Friday, 18 September 2015

Knowledge versus strategy

It is amazing how quickly education has changed over the time since I first stepped into a classroom! Back then, knowledge was king and the transmission of it to our students was the most important part of our job. Now though, as we all know, knowledge is a servant  at the beck and call of our index finger. We just press 'search' on google, and we have a wide range of avenues in which to pursue the knowledge we need, when we need it and in a form we need it.

I have been doing lots of thinking around how we teach Maths at Bradbury School and have had some interesting discussions with staff around which is more important when our students are learning maths- knowledge or strategy?

To my mind, the latter is the most important- if we have secure strategies in place, we will be able to work out the answer, whereas, if we only know the answer without knowing the pathway that got us there, it is a closed exercise, with no transferable application. So what is a strategy? A strategy is the mental process students use to estimate answers and solve operational problems with numbers.

It is a bit like the decoding/comprehension aspects of reading. A child may be able to read a text way beyond what might normally be expected for their age group, but without comprehension, or understanding of what is read, is that really reading? I think not. It is just an exercise in deciphering symbols of meaning without the meaning!

I remember a proud Year 1 mum told me her child was gifted as he could complete a 19 digit algorithm. While that is certainly an effort to be proud of, was the completion of this an indication of brilliance? If the child could explain with certainty, the strategy they used to complete the algorithm, the place values of the digits, the way in which the numbers related and certainly even name that number, then yes, probably. However, without that understanding, the exercise was just that- an exercise in completing a one digit algorithm 19 times, something most Year one students can do and would not have led to a deeper understanding of the way numbers work or their relationship with each other.

I have found a Maths assessment that enables teachers to identify the strategy stage (linked to developmental stages) students are operating at across all three domains: addition & subtraction, subtraction & division and proportions & ratios. it can be used from Year 1 right through to Year 6, which is great as it will help teachers identify those students who are using advanced as well as age appropriate strategies and those who are not. Each teacher is going to trial it over the year, so it will be very interesting to see what is revealed!

1 comment:

  1. Hi Sandra

    I have been doing lots of thinking about child’s development and I was so inspired from your post - knowledge vs. strategy. It’s definitely true that we can get an instant information/knowledge by searching it over the internet compared to my old days that I needed my school teacher/parents to tell me the fact for an answer. It’s been no longer the case today.

    When my 8-year-old boy who is doing 2nd year in traditional primary school asked me some questions, I might not always answer right away. What I did is to tell him that “Let’s google it”. Though I was not able to answer his questions, I led him to get what he wants to know. Since my son is not able to understand every single word from the Wikipedia, my job is to read and learn with him (at least I play a role in his learning process ^^).

    There is no denying that knowledge is the foundation for learning, creating new thoughts and innovation. However, teaching knowledge itself seems not to be the most important in child’s learning. What matter is to get child to find out the results. We need to know how to strategically work this out.

    In a traditional primary school, the amount of school work/after school work is more than activity-based school. Also, parents’ focus is more on how to get a higher mark in the test/exam. Getting child to find out the answer on his own has become a time-consuming process.

    Personally, I do think that mark to some extent is an indicator to tell me how much my son understands what he was taught at school. However, I wouldn’t set goals on his mark itself. Instead, I would concern more about my son’s capability to handle problems at school work and whether he’ll be able to get along with school mates, teachers and neighborhood.

    I need to learn how to strategically build up his skills in these aspects that do matter to his future.


    Charles’ mom