Critical Thinking & Reading with Dan Willingham

PUBLISHED: Dec 17, 2017

In This Episode.

Critical thinking pioneer and guru Dan Willingham joins Dave and Steve in discussing the relationship between critical thinking, reading, and teaching.  They delve into the role that existing bodies of knowledge play in decoding thinking.  News of the week examines whether or not reading to evaluate produces stronger outcomes than reading to comprehend.  Also, to get “meta,” Dave talks about the role attention plays in thinking, such as when listening to a podcast … or not.

Episode Archive

Critical Thinking & Reading with Dan Willingham

December 17, 2017

Podcast Transcript

Voiceover: Welcome to the Critical Thinking Initiative podcast, we bring you research driven solutions to critical thinking education. Why? Because as Bertrand Russell said, most people would sooner die than think. In fact, they do so. And now your hosts Steve Pearlman and Dave Carillo.

Steve Pearlman: So welcome to the Critical Thinking Initiative podcast. I’m Steve Pearlman and

Dave Carillo: I’m Dave Carillo,

Steve Pearlman: And we’re about to get into, I think, what we’re really excited about, which is an interview with Dan Willingham.

Dave Carillo: It’s going to be good,

Steve Pearlman: And it’s kind of a celebratory interview for us. It’s timed, right, because we’ve hit our two thousand listen mark, which we’ve hit far faster than we ever thought we were going to with our

Dave Carillo: Humble little, probably about a thousand times faster. I figured in one hundred years,

Steve Pearlman: Well, I figured I figured we would have a good 20 listens by now to our podcast because I listen to it a couple of times. So I figured at least

Dave Carillo: Exactly at least not many of our listeners.

Steve Pearlman: Oh, not counting

Dave Carillo: Our listeners, 15 listeners, we

Steve Pearlman: Actually do. So we’re actually still coming up around 2000, and we just want to thank everybody who’s obviously been sharing the word about our podcast because we don’t do much to advertise it. And we’re we’re a low budget operation and thanks to all our listeners, we really appreciate. Yes, thank you. What you’re doing for us, the questions you’re sending in, the number of emails that we receive is exciting and it’s gratifying. And if you are a listener and you could, you’re an educator and you can mention us to a colleague or two boy that we really appreciate it.

Dave Carillo: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, think about someone who might benefit in some small way from some of the in-class exercises we’ve talked about or some of the the ground pedagogical issues and just shoot them the link or tell them to to go find the podcast and take a listen. Because, you know, we want to help as many of you out there as possible take on this national critical thinking crisis as we’re sort of called it here and there. And if you can help us spread the word that would be fantastic

Steve Pearlman: And please know, I know that we’re we’re both in higher ed. We work with faculty though K through Ph.D., and we will have some later podcasts that are even focusing more specifically on some of the more elementary levels. But everything that we’re talking about here from a broader perspective applies K through PhD, and we’re trying to keep the podcast on that broad spectrum. Yeah. So we’re excited at this time to be able to introduce Dan Willingham to you. When we first started the podcast, Dan is certainly one of the people we immediately had in mind as guests we’d love to have, and we’re really honored that he has joined us here today and a little background on Dan coming straight from his website. For those of you who are not as familiar with him, Dan holds a PhD in Cognitive Psychology from Harvard University. He’s currently a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia. Dan writes the Ask the Cognitive Scientist column for American Educator magazine and is the author of a number of different books, including Raising Kids Who Read and The Reading Mind, which is forthcoming. And in 2017, he was appointed by President Obama to serve as a member of the National Board for Education Sciences. So he certainly someone who has been a pillar of thinking on critical thinking, and we’re happy to have him on the podcast. So without any further ado, here’s our interview with Dan Willingham. All right, Dan, hey, so thanks for joining us here at the Critical Thinking Initiative podcast. I can’t tell you how honored we are to have you on our little endeavor here.

Dave Carillo: Yeah, this is really exciting for us. Thank you.

Dan Willingham: My pleasure.

Steve Pearlman: So let me ask you this because I think it’s something that Dave and I are always curious about when we meet some kindred spirits here in the field. How did you slide into this line of work or what got you started along the path of looking at critical thinking?

Dan Willingham: I got interested in critical thinking because it’s a primary concern of educators. And when I started thinking about cognitive psychology from the perspective of education about 15 years ago, it very quickly became apparent that this was a set of issues. That is, if not the primary thing educators are worried about is certainly near the top of the list. It’s a key goal in American education to help students think critically across all sorts of different subject domains. So that’s where my interest came from was really driven by the interest of teachers.

Steve Pearlman: We’ve found so many struggles along the way in terms of how to approach thinking about this in terms of how to approach defining it, how to to study it. What were some of the struggles that you initially encountered? Or maybe you’re still contending with here today about contending with critical thinking in education and in our society today?

Dan Willingham: I think the I think the problem that educators face is the same one that researchers face, which is it’s it’s sort of the the pinnacle. Well, in a way, it’s the most difficult thing that educators do in their work is enable critical thinking and their students memory is relatively easy compared to critical thinking for for a teacher getting students to learn content and, you know, including not just rote memory, but, you know, even even getting students to understand something and remember it, that’s challenging enough. But but critical thinking is is much more challenging than that. And I think that’s the same problem that researchers have. It’s, you know, it’s it’s the most complicated thing I think the cognitive psychologists do. There’s a reason we call it higher order cognition. It’s just sort of the most complex mental event that we try to that we that we try to examine.

Dave Carillo: And you we agree it is inordinately complex, you know, especially when you’re trying to work with faculty to get them to teach more of it or students to learn more of it as it were whenever possible. You say it is the most challenging. Could you describe or the nature of that challenge like what? What sticks out for you as a potential roadblock or hurdle for either, you know, describing critical thinking to faculty or figuring out ways to look at it or study it? Or where? Where is where does the where are where do the challenges arise other than the sort of overarching complexity that you mentioned?

Dan Willingham: I think there, I think there are two sources of difficulty. One is that you have to recognize that some of what educators think of as critical thinking it might be better if it went by a different term because it’s a little different than other aspects of critical thinking. So that was a long winded way of saying I think there are two parts to critical thinking. One is engaging cognitively at moments that you don’t absolutely need to. That’s one thing that people mean by critical thinking. So, for example, you’re you’re reading an editorial or an article in the newspaper and you just sort of read it and you absorb the factual content and you you’re following the argument and so forth. But to what extent are you challenging in your mind what the writer has said and questioning whether or not they’re really right or going beyond what’s in the article and trying to extend it to other other related topics? This is one thing that people mean by critical thinking that educators mean by critical thinking. It’s engaging cognitively at a time when you don’t absolutely need to questioning things, trying to push the boundaries and so on. That’s one thing people buy critical thinking. But then the other thing that people mean by critical thinking is thinking successfully at moments where it’s sort of obvious to anyone that you are presented with a cognitive challenge.

