPECTACULAR–Integrative & Inspiring,

August 17, 2010

David Perkins

I bumped this book to the front of the line after reading the galley of Reflexive Practice: Professional Thinking for a Turbulent World which in turn bumped The World Is Open: How Web Technology Is Revolutionizing Education that I had half-finished. The three together make for a stellar collection, with Reflexive Practice also being a 6+ and World is Open very possibly being 6+ as well. Only 98 out of my 1639 reviews have been 6+, so these are in the top 7% of everything I have reviewed. These are “world-changing” books.

Reading this book has been a real treat for me. The combination of white space and modestly-sized font has allowed a great deal of knowledge to be easily presented. I immediately noticed and especially appreciated the manner in which the author has woven the work (book titles) of hundreds of others into his own work. Early on he identifies five contributing literatures:

1) Thinking and learning dispositions
2) Teaching for understanding
3) Organizational learning and development
4) Causality and understanding science
5) Widescale online teacher development

I cannot help but place this author in the same league as Will Durant (e.g. Philosophy and the Social Problem: The Annotated Edition) as well as E. O. Wilson (e.g. Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge). Although less philosophical than Durant and much less complicated than Wilson, this author delivers a perfect stew of dramatically relevant knowledge about how to teach people to learn to deal with complexity that we do not understand today.

The book’s bottom line is on page 4: “The problem is that elements don’t make much sense in the absence of the whole game.” The author then goes on to list the seven principles that are shared in the balance of the book:

1) Play the whole game
2) Make the game worth playing
3) Work on the hard parts
4) Play out of town
5) Uncover the hidden game
6) Learn from the team…and the other teams
7) Learn the game of learning

As much as I want to “clarify” the above, I will leave it to the author–buy the book. This is a book that should be read by anyone aspiring to the future position of Secretary-General for Education, Intelligence, & Research.

Three core outcomes of education properly done:

1) Enlightenment
2) Empowerment
3) Responsibility

A few of the gems that made it to my fly-leaf notes:

+ Recognizing that there *is* a whole game comes before learning to learn
+ Learning is a much broader category than education
+ Holistic emphasis plus attention to the hard parts (vice rote) are the heart of the matter
+ Feedback is not necessarily informative–students may not know enough to understand the feedback
+ Transfer of knowledge can fail if teacher focuses on testable explicit examples instead of generic concepts
+ Multi-level multi-disciplinary thinking is the hidden game (I would add time and space thinking as well)

Six precepts:

1) It’s never just about content. Learners are trying to get better at doing something.
2) It’s never just routine. It requires thinking with what you know and pushing further
3) It’s never just problem-solving. It involves problem-finding.
4) It’s not just about right answers. It involves explanation and justification.
5) It’s not emotionally flat. It involves curiosity, discovery, creativity, camaraderie.
6) It’s not in a vacuum. It involves the methods, purposes, and forms of one or more disciplines or other areas, situated in a social context.

HUGE: Sciences teach problem-solving, not problem-finding, while Humanities do focus on problem-finding. As the “true cost” meme takes off, I certainly hope we will see more problem-finding and more accountability, this point by the author is alone worth another book with a multi-disciplinary multi-cultural cast.

On pages 89-90, in a discussion of teaching the hard parts, the author lists some of them and then discusses each in turn:

1) ritual knowledge
2) inert knowledge
3) foreign knowledge
4) tacit knowledge
5) skilled knowledge
6) conceptually difficult knowledge

Further on, on pages 147-148, the author explores inadequately differentiated and defined parts of the hidden game:

1) Categories and definitions
2) The logic of means and ends
3) Logical coherence
4) Meaning and intuitive judgment
5) Probability and statistics
6) Causal reasoning

Citing Lev Vygotsky (RU) he mentions social scaffolding and situation cognition, both of great interest to me. He then goes on to talk about various types of team or project learning, including studio learning, communities of practice, cross-age tutoring, extreme team learning, and perhaps the most important, let the student’s drive their learning, not just be inert passengers.

He points out that we teach to an inverted triangle, placing too much time on facts, less time on existing models, very little time on how to create a new model, and no time at all on the art and science of inquiry or problem-finding.

At the very end (page 224) he charms me by properly crediting Dr. Marlys Witte, who in the mid-1980’s created an “ignorance map” that was “designed to acknowledge and articulate not what we know but what you don’t know.

“Known unknowns are all the things you know you don’t know.

“Unknown unknowns are all the things you don’t know that you don’t know.

“Errors are all the things you think you know but don’t.

“Unknown knowns are all the things you don’t know you know.

“Taboos are dangerous, polluting, or forbidden knowledge.

“And finally, denials are all the things too painful to know so you don’t.”

As someone who treasures his photograph of Don Rumsfeld shaking Saddam Hussein’s hand right before kissing him and then handing over the key to the chemical weapons delivery, and who has also done work on data pathologies and information asymmetries, this “grace note” deepens even further my appreciation for the extraordinary skill with which the author has both woven many complex theories together and presented them in a very learnable manner.

A tiny fraction of the books that complement this one apart from the others written by this author:
Reflections on Evolutionary Activism: Essays, poems and prayers from an emerging field of sacred social change
The Tao of Democracy: Using Co-Intelligence to Create a World That Works for All
Critical Path
The Hidden Wealth of Nations
Orbiting the Giant Hairball: A Corporate Fool’s Guide to Surviving with Grace
Five Minds for the Future

SIX STARS AND BEYOND. Extraordinary in every possible way including simplicity of presentation and value for the future.

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Aug 17

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