This week’s installment of The ABCs of Learning: Montessori Edition varies from the rest of my articles on learning strategies, as knowledge is more of an outcome than a neurostrategy. I’m including it in this series as I believe that when educators deepen their understanding of educational outcomes it can lead them to more mindful practices.
Knowledge is Understanding
Most dictionaries define knowledge as a collection of “facts, information, or skills acquired by a person through education or experience” often as a theoretical rather than a practical understanding.
Researchers Schwartz, Bransford, and Sears delved deeper into learning about knowledge and uncovered two dimensions of knowledge that educators can balance and are useful to their teaching: efficiency and innovation.
Efficient Knowledge Relies on Routines
Knowledge efficiency is the ability to rapidly retrieve information and apply it appropriately, a form of “routine expertise”. When a problem needs to be solved, learners apply their knowledge to resolve the challenge with ease by using known strategies they’ve repeated with frequency.
We see this efficiency of knowledge played out every day in Montessori environments worldwide. When an emergent reader has acquired enough phonemic awareness of initial, finial, and medial letter sounds and is shown how to begin elongated the sounds when put together in a recognizable pattern, Montessori guides witness an “explosion” of decoding short vowel words. The student’s efficiency in repeating the decoding strategy creates a flow of understanding, or knowledge, they’re able to apply in multiple directions and increase their knowledge base.
Students acquire skills and knowledge through direct instruction or experiences that are then applied to new problems. In Montessori environments, the clearly sequenced curriculum creates a “steps to mastery” of efficiency and promotes knowledge.
Innovative Knowledge Enables Adaptive Expertise
Innovation in knowledge relies on the student’s disequilibrium that precedes learning. Rather than leaning on the first thought that routinely pops up to solve a problem, innovation requires the learner to lean into their discomfort and question their own assumptions about how to solve the problem.
In Montessori learning environments, innovation is nurtured when the adult presents a challenge with which the student’s mind is prepared to tackle. I remember giving a small group of upper elementary students an engineering-based challenge of building a bridge that could withstand a can of beans placed on it without collapsing. The materials? Uncooked spaghetti, glue, and paper. This was clearly not a challenge the students could rely on routine expertise, they had to come to the solution by adapting what they knew through collaboration and innovation.
Acquiring Knowledge Optimally Relies on a Balance of Efficiency and Innovation
When a novice is provided a challenge that relies on routine expertise and enough preparation with which to innovate, they are more likely to achieve adaptive expertise reaching higher levels of understanding. The graphic below shows an “annoying novice” or when a student has far too much innovation that cannot be applied to solve a problem, they are lacking in efficiency.
Montessori curriculum is uniquely adaptable, yet without efficient or routine expertise, a student can be left dangling without sufficient background from which to adapt.
Given this model of efficiency and innovation knowledge, can you identify where shoring up routine expertise or opening up the possibilities for adaptive expertise will benefit your students?
– By Tammy Oesting
Our ABCs of Learning: Montessori Edition is inspired by the work of authors Daniel L. Schwartz, Jessica Tsang and Kristen Blair, Professors of Education at Stanford University’s book The ABCs of How We Learn: 26 Scientifically Proven Approaches, How They Work, and When to Use which was reviewed on our Great Titles for Educators web page.