Dan Willingham: So the first version of critical thinking is creating your own cognitive challenge. The second is when someone else or the environment has presented a cognitive challenge to you, you meet that challenge effectively to circle back to your question. This is one way in which I think critical thinking is really challenging. We actually mean two different things by critical thinking, and I think each of those actually calls for pretty different approaches. Most of the time in education work day to day, concerned with the second of those teaching students to deal effectively with cognitive challenge. And then in the long run, we kind of want the first one, too. We want students who are actively thinking and they’re not passive and so forth. It’s a little less obvious to educators. I think what to do about the first one, it almost feels like a personality characteristic. But the second one, we we feel like we’ve got a little bit more of a handle on what to do about it. We teach students thinking strategies. We present problems and challenges to them. But the reason that that is and this is the second big reason I think critical thinking is so challenging is that thinking critically in a domain really is sort of an endpoint. You need a lot of background under your belt before you’re going to be able to think critically within a domain.

Dan Willingham: This is something you guys have probably have the same experience I have when you first start into a start studying something, this certainly happened to me a number of times in graduate school. You start studying something and you get really interested and you’re reading about it and you’re excited about it and you’re thinking about it. Think about it and you come up with what you think is a great idea. And then you, you know, you’re trying to develop this great idea and then you mention it to someone more experienced to you and they say, Oh, yeah, well, no, that’s, you know, lots of people have tried. And that didn’t work for this reason, for that reason or oh yeah, that was very common in the fifties, and then it petered out for this reason. And what you discover is what your your fantastic invention was actually. Old stuff to anybody who’s who’s familiar with the field. That’s one example of ways in which you you really need a lot of content knowledge and a lot of experience under your belt before you’re going to be very good at thinking critically in a domain. So that’s the that’s the second reason that I think critical thinking is so challenging is that in some ways, it’s an endpoint of schooling.

Steve Pearlman: So I love this distinction that you’re creating, and I want to jump into it and sort of maybe with an ill formed follow up question here because I don’t know if I can fully capture exactly what I’m asking, but you spoke a lot about this first sort of tacit need for critical thinking in the sense that we want people to think in those moments when the thinking isn’t necessarily assigned or the immediate problem isn’t presented, not just read to absorb, but read to engage critically and generate. So one of the things Dave and I are always working with faculty about we’re always working with students on is this idea of putting the onus on them to start doing that thinking process, to generate the questions, to generate the insights that will drive a deeper reasoning process moving forward. Things worth thinking about, right? If nothing else. And then you also talked about the issue with respect to faculty who spend so much of their energy on content. And to me, there’s some kind of this where I guess my question gets a little fuzzy. Do you see some kind of intersect there between this push for content, which therefore sort of facilitates this tacit nature of critical thinking? It facilitates the fact that the critical students are encouraged to read critically or think critically when they’re doing a reading for an assignment or a reading for the class, because the absorption of the content becomes the primary factor rather than the critical engagement of it. Is there an intersect between those two that pedagogical practice and the fact that students aren’t doing it complicated?

Dan Willingham: And this is your question, I think provides a great example of how complicated it is. I wholly agree with with what I think you were saying that if I’m a professor and I’m assigning readings and I’m not encouraging, I do nothing to encourage my students to think critically as they’re engaged in these readings. What reason do I have to think that they’re going to engage critically at the same time? If I and this is a very common practice, if I engage, if I give students reading assignments, and then I also set as a course requirement that they do some sort of a critical thinking exercise connected with the readings. It’s not exactly the first aspect of critical thinking that I was talking about. In other words, it’s not so much that they’re engaging critically because that’s what they do when they read or something in the reading sparked it. They’re doing it. I have set them a problem. So it’s not that they’re engaging cognitively when they want. Other people need not have done so. It’s it’s very much that I gave them a problem and they know that they’ve got to solve the problem. Many professors will tell you when you ask students to come up with something interesting or exciting that you saw in the reading, don’t just give me a summary. These are sort of one page response papers that are very, very common in college classes.

Dan Willingham: You know, the quality of those responses is enormously variable, sort of, as as you might expect. So that’s that’s a reason this, you know, I guess what I’m saying is I fully agree with you that there’s a big interaction between what we ask students to do and the extent to which they’re likely to engage critical thinking processes. And I’ve been I recognize that what I’ve just said sounds kind of negative, like, what’s the point? It’s not really going to work, but how else is it going to happen if we don’t give students extended practice in doing this, this type of mental work? And also we’ll take this opportunity to elaborate on what I said earlier. I was sort of thinking about it at the time, but the fact that when I said background knowledge is sort of a prerequisite to be able to think critically and critical thinking is like the endpoint of study within a domain that shouldn’t be taken to mean that what you do is front load lots and lots of factual knowledge. And then once they’ve they’ve acquired a huge sack of facts, then you can start asking them to think critically. Clearly, there needs to be more give and take. You need to be asking students to do critical thinking all the way through.

Steve Pearlman: We have so many educators listening who are looking for those ways to immediately start to help. Their students developed this critical thinking, and I think one of the things that we’re always telling them is, look, if you hold off the critical thinking aspect of the education until that moment where you are ultimately presenting them with something that is a clear critical thinking problem. Then of course, the students are going to be less successful at it than you might like because you’re separating that critical thinking into these moments of the class instead of making it integral throughout the class. So is there something to be said here for creating a forum for the students? That’s always where the premise is that they’re always generating, they’re always engaging critically, everything that’s going on, rather than just having it happen when there’s a Simon. And if there is, what does that look like?

Dave Carillo: Well, no, actually, Dan, that that’s pretty much what I was thinking to because you mentioned this idea of domain knowledge and in the article that I think that I first came to work through was why is critical thinking so hard to teach? And you talk about domain knowledge and in your New York Times piece, how to get your mind to read when you elaborate on those three points that you say need to take place in order for students to have, you know, stronger reading comprehension. They do seem to sort of push this idea of increased knowledge to the first point is decreasing the time spent on literacy instruction in favor of high information texts in early and elementary grades, understanding the importance of knowledge to reading building of knowledge that needs to be, you know, as a priority in the curriculum. And my question was along the lines. I mean, if you could describe sort of your perfect pedagogical moment. I appreciate the point you made about not obviously simplifying your argument to just for grounding or pushing content on students. Is there a hybrid moment? Are you working towards that? Have you found that in terms of finding a balance between building of knowledge and sort of that ongoing development of?

Dan Willingham: Yeah. I mean, I think the critical

Dave Carillo: Critical thinking Typekit at

Dan Willingham: Hybrid moment is a nice way of putting it. And I absolutely think that that’s what the target is. And they’re going to be times where you’re doing one and times you’re doing the other and then times you’re doing both in terms of how to develop them, it will no doubt look different across domains and across classes. What I encourage people to recognize is that critical the critical thinking, the sort of cognitive processes you want students to bring to bear on content, although they are intertwined with content, being able to do that type of thinking, being able to deploy the scientific method depends on knowing scientific content, even though that’s true. You can talk about the processes separately from the content and when you’re developing. Curriculum is, I think, the time to think about how those two are going to come together. And the reason I bring this up is I think there’s a usually a recognition that content is sequential, that it would be useful if students had knew how to do decimal arithmetic before they get to algebra or whatever it is that lots of content has sequence and that before you can tackle this, you really be really whole lot easier if you had already studied this other thing. I think the same is true of critical thinking processes before you do this type of analysis in reading 18th century English poetry. It would be useful to have done this other type of analysis, whatever the content would be. So what What you need to think about in each domain is not only the content that you want students to graduate high school knowing, but also the types of critical thinking skills that they should be able to deploy in each of those domains.

