Task 4 Critique or Inquiry

Posted by Alison W on Apr 20, 2016

I was very interested watching Pershan’s analysis of Khan Academy, it is interesting that as a teacher he is really quite scathing of Khans methods. Despite having been quite positive about Khan Academy in the past, I find myself agreeing with so much of what he said. Does that mean that I have completely changed my mind about Khan? At this point I don’t really think so.
As Pershan points out Khan does very much replicate what can be perceived as ‘wrong’ with western teaching methods, spoon feeding us mathematics very much on the basis of ‘if you have a problem like this, you do this, this and this and the answer is this.’ Retrospectively I still think this has a place on the peripherals of teaching, more specifically as a revision tool after a level of understanding has been developed. Used when we need reminding of certain processes or methodology within mathematics and if I look back at the way I have used it in the past this is exactly what it has been. There is little room for proactive problem solving and development of ideas on an individual basis and it is this that I am beginning to find a little disturbing.
Time and again we see the arguments for relational verses instrumental learning (Skemp) and similarly functional, procedural and conceptual learning (Willingham) surely it is a combination of everything, a balance within the classroom that most benefits the student. It is dangerous to lean towards just one concept, putting all our eggs in one basket as it were, which is what I believe Khan does and to a certain extent what Blair proposes (albeit to the other extreme.)
Although I found Blair’s article hard going it did contain some really interesting concepts and ideas and some practical proposals with regards to replacing current teaching methods that allow more conceptual/ relational learning within the classroom. I agree with his arguments against sequential learning but how do we truly combat this within the educational environment. Unfortunately society/ government dictates that we have some kind of formalised ‘examination’ in order to measure levels of understanding. This in itself undermines Blairs teaching proposals.
Just this week I was observing a class in which the teacher had an entire lesson based on problem solving, encouraging the children to come up with an answer in collaboration with their peers. There was more than one correct answer to each problem and many ways to get there, yet the children were all fixated on what was correct, perhaps a little daunted by being pushed outside their comfort zone and were desperate for validation. I am beginning to wonder if introducing such fundamental changes in the way we teach at secondary level is even viable and actually what we need to do is look at how we teach children from the very beginning of their educational journey, in reception. I don’t know – it is just something to think about!


  1. Ray
    23 April 2016

    It sounds as if you’ve gone on the same journey as me, with an initially positive attitude to Khan Academy but now having a more considered view of the benefits. It would be good to hear more about your experience of watching the lesson on problem solving.

  2. Fintan Donnellan
    24 April 2016

    Yes, students (in Ireland too) are fixated with getting the correct answer and with knowing a method for getting that answer. That’s all that’s necessary and anything else is just extra. But they also want the correct answer because they feel good when they know it and stupid when they don’t. Standardized testing has exacerbated this, but I think it could be a human thing and not just something confined to schools. Rather than trying to somehow undo this, we need to make students feel good about their efforts and less so their results. But as you say, this might have to be done even before secondary school.

  3. pball1
    26 April 2016

    A common trend of people changing their views. I think it is very easy to be critical observing from afar but what we really have to understand is that the western model of teaching has been around for a very long time. The concept of change is very difficult to implement especially when it has been perceived for so long that the system hasn’t needed fixing as it hasn’t been broke. Isn’t it just now at a time when eastern economies are becoming more dominant from a global perspective that we are actually only just starting to question our own methods. I do think change will occur but it will change gradually over time. Khan’s philosophy is arguably a change and one for the better and certainly a step in the right direction.

  4. MZwiers
    27 April 2016

    I like your wording ‘let’s not put all our eggs in one basket’. It must be better to try to balance different teaching methods and try to avoid any one size fits all. I also found the article hard going and the website about inquiry teaching was more accesible and easier to understand.

  5. pepsmccrea
    28 April 2016

    Great analysis. You have clearly thought deeply about the idea presented, and have not just accepted them without question. In particular, you raise some important questions about the influence of assessment, and the need for a ‘balanced’ suite of approaches. I suppose the big question now becomes: how do we know which approach to use and when (or for who)? You begin to touch on this in the final paragraph…

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