Thinking or testing

This blog on research digest of pysychology noted the following research report from Scotland on schools and how to learn.

Teaching children the art of collaborative philosophical inquiry brings them persistent, long-term cognitive benefits, according to psychologists in Scotland.

Keith Topping and Steve Trickey first reported the short-term benefits of using Thinking through Philosophy” with children in an earlier study.

One hundred and five children in the penultimate year of primary school (aged approximately ten years) were given one hour per week of philosophical-inquiry based lessons for 16 months. Compared with 72 control children, the philosophy children showed significant improvements on tests of their verbal, numerical and spatial abilities at the end of the 16-month period relative to their baseline performance before the study.

Now Topping and Trickey have tested the cognitive abilities of the children two years after that earlier study finished, by which time the children were nearly at the end of their second year of secondary school. The children hadn’t had any further philosophy-based lessons but the benefits of their early experience of philosophy persisted. The 71 philosophy-taught children who the researchers were able to track down showed the same cognitive test scores as they had done two years earlier. By contrast, 44 control children actually showed a trend towards a deterioration in their inferior scores from two years earlier.

The philosophy-based lessons encouraged a community approach to ‘inquiry’ in the classroom, with children sharing their views on Socratic questions posed by the teacher. The children’s cognitive abilities were tested using the ‘Cognitive Abilities Test’, a measure which has been found to predict children’s performance on external school examinations.

“Follow-up studies of thinking skills interventions are very rare in the literature, so this finding is an important contribution,” the researchers said.

Topping, K.J. & Trickey, S. (2007). Collaborative philosophical inquiry for school-children: Cognitive gains at 2-year follow-up. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 77, 787-796.

In MA upwards of three weeks of time can be directly devoted to taking the MCAS exams each year as part of measuring a school systems performance and improvements. It has turned into a high stakes game of competition to prove superiority among school systems, especially affecting real estate values. The exams are also used to measure individual achievement by parents at times, but are not designed to do this.

One of the teachers for my kids in elementary school in second grade was superb, but recieved only respect with no monetary compensation for her excellence. Her flair for innovation and individualization was grounded in solid andd well thought out curriculums. After ‘retiring’ she made the cover of Time Magazine as Teacher of the Year for her efforts in mentoring teachers.

There are countless examples of such behavior, and requires a lot of extra time to maintain. Some today that I am familiar with maintain private blogs with exciting content and presentation, but there is no way to compensate them in general.
Others simply put in a lot of time after school in such things as debate, theater, choral music.

Baseline testing is a valid activity, but does seem to be overblown as a way of educating kids. Baseline testing needs some sort of perspective placed upon the incentive structure. What is our goal?