Dan Willingham: And then just as you would back plan from the knowledge standards of high school graduation, you would back plan from the critical thinking that you would like students to have at high school graduation. And the reason I emphasize curriculum is that just as with content, you can’t really master something in a year. You just can’t. If something’s important, it requires more than the practice that students are going to be able to bring to bear in a single school year. It needs to be practiced over multiple years if it’s going to stick with them, and that means it’s a curricular issue and it requires curricular planning. And so I think again, you need to do it for content and you need to do it for skills. So in terms of how it comes together in those hybrid moments, it’s sort of is going to depend. On which skill you’re working on and which content, but this is how I would expect a classroom teacher would know. What does I need to give my students practice in? And by the way, I think the same thing applies in higher ED as well. So if you’re a psychology professor or you’re an English professor, you should be able to write down on a piece of paper what graduates from your university are going to be able to know and be able to do with a major in your discipline. And if you’re teaching a single course with with the expectation, OK, they’re taking general psychology. They may never take another psychology course. If you’re telling yourself that they’re going to remember much content or be able to develop much by way of critical thinking, I would argue you’re probably kidding yourself.

Steve Pearlman: I think what you’re offering is a very rich and obviously well thought out perspective on this, and I know there’s a lot of research to support a lot of what you’re contending. So if I’m an educator and I’m thinking, you know, I am actually probably not doing enough. Therefore, with respect to fostering critical thinking growth in my students, I certainly probably have not defined what that outcome is going to look like at the end of my course and built an infrastructure around that. What’s your advice to them as means of starting to invest into their course, design into their daily

Dan Willingham: Practice

Steve Pearlman: Movement, toward critical thinking growth,

Dan Willingham: With their students being very clear about what your goals are? And if if I’m a a teacher of fifth graders and you’re a teacher of fourth graders, that obviously if you’re very clear about what your goals are, then I’m very clear on what it is they know coming into my classroom or at least what many of them will know, and we hope most of them will know and that that just makes my job a whole lot easier. But if you don’t, if you’re not real clear on what your goals are, it’s hard to see how you can be clear about what your practices ought to be. And again, I think I think the same thing is is true at higher ed. I think higher ed is actually worse than K-12 in many cases.

Steve Pearlman: Can you tell us why? Because that’s a fascinating that’s such a fascinating point.

Dan Willingham: States have standards, and as much as many of the standards are more vague than they ought to be or people are dissatisfied with them. It does provide guidance that to teachers on what they should teach, and somebody tried to come up with a logical sequence of the courses. And sorry, not the course is the content that that students ought to be learning in college. It’s frequently sort of left up to the student to sequence their own series of courses, and of course, they don’t do a very good job of that. We have some prerequisites within departments and across departments, to be fair. But that’s more a matter of the individual professor saying to him or herself, Well, I don’t want anyone in here who doesn’t know X, Y and Z because that’s going to make my job harder. You much less often see faculty getting together and saying, What does it mean to be knowledgeable in the classics? Let’s design a a sequence of courses to ensure that students are knowledgeable. See that a little bit more in the sciences, in my experiences and then than in the humanities. But I mean, you know, there’s not, as far as I know, systematic nationwide data to make these generalizations. This is just based on my observation after twenty five years in higher education.

Dan Willingham: I think there’s a there’s a sense that students are supposed to be are supposed to have more freedom to take what they like in in college and there’s a lot of value in that. But something is lost, and the thing that’s lost is sort of central planning from people who are very knowledgeable about the subject matter to make sure that there is a sequence of courses that leaves them with usable knowledge at the end of it. And you asked a moment ago about data on this, and there are some experiments to this. What do people really remember after taking a single course? And the answer is there’s a lot of loss as which won’t surprise you too much. But if you have very little background in developmental psychology, for example, and you take one developmental psychology course, what will you remember in three years time? The answer is maybe a third of what you knew at the end of the course. This seems to sort of bottom out at and the way that when I say third, the way this is measured is you give people a parallel final examination parallel to the one that they took, not the the same exam, but a parallel form that’s equally difficult to the final exam they took at the end of the.

Dan Willingham: Horse and see how they do and people who got 80 or 90 percent at the end of the semester. Three years later, we’ll get twenty five percent or thirty three percent correct on the exam. So it’s not that they remember absolutely nothing, but there’s enormous forgetting. But again, that that it would be weird if that weren’t true. I mean, forgetting is a feature of human memory. That’s the way that’s the way memory works, whether we like it or not. So how do you protect against forgetting? Well, there are lots of ways, but the most obvious that everyone knows, and that’s that’s very true is through repetition, working with the same content in a number of different ways and in different contexts is very helpful for protecting against forgetting. That’s what you get when you’re a major. You use the same content again and again in different ways over the course of several years, and that’s what’s really protective against forgetting. So what’s a student going to remember from psych one to one? If that’s all they ever take of psychology, you should have a good think about that and define your course accordingly.

Dave Carillo: Dan, initially you said that critical thinking is is curricular. We’ve seen this too when we’ve done faculty development. It seems like there’s there’s this tension there between thinking critically or practicing thinking critically and then this idea of domain knowledge within this like overarching idea of the curriculum that, well, if students don’t have a certain amount of knowledge, they’re not really going to be able to come to any sort of conclusions through critical thinking. So we’re going to start them with this sort of heavy content. Is there a way through that? Does that not exist or do you even not even see that kind of tension playing out when you talk to faculty about this?

Steve Pearlman: And I guess I’ll jump on, Dave’s going to jump

Dave Carillo: On that because I’m not sure if I made any sense.

Steve Pearlman: No, you did. But we get and I’m Dan. I’m sure you’ve encountered this as well where we get faculty who will say the students aren’t ready to do the critical thinking yet because they need to learn the content and they establish this sort of extremely rigid wall between those two sets of learning. There is a tension there, certainly, and this notion that you’re bringing forward about domain knowledge as as having an important role and then at the same time of the skill set is having an important role. And we we encounter those kinds of questions a lot. So I guess is that is that similar to what you’re asking about?

Dave Carillo: Because I think that is, you know, as folks start to look at a curriculum or start to think about what a curriculum is for we, we see in the literature these days that, you know, one of these end result ought to be this kind of ability to to think critically. But you know, if the students aren’t getting practice early and often, is that even a possibility? And is there tension

Dan Willingham: There and the faculty are probably in the best position to know that, you know, just how much what whether you need content before you can do anything by way of critical thinking and if so, how much? The the one caveat I would add is I would be leery of any individual faculty member making that call themselves for their course. Again, because what the decisions they make for their course has implications for everybody downstream people who are, you know, those students who are taking courses after that course. My hunch is that if the whole faculty got together and thought about what they want, you know, a major to be able to do by the time they finished and started back mapping the critical thinking components that was contained in the very first course that any student took probably wouldn’t be zero. It would be something you would start them thinking about how professionals within that within that domain address problems, certainly within psychology. I mean that maybe we’re unusual because students don’t have much experience with with social sciences at all. Some of them have taken AP psychology, but many of them have not. And so the whole they’re sort of getting oriented to the whole field. So we feel like we’ve got a big, a big problem and introducing them to how psychologists think about problems. There are ways of doing that that are sort of kick starting the process that depend on less domain knowledge. So but again, you know, I would I would I’d be ready to yield to faculty members. But if I were, you know, the running the university, if I were the the czar of all education, I would just want there to be a plan.

