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Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Knowing That vs. Knowing How

I attended an interesting learning event acknowledging and showcasing the research efforts of sixth graders. Each class selected an important person they wanted to learn about. They were then allowed to organize and present the resulting material in whatever form they desired in meeting the objective of accessing, retrieving and interpreting information.

There were several different elements within this learning process that reveal subtle changes in instructional methods and philosophy. First, the teacher (library media specialist) willingly extended the learners the opportunity to exercise their choice in what they learned. In that manner, she maintained command of the objective and yielded control of the lesson. She empowered learners by enabling them to pursue their unique interests. That can increase relevance, meaning and value among the class. Second, she engaged in interactive dialogues rather than condescending monologues. This technique embraced learners as active participants. Third, the learning activity recognized that the process was at least as (and probably more) important as the product. That is, the skill of managing a reservoir of resources and data is a fluid, life-long skill, whereas the information itself will always be static in scope and variable in significance.

Knowledge is power, and power is the one thing that multiplies when you divide it. Centuries ago in Europe the ability to read was a prized skill among those in power and shared by few outside of religious and political and financial leaders until an incredible innovation around the year 1439. Johannes Gutenberg c. 1398 – February 3, 1468) was a German blacksmith, goldsmith, printer and publisher who introduced modern book printing His invention of mechanical movable type printing started the printing revolution and is widely regarded as the most important event of the modern periodIt played a key role in the development of the Renaissance, Reformation, the Age of Enlightenment and the Scientific revolution and laid the material basis for the modern knowledge-based economy and the spread of learning to the masses. (Wikipedia)

More recently, the diffusion of vast arrays of individually managed technology, beginning with the computer and taking many different forms, has further democratized knowledge by significantly increasing nearly instant access to incredible databases and stores of knowledge to users of all ages. Given the relative ease of access, retrieval and storage of an endless stream of information that far exceeds one's ability to "know" it, it makes sense that the process of managing the wealth of knowledge becomes an essential element of school curriculum.

A professor I was privileged to learn from thirty years ago in graduate school, Dr. Isreal Scheffler, espoused on the differences between "knowing that" and "knowing how." Schools must make the transition from an emphasis on knowing that (the capital of Maine, the abbreviation of elements in the periodic table,...) to an emphasis on knowing how (to access, retrieve, store, interpret, present and manage information).

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