Task 3 – Maximizing Students’ Learning

Posted by Fintan on Apr 5, 2016

The main point that I took away from both articles was the belief that math could not only be a subject with which more people could become better at doing, but also something that people could come to enjoy doing. For once, it was refreshing to hear someone dismiss the notion that people are either good at math or they’re not. Some of the quotes that Sal Khan read out in his TedTalk show that there’s a fine line between loving or hating math, or even being good or bad at math. We often label students as either ‘gifted students’ or as ‘slow students’ when in fact the difference might only be the time these students take to understand a concept. Once the ‘slow students’ overcome this obstacle, they are often able to learn at a pace with the ‘gifted students’.

I think Khan has a very sensible and achievable vision of the classroom where students who need the quality teaching time the most, receive it. You would think that as a teacher, most of your time would be spent helping students to understand something. The reality, as Khan points out, is that a teacher has to devote so much of their time to peripheral tasks like lesson planning, marking assignments coupled with the fact that class sizes are bigger than ever. This leaves little actual time to helping the student. If, as he says, the software would provide the student more productive contact time with a teacher and free up more classroom time to explore interesting math problems, then I think it would be a great asset to the classroom. At first I thought that teaching the subject around this software might diminish the role of the teacher. With students doing their learning at home at their own pace through the videos and then spending more time in the class using the software, it seems as if the teacher has a lot less to do. Then again, it is about maximising students’ learning, not teachers’ teaching. Khan is also very clear that the software is only a support and would not constitute the main part of the lesson. I could see how learning math just through a computer could get boring. So using the software in conjunction with doing some interesting problem solving would be the ideal blend.

Willingham writes about developing automaticity in math students in order to free their minds to think about concepts. Getting students to be able to do certain math without having to think about it might seem incompatible with what learning is about, but it is so that students’ can become better at solving more complex problems. I don’t think it’s the same as instrumental understanding (which sounds similar) where the student doesn’t really understand what they’re doing, but rather getting the student to commit simpler information to memory. It’s more about maximizing students’ learning in the time that’s available which is actually quite similar to what Khan wants to happen in the classroom.



  1. ajf29
    7 April 2016

    Nice piece Fintan. I am aware I may have given Khan more stick than he is due. IF the academy is so great then the idea of combining the software with problem solving content, as you mentioned, would be a good blend. You state it’s about maximising students learning not teachers teaching. I would love to maximise the students learning but I also haven’t come into teaching to rely on other people to teach my students for me.

    • Ray
      8 April 2016

      I agree that the Khan Academy resources could be very helpful in teaching students but the challenge is in how to use them. As a future teacher, I want my students to become competent at Maths and will use any methods that support that objective.

  2. pepsmccrea
    12 April 2016

    Some great analysis here, looking at both sides of the story, and some good questions asked about the difference between automacy and instrumental understanding… will keep me thinking for a while!

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