Dave Carillo: If you run for czar of all education, you know, we’ll be happy to to put it a good word. Yeah, it

Steve Pearlman: Might even be your campaign manager

Dan Willingham: Or something. Oh, I appreciate it. Our desires run our czars.

Dave Carillo: I know, I know. I guess. I guess. Yeah, I I don’t know if there would be an election for a czar, I think. I think you either have to go with divine right or insurgent, some sort of armed insurgents. Dan, I wanted to get back to your article on reading. If you could talk a little bit about the article in The New York Times, the most recent one, how to get your mind to read,

Dan Willingham: Write the genesis of that article was just me and my editor, who I work with at the New York Times, sort of kicking around ideas about things that seem really important to me about education and that he agreed were would be worth pursuing. So it was not there wasn’t like a, you know, a triggering incident. And honestly, I mean, the key conclusion of this article, which is that background knowledge carries an enormous weight in the comprehension of a reader who is who is a fluent decoder. You have to be a fluent decoder. But once you’re a fluent decoder, so much of your success and reading comprehension depends on what you know about the particular text. And this is this is really old stuff to reading researchers. That’s what always surprises me is the extent to which educators don’t recognize that there’s this idea of reading being a reading comprehension, being a formal skill, and you can get better at reading in general. And I think the the research indicates that exactly the opposite is the case that, yeah, there’s there’s probably a little there’s probably something there to the idea of reading being a general skill. The components of those skills would be things like being resourceful about figuring out what to do when you don’t understand new strategies to sort of pull yourself up by your own bootstraps and especially for technical texts, ways of addressing the text when you’re first starting out, ways of scanning it and so forth that that certainly counts for something. But most of most of what goes into comprehension is knowledge that’s that’s in your mind. So this seems to be an incredibly important aspect of education that is not commonly appreciated. And so that was that was why I wanted to write about it.

Dave Carillo: Well, yeah, it seems it seems like part of this issue is that it’s easier to understand the things that you know about. Or where would you? I mean, where would you describe that metacognitive aspect coming in or playing a role if you don’t know something about the reading, if you can recognize difficulty and find ways through difficulty? Where does that sort of fall in terms of developing strong reading comprehension? And I guess I’m coming from, I guess, very broadly, one could argue that while I might not have specific knowledge about a certain thing I’m reading about, I’ve got Google right, so I could get all the knowledge that I want. And that might not necessarily still sort of make me a stronger reader if I’m not able to either evaluate that knowledge or draw a moment of complexity in terms of that knowledge. And I hear this sort of sort of metacognition entering into some of your discussions in this article and elsewhere in terms of recognizing moments of difficulty or recognizing when you don’t understand something,

Dan Willingham: There are two limits. One is that Google is not nearly as good as your mind is in conducting searches. So the example I think I gave, I can’t remember where this was in the book or or whether it use it in the article. But if if you read Tricia spilled or coffee, Dan jumped up to get her more and you’re confused, you don’t understand. The second sentence seems like a non sequitur to you. The point here is that there’s more than one consequence of spilling something. One consequence is that when you spill something, you have less of whatever it is that you spilled. And so that was the relevant consequence. That was irrelevant since when I said Dan jumped up to get or more a different sense of spill would be important. If I said Tricia spilled or coffee, Dan jumped up to get a rag. So now you’re in the first case, when I said Dan jumped up to get or more, you very likely didn’t think about the fact that when you spill something, it also makes a mess. But that’s another characteristic of spills. And what’s so notable is that your mind is really, really good at pulling out the sense of a word that is relevant for the context and not pulling out the other senses.

Dan Willingham: And so you don’t have, you know, five or six different consequences of spilling. I mean, another one would have been Tricia spilled or coffee. Dan jumped up howling in pain or Tricia spilled her coffee. Dan said, That’s the last time I put brandy in your coffee. Right? So there’s all kinds of ways that that first sentence could go. And again, your mind’s great at picking out what is the relevant piece based on the second sentence and then going back to the first sentence and highlighting a feature of meaning that’s really relevant. Here, Google is not good at that, if you don’t understand that first thing is something about Tricia spilling or coffee and you Google Coffee. You’ll end up with, you know, YouTube videos about how to brew coffee and places where coffee is a major exporter and so on. So this is one reason that Google is not a very good substitute. The second reason is that people think of Google as making things really easy to make it really easy to look things up, and that’s true relative to looking things up in a book. So with a book, you had to see if you even had the right book. Try and find the right book, find the right page and the right book and so forth.

Dan Willingham: With Google, you just flip over to another tab of your computer if you’ve been reading online and you can find some, so that’s that’s way easier. It’s still much harder than looking something up in your brain if you know something in your mind. If you’ve got something in long term memory, that’s much faster than looking things up on Google. And what we know from other work is that people are reluctant to undertake the work of looking things up. It slows you down, it takes it takes a while. And the other thing is that it’s disruptive. You are more likely to lose the thread of whatever it is you were reading about. So people have limited patience for looking things up. That even extends to the metacognition of reading. And you say, Well, OK, so you don’t know a word or you don’t really understand an implication. You’re missing some background knowledge, can’t you reason it out? Can’t you think about it and figure it out based on the content? And the answer is, yeah, sometimes you can. And that’s very important because if you could never do that, it would be much harder to learn new things from text. It would have to be the case that every text you read just happened to explain new ideas in using concepts you are already familiar with, and the odds of that are pretty low.

Dan Willingham: So you have to do some of that work sometimes, but it’s taxing and it’s slow and there is work showing that people are reluctant to undertake a whole lot of that work. And what they do instead is they quit. They say this is, you know, I don’t understand this text. Usually when we say, I don’t understand this, we probably in truth, we probably haven’t given it our best effort. We quit when we get tired. And of course, that’s going to interact with my view of myself as a reader if I think of myself as a strong reader. Part of that impression is in the past, when I stick with something, it pays off and eventually I understand this text I put a lot of effort into. If, on the other hand, I view myself as a as a reader who’s not very successful, then the opposite is going to be the case. I’ll think to myself putting I can put a whole lot of effort into this, but it’s probably not going to pay off because I know good and well, not a very good reader. And so my threshold for the difficulty of a text prompting me to quit is probably going to be much lower.

Steve Pearlman: So that’s fascinating. At this point, you’re bringing out about student self-perception of themselves as readers, as somewhat predictive of the extent to which they’re willing to stick through the process. And therefore, obviously there’s some kind of snowballing effect here where you perceiving oneself as a strong reader will then continue to make oneself a stronger reader because you’ll persist. So what’s your advice for educators k through PhD here who if they want to help foster in students that mindset of becoming a strong reader that they’re able to reason their way through these things or persist through some of these things? How do we help students do that? And I guess at the same time, if I can only say to my students that and I know you’re not suggesting this, just read a lot more of stuff and then you’ll understand more. So therefore, then you’ll be able to decode more as it goes forward. What are some, in your opinion, some of the stronger strategies for helping students to engage text when it gets difficult, when they don’t have as much knowledge as they might like to have?

Dan Willingham: One thing that you might think about doing is, well, maybe what we should do is ensure that kids have some reading success so that they kind of get to see themselves do well and some reading task. And, you know, I think that makes sense, but you could also see how that could easily backfire if you’re needing to give kids really simple text. I mean, you know, they’re not stupid, they’re going to be able to tell, like, I’m reading, Yeah, I’m reading it really well, but I’m in 10th grade and I’m reading something that most other kids were reading, like in fourth grade. So I think that’s going to be of limited utility. I think they’re on the more positive end. There are a few things you can do. One is you can make sure that they do have some strategies to. Deal with that, they know what to do when a text is really giving them trouble and that they’re doing it, I mean, one of the most common problems struggling readers have is they don’t fully appreciate what it means to really read if you ask them. This is a sort of a poignant remark made by someone who I co-authored an article with, who works with a lot of struggling readers in high school. She makes a habit of asking them, How do you know when you’ve finished a text? How do you know when you’re done reading? And she says the most common answer is, I get to the last word.

Dan Willingham: Right. And so the whole to those students, those those students don’t even have the idea of sort of working with a text that you might read a text several times that you would preview, that you would self check all these things these students have no idea about. Yeah. So one thing to do is make sure they know that. And the second thing to do is to let them know they’ve got company. A lot of times students think that it’s incredibly easy for good readers and that good readers don’t work hard and don’t struggle. This sort of goes along with the idea that if you’re smart, then schoolwork is easy for you instead of the people who are succeeding at schoolwork are working really hard. So you want to make sure that students don’t have that misperception, that the good readers, that everything just comes naturally and they never have to work at it to sort of normalize the idea that, yeah, sometimes texts are difficult and you work really hard at them and then you still maybe only understand seventy five percent of it by virtue of the fact that you work with it, you got to seventy five percent. Whereas if you just sort of breeze through it and, you know, given up, maybe you would have been at 20 percent or something like that.

Steve Pearlman: So we’re running to the end of our time here, and we certainly wish we could keep this going. Definitely. Because obviously you have a there’s a lot more that we haven’t tapped here, I think in your your body of knowledge about this. So maybe in the future we’ll be able to invite you back and continue this conversation. But one thing that I’d like to ask is sort of to rely on other people’s thinking about this and other people’s questions because we have our own perspective on this. We have our own curiosities, but we know you’ve done a tremendous amount of speaking with people on critical thinking and presentations around the country. And so I guess I’d like to know what are some of the things that we haven’t asked that you’re most asked what’s one or two of the questions you most often encounter or if you want to modify that a little bit? What are one or two of the most interesting questions you’ve been asked on this subject matter in the past?

Dan Willingham: You know, everybody really has the same questions because what people want for their kids is largely the same across grades and across locations. How can I enable my students to be better critical thinkers? That’s the number one. The only slight twist to that is occasionally I will be at a school where you have very, very high achieving kids. And there it’s more. We talked about two aspects of critical thinking one being successful critical thinking, which is what most people ask me about. But then the other is sort of wanting to cognitively engage showing. And in this case, in the schools I’m talking about, it’s that and it’s also specifically some some semblance of passion that a lot of times educators have students who are very, very successful, but they feel that these students are honestly really being pushed by their parents. And so the kids are complying. And what’s missing from education is for these kids is any sort of light in their eyes, any pleasure? Any thought that you would do anything intellectual that wasn’t contributing towards a grade or a college application? That question, I get asked much less frequently, but it always sort of brings a different type of sadness to me that here you’ve got typically extremely capable kids who are who are doing really wonderful work and their teachers are wishing that the kids were getting more joy out of it. And we’re seeing that intellectual pursuits and learning can bring joy.

Dave Carillo: It sounds like that kind of joy is the kind of thing that’s going to allow for individuals to engage cognitively in moments when they might not otherwise to as a way to sort of bring it back to the beginning. Maybe they’re they’re willing to do that for an assignment, but we eventually want them to do that and a lot you a lot more circumstances than just an assignment.

Steve Pearlman: So how do you what do you tell them in that case? How do you encourage or how do we foster in human beings that sort of innate curiosity, that joy that you’re referring to?

Dan Willingham: I think it’s a it’s a it’s a cultural value, I think you need to work to build a school culture where it’s understood this is the kind of thing that we do at our school and you need to build infrastructure and support and daily practices that show that it is a value and it’s a that’s a very heavy lift. Obviously, institutional culture is something that leaders of every organization worry about, and they know that changing institutional culture is very difficult. Most of what these kids are bringing is, is family value, right? That’s another institution. And they’ve learned from their parents what it is that’s valued in that family. And what the educators are telling me is many of our families, you know, what’s very highly valued is high grades and success in traditional earmarks of achievement in schooling. And what’s not valued in these families is learning for the sake of learning. And educators got into education because they love learning. And that’s so it’s frustrating to them. They feel that these kids are not seeing everything they could from their education. And so I think the the answer is offering kids an alternative way to think about education and to communicate that through the values of the school. But again, it’s it’s the difficulty of doing that is not to be underestimated. A school leader, I’d be thinking in terms of, you know, five year blocks or something to assess progress in something like that.

Steve Pearlman: I mean, I think that’s such a powerful statement, such a powerful way to sort of wrap this up and hopefully maybe be a little bit of a cliffhanger for something down the road from here where we can maybe pick up on that with you in the future, because I think that’s such an enormous question that we have to contend with

Dave Carillo: Of how do you make this a cultural,

Steve Pearlman: Cultural, intellectual curiosity and joy of learning? So that’s no small task.

Dan Willingham: Yeah, I’m really glad we’re out of time.

Steve Pearlman: Thank you so much for coming on.

Dan Willingham: My pleasure.

Dave Carillo: Yeah, this was great.

Steve Pearlman: Thanks, Dan. And we will certainly will put a link to a couple of your books up on our website, but they’re probably also available on Amazon or something, I imagine. And so we will give a shout out to our listeners to go check out more of what you have to say. I’m sure some of them already have, but definitely. So thank you again. We really, really appreciate it. Thank you

Dave Carillo: So much.

Steve Pearlman: And we’ll be right back with news of the week right after this.

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Steve Pearlman: All right, so it’s time for us to move into our News of the week segment. Yep, and as it so happens, David, my news of the week this week happens to pertain directly to our topic of reading and things that our good Dan Willingham was speaking about.

Dave Carillo: I was hoping that someone would bring in something relevant to the discussion.

Steve Pearlman: Well, it just worked out that way. It was really this is entirely unplanned because

Dave Carillo: You just blindly pulled an article out of a garbage bag full of articles that you have, right?

Steve Pearlman: If the internet search is like into a garbage bag full of articles,

Dave Carillo: Internet and yes, a garbage bag full of articles,

Steve Pearlman: I love it in our new book.

Dave Carillo: Let’s trademark that right now. That’s our garbage bag full of articles.

Steve Pearlman: All right, so I’m going to go first. Yeah, you’re going first to what we were talking about, exactly. So this article is titled Reading Argumentative Texts, Comprehension and Evaluation Goals and Outcomes. So there’s a lot in this study. There’s a lot about their methodology, and there’s a lot of history that they did a great job of contextualizing some of the work that’s been done on this before, and there’s no way I can cover that in our news of the week section. I think at at a future point where you do need to do another podcast on critical thinking for

Dave Carillo: Reading, it’s very important subject. Let’s not leave it behind.

Steve Pearlman: So here’s what they did basically what they wanted to test for in this study. And again, it’s not the first and only one that’s been done, but what they referenced here. What they studied was they wanted to see if we have students read for comprehension or if we have students read to evaluate the argument going on in the text. To what extent does that affect their comprehension of the text? I love

Dave Carillo: It already. It’s a great question. Isn’t that a great question?

Steve Pearlman: So here’s a read this and try to understand this or read this and evaluate the arguments being made in it, right? And also, there’s been research done on that with respect to the persistence of that information and and that learning as well.

Dave Carillo: Ok, so in other words, not just reading for what the source says, but how and why this source says it, how and why the source is saying right. And it’s true to me fascinating.

Steve Pearlman: In the article, they talk about belief bias and the extent to which that plays a role in people’s understanding of texts and how if a text goes counter to their belief, will understand the text less or find the text less valuable. And how believe this might shock you? David, this might shock you, David,

Dave Carillo: But I’m ready. I’m holding on

Steve Pearlman: Tight. Evaluating a text is actually a tool that one might use evaluating the argument as a tool one might use to help people overcome belief persistence as they engage in material.

Dave Carillo: I am blown away by that.

Steve Pearlman: Who could have seen that guy?

Dave Carillo: I’m fascinated.

Steve Pearlman: They did touch on that in the article, and again, that’s something we have to circle back to, but that’s not really what they were focusing on. Ok, so here’s how they start to define some things, they said. Quote comprehension involves the construction of a mental representation of textual information, along with reader generated inferences that specify implicit connections between text parts and background knowledge. Ok. And that’s kind of playing a little bit or two to what Dan was talking about with respect to the importance of knowledge of subject matter, informing how well we’re able to decode textual material. But here’s what they sort of came down to. They’re talking about the ability to follow and describe the main argument of a text. Ok. Overall, I’ll get into a little about how they played with that in terms of the variables that were presented to the students. But they’re talking about in order to to be able to follow the through line of an argument of a text, there can be different ways or factors at play. Quote from a dual process perspective, this lack of association between comprehension and evaluation can be attributed to differences in underlying processes. Comprehension is conceptualized to rely on automatic memory based processes. In contrast, critical evaluation is conceptualized to depend exclusively on analytical and strategic processing.

Steve Pearlman: Moreover, a critical aspect of deep comprehension is the generation of inferences that fill gaps in the text and support the integration of text information with prior knowledge. But they conclude that little section by saying quote. Nevertheless, a lack of association between comprehension and critical evaluation remains particularly problematic because without comprehension, any evaluation of a text argument line would be unfounded. Ok, so I’m reading all that and basically they’re saying you need both, right? You need some context for understanding. You also need the ability to evaluate what’s going on because I want everyone to understand that there’s an interdependency here, and the authors are recognizing that interdependency and that one of the things that they’re trying to get at, though in looking at this is where’s the balance in that interdependency and how are we to measure it? How are we to assess what’s going on there? So what they did, and it’s pretty cool is basically they gave participants two different texts that they had constructed on controversial topics, and they built these texts to be argumentative texts. And they created varying argument quality for these tests. And basically the main flaw in their argumentation that they invested into these texts intentionally was hasty generalization. Ok, so that’s one limitation here.

Dave Carillo: It’s very common way to

Steve Pearlman: Yeah, they’re only looking sort of at this one particular logical problem with it. But obviously, the more variables you start to include in in what you’re testing for, the murkier those outcomes can be and they’re defining their terms here and what they were looking for in this way. Quote comprehension measures included main claim recall and free recall. The latter scored for text recall and inferences, ratings of quality and convincing this of the text argument line provided a measure of text evaluation. So that’s how they were making this assessment, and they did it with one hundred and thirty five undergraduate students. These are at a Mid State University in their third or fourth year. Ok, so theoretically they’re students moving toward the end of their college experience. They should have

Dave Carillo: Had a lot of experience reading sources and using sources and hopefully analyzing sources. So yeah,

Steve Pearlman: Hopefully you would think right? And then basically quote. Half of the students were instructed to read their assigned text carefully in order to understand them, while the rest were instructed to read the text in order to evaluate the quality and convincing this of the argument line. And that was the central difference in the assignment given to them. Ok.

Dave Carillo: All right, I’m with you now.

Steve Pearlman: Two things came out here at. Is not being particularly influential of how well the students were able to understand the textual material. One of those things was prior knowledge as a matter of fact, did not come out as being critical. To be fair, these are not necessarily subject matters where students might have had an extensive body of prior knowledge or where an extensive body of prior knowledge would be needed. So these are not these are not highly disciplinary subject matters or or text that they put forward in front of students. So as something becomes more steeped in disciplinary construct, it certainly might require more background knowledge about that subject matter. And they recognize that, but it was not correlated here. The other thing that was not particularly important was the quality of the argument being made in the text. You know, they had high quality argument and low quality argument that also wasn’t the most determinative factor. Really, really. But what did have an influence?

Dave Carillo: David, I’m on the edge of my seat. What had the influence? What influenced quote

Steve Pearlman: Reading to evaluate decreased confusions and increased accuracy when compared to reading for comprehension and evaluation, goal had a similar positive effect in the amount of text recall.

Dave Carillo: Ok.

Steve Pearlman: These results provide support for our hypothesis that Reading to evaluate focuses readers attention on important argument elements and supports their representation in memory when compared to reading for comprehension.

Dave Carillo: That’s interesting. I might have wanted to guess that that would have been the outcome I would have wanted for this, right?

Steve Pearlman: Well, it makes sense, doesn’t it? Right? I mean, if you’re just reading to try to broadly understand,

Dave Carillo: Well,

Steve Pearlman: Yeah, what some things up to or if you’re reading where you have to evaluate exactly how well in arguments being constructed and where its flaws might be and where its strengths might be, you are more deeply engaging that subject matter.

Dave Carillo: Perhaps? Exactly, no, I see that. Put simply, you know, if you’re just reading for a main idea, you are searching for a single thing. And as soon as you find that you just get to sort of push everything else to the side. But if you’re actually looking for things like the reasoning and evidence attached to various ideas or the methods by which you achieve those things, then yeah, I can see you, you know, a deeper engagement in the in the text as a whole. And I might elements of the

Steve Pearlman: Text in my final. Follow that statement up by saying quote explicit instructions to evaluate the argument line of a text are more likely to activate whatever argument relevant structural knowledge readers may have than general instructions to read for comprehension.

Dave Carillo: That’s interesting. That’s really interesting. And you know, I wonder, too, you almost want to say as well that we can’t hope for everyone to have background knowledge on everything they read. We would hope that they would have some sort of framework or frameworks to read to learn these things and to understand where to ask questions and then to go seek out knowledge rather than necessarily having background knowledge going in or, you know, hoping that they have the right amount of knowledge. But it’s a great study and definitely very relevant to to or to the tail end of our discussion with with Dan Willingham. I think,

Steve Pearlman: Well, look, and we’ve seen some, some similar research before. Sure. And we know that for our particular framework, you’re shameless plug for our particular framework, right? That we built in to the first step is this understanding, which specifically tries to take students beyond summarizing what a text is saying comprehension? Yeah. Into looking at how and why a text is building its ideas. How is it constructing its argument line? And here is direct evidence that encouraging students to do that actually improves their comprehension of the text, actually improves their retention of textual material and does more to activate the connection to background knowledge that they might have to begin with

Dave Carillo: Even more than that. The fact that, you know, in our framework, we’re specifically asking them to write that as well as is also an edifying process.

Steve Pearlman: So but let’s take it out of our framework then, and if so, for people who are listening, even if you’re not using our text or what have you look, if you’re given reading assignments and you want students to understand the reading assignments where we’re out of who you are or whatever those assignments might be, here’s an easy step to take right, which is simply instead of asking students to come. Read this and try to understand it to phrase your assignment such that you’re always reading this to look for places of strength in the person’s argument, places of weakness in the person’s argument and in a very broad stroke. That simple transition that’s simple step seems to be a step in the right direction. And let me add that argument can be a very loose term. Even a textbook that’s communicating so-called factual information is representing that information to varying degrees of success, with respect to clarity, to varying degrees. Success with respect to how sound its argument is or the evidence for those claims and asking students to be able to start to think about how well is the text representing this point, this piece of information, this fact is moving students in the right direction towards improving their ability to understand the text and recall the text moving forward, and that’s a simple move any educator can do starting tomorrow.

Dave Carillo: Absolutely. And you know, if you’re worried about whether your students are going to guess it, you know, understand what you’re asking from them, just model it for first time, walk them through a paragraph, show them what a claim or an assertion looks like on the page. Show them how to look for evidence that are attached to the claim or the assertion so that they know what they’re doing. If you do it with them the first time or show them how you do it, they’ll be able to get it much more comprehensively and you’ll be able to send them off on their own to do that. Next reading assignment Similarly, and like the study says, what you’re getting in return is deeper engagement with the text and use material from your discipline, right? Use primary sources. They’ll you know you’ll start to be able to have stronger discussions with your students about what’s going on in the material that you want to teach them.

Steve Pearlman: If you’re working with Jack and Jill went up the hill to fetch a pallet water Jack fell down and broke his crown. Jill came tumbling after. Yeah, right. You can say what happened in that and we can test students for what happened. Jack fell down. They had a pail of water. But then there are lots of questions. Why did Jack fall? Why would? Why if Jack fell? Did Jill also come tumbling down? How do he fall so hard that he broke his crown? I mean, they’re just carrying a pail of water. Was it so steep a hill that they had to tumble down the whole hill? They couldn’t stop themselves? I mean, there’s so many questions that I think even young kids can start to ask about that or that we can start to model for them asking about those kinds of seemingly simple little ideas that start to prime them right from the start.

Dave Carillo: And if you want to deal with a real mind bender, ask children whether row, row, row your boat is a happy song or a scary song because there’s it’s pretty dark. If you look at it,

Steve Pearlman: You think it’s dark. I’ve thought of it as a very positive.

Dave Carillo: You would think that right? But once you get into asking ourselves, you know, you’re asking yourself what life is, but a dream means and why they’re so much rowing and work on the stream.

Steve Pearlman: I don’t know. There’s a fascination with somebody did a fascinating sort of analysis on YouTube talking about why it was such a positive life lesson of ro-ro.

Dave Carillo: Really? Yeah, I would like to.

Steve Pearlman: First of all, you’re doing it gently. You’re rowing down a stream, so you’re guiding yourself and then you are in control of your boat, which is an empowering idea. All right. Next week’s podcast Well, row your boat. Dark or powerful and powering like message, right?

Dave Carillo: Yeah, you are, I guess, moving gently down the stream, but you’re constantly rowing. You’re constantly working at it. Why does Merrilee have to be repeated so many times? Do we need some sort of convincing to an absurd level that we’re we’re happy? And then again, life is but a dream that’s not necessarily considered a boom? Well, I’m just saying, all right. It’s funny we’ve moved down to row, row, row your boat. I’ve lost everything I wanted to say, but I actually see some interesting relationships between your study and this article that I want to talk about from inside higher ed. It’s a blog post by someone named John Warner, and it’s called Lecture Attention Recall. It’s complicated. This is interesting in a couple of ways. Let me see if I remember any of them as I talk. The author here starts with this idea that there are two types of lectures that he knows he can get into. All right, the first one is quote the Oh my god, I’ve never heard of such a thing before. Stop it. You’re blowing my mind. Wait, don’t stop because you’re blowing my mind lecture end quote. And to the quote, I’m super well versed in this stuff, and I’m having lots of thoughts and opinions. And sometimes I agree. But other times you’re so, so, so wrong. And I want to interrupt and say so. Lecture, end quote so.

Steve Pearlman: So he’s setting up these two lectures he’s setting up, he’s setting up these as a premise. Obviously, these aren’t the only two kinds of lectures that exist in lecture. Well, there’s

Dave Carillo: Two types that he can get into, right that he knows. Yes, that he knows he can get into, you know, and I’m glad you. I’m glad you stopped to clarify. Yes, he uses that to sort of frame this idea. He said recently there was on a on a forum on the uses of standardized testing that featured Harvard Professor Daniel Kirsch and his book The Testing Charade, pretending to Make Schools Better. He was able to listen to this hour long live stream presentation, and he, you know, John Warner started to think, right, well, why was why was I so into this lecture? And part of the reason was because he says he was working on. Book chapter of his own about what he calls quote, the problem of standardization in education as it applies to teaching, writing and how I believe standardization inhibits learning end quote. And in this article, he’s sort of thinking through like, why was he able to like roll with this hour long lecture? And part of it was that he was he was well versed on the specific material. He had a quote good reservoir of additional subject knowledge, which helped him listen and actively respond. And he was taking notes on his own chapter as he was listening to this live stream lecture. It’s one of the two lectures write that he said he can get into, and he was totally John Warner. The author of this book was totally engaged, and he was also working on this other chapter. So he’s like rolling. And he says, You know, I learned a lot, right? Some of that learning was reinforcing ideas I’d been, you know, previously been exposed to in crashes book. And he learned a lot in this.

Steve Pearlman: So he’s sticking with the lecture because he had this existing context.

Dave Carillo: Well, he had this context, but he’s also engaged in the subject already, right? Yeah. Yeah, he was. He had his own insights, but you know, he’s also engaging in it. There is some there’s moments where he differed. There are moments that statement he was extending ideas right to to use a Joseph Harris term. Here’s where the article turns. And this is kind of where it gets interesting for me. So he starts to think back to this course. He taught called communication skills at Virginia Tech, and he said that he did this very explicit lesson or lessons on active listening. And he tried to explain to the students how important it was for them to talk back to their lectures, even if they weren’t meant to be interactive. He says, You know, we talked about how they could register questions raised by the lectures in their notes, or they could get back and fill in blanks. And he thought that he was doing this really great service to them. And then later on in the class, he asked anyone if they might share their listening notes they’re active listening to the lecture, and one student opened up his notebook and all of his questions were, huh? And what? And lots of other question marks. And that’s sort of a realization for Warren, right? He started to see starts to see that the kind of questions that this student was asking were in any of the kind of questions that he was asking, say, of Koresh while he was listening to this lecture.

Dave Carillo: And this is kind of where it ties back to this idea that, you know, we found founded, you know, when we were talking to Willingham. And you know, there’s some tension here, too, and listen to the tension as he brings this up. He says, quote, this student simply didn’t have enough existing knowledge to respond to the lecture in real time. He claimed he’d done the reading and even mostly understood it. So it was not for lack of at least reasonable preparation. He was having this issue. It’s simply that he was inexperienced, a non-expert, and he was being exposed to many of the ideas for the first time end quote. And so Warner’s conclusion is it’s difficult to respond critically to something for which we have little existing knowledge or context which and maybe at this point, you know, I would start to look at highlighting this idea of real time, right? I think that maybe in real time, that might be the case, but in another setting, that student might have been able to ask other questions.

Steve Pearlman: Can I? I think that’s an important insight. Actually, the thing about time, because one of the things that we’re always stressing pedagogically for faculty members and I don’t want to derail this.

Dave Carillo: No, don’t be really fun. Yeah. Jump in, man.

Steve Pearlman: It’s just that we’re always telling them that if if you’re just constantly streaming information at the students, we’re never offering them that time that they need sometimes to reflect on it, to evaluate on it, to ask important questions about it. And that might not happen in the course of the lecture class or the discussion class. When you say, well, who has an important question or who has a question about this, these these thinking moves are time based factors. To a degree,

Dave Carillo: They are time based and we will also point to the research, and I believe we mentioned some of this in our previous podcasts here and there. But the research shows that how long does the brain have before it shuts down in a lecture? It’s about

Steve Pearlman: It’s about 11 to

Dave Carillo: 13 11 to 13 minutes, right? So maybe if the student is engaged or maybe if there’s something online, they might be able to pay attention. But that’s not how the brain is really sort of working. My point right there needs to be to be some sort of engagement, some sort of authentic thing at stake for the student to at least facilitate. So Warner uses these kinds of lectures, this kind of lecture that he appreciates framework as well as this experience at Virginia Tech. So to start thinking about this idea of, well, you know, attention and in previous blog posts, he’s called attention in education as a quote, false god. And he starts to talk about and to question whether, you know, attention is really a goal of education, right? He says. I think the recent debate reveals the degree to which we sometimes fetishize attention in ways that may not necessarily be connected to learning fascinating, right? Particularly when we’ve privileging a kind of attention that’s associated with what I believe is a relatively limited goal of.

Steve Pearlman: Information recall fascinating and that and that plays on other research that we’ve seen, for example, that I contact with the professor, yeah, is not necessarily associated with paying attention or stronger understanding the material, but it’s something I know I’m always looking for when I’m talking to a students, is that eye contact? And I certainly have to remind myself that looking away is sometimes a sign of going into a deeper cognitive processing state because we’re not acculturated.

Dave Carillo: That’s perfect, and I love that you say so. Keep deeper cognitive state in mind, because that’s kind of where we end up here. He uses TED talks as this sort of a next example and sort of like working through this problem, right? He mentions the forgetting curve, right? Yeah. Even with, you know, you know, massive amounts of studying and attention and note taking like, you’re going to forget a lot of a good portion of of whatever you supposedly quote, learn at the end of the semester or at the end of a class. He’s like TED. Talks are an example of the first kind of lecture I can pay attention to, primarily because they’re structured to be maximally oriented towards the quote, mind blowing experience. But there’s some important limits to TED talks, he says. Quote They’re short under 20 minutes, and because of that, they’re usually they usually askew things like evidence and support of a main thrust. And at the same time, no ambiguity is allowed, which, you know, I find interesting. Ted talks are quote ideas worth spreading and presentations saying and a presentation saying this is kind of interesting and might be true is not an idea worth spreading. He’s saying it has to be mind blowing. It has to be cut and dried. He said the bias towards sweeping pronouncements devoid of complicating information makes many TED talks.

Dave Carillo: He’s this quote kind of bullshit. Right? Werner’s opinion. But for me, there are a lot of things echoing right now evidence to support the art. Evidence to support the argument. Really critical ambiguity, right? Complicating information, right? Right. Those kinds of things that, like most strong arguments, have to some extent and that you and I, I know, at least teach students to value in their own writing. Ok, so he uses the TED talks as a way to move into this one study. That does sort of suggest when students were looking at a TED talk and handwriting notes, they exhibited more recall than when students were actually typing more notes out on a laptop. So even though you could get more notes out per minute or whatever on a laptop, handwriting notes actually produced more recall he’s like. But here’s my question Why do we care how much a student recalls from a TED talk or any other lecture? Are we really still in a world where we expect information transmission in a classroom to be an important educational activity? Hmm. All right. And so that’s that’s where this I mean in this kind of gets interesting because of a couple of things, right? One, you know, we’ve talked in the past about how, you know, lecture has some major flaws in terms of teaching students information, teaching students how to think about that information.

Dave Carillo: They’re really teaching students anything right. But he raises this question Is this information transmission in a classroom? An important educational activity? And it says, Yeah, he follows it up. If we’re going to lecture, aren’t we better striving for triggering mind blowing experience and not worrying so much about recall, which is kind of what you said, right? Is that, you know, if anything, we want the student to stumble upon something that just blows their mind and they sort of go off in another direction on their own because they’re actually now thinking. Instead of worried about passively sucking in all this information, he ends up saying he actually includes these two sort of tweets from from himself and one of his colleagues. He says, you know John Warner and his tweets. Some of my most memorable learning moments came when I was inattentive. Something in a class provoked me, and I spun off into some private thinking. I’m sure I missed what was happening in the in the class next. And he says, I’ve never tried this, but I think a good whole class exercise might be to watch a TED talk and then give them the rest of the period to poke holes in the claims. The class should be able to add complexity. The format of TED talks sands away, right?

Steve Pearlman: So not listening for comprehension, not

Dave Carillo: Listening for conversation, but listening for evaluation of the argument. And I love how our articles cross over here because they are saying the same things, but in different ways

Steve Pearlman: And note to listeners, we never tell each other

Dave Carillo: Than we actually never tell each other. You always want to get in the last minute and you were just like pulling stuff’s in, but we want it to be fresh. And that’s where that sort of idea of the complication, you know, comes in if he says, you know, attention is important, if we’re going to value recall, which may be something worth doing sometimes. But attention and recall are not synonymous with learning, and we try whenever possible to steer the faculty we work with away from just lecture toward moments like, he says, you know, spend a class looking for complexity, spend a class evaluating an argument, and we know from research that that’s that’s really what’s going to create actual retention of knowledge, more student engagement, stronger critical thinking outcomes.

Steve Pearlman: Well, and look, I mean, I think what this a lot of both of these things and even what Dan Willingham was talking about earlier in the episode, distill down to some really interesting things. First of all, if we want students to have stronger comprehension and retention of the information that we want them to know, then some critical engagement of that, the evaluation of that, the ability to poke holes in it or to think about it on the side is promoting that. Just reading for comprehension and listening for comprehension isn’t really fostering comprehension. We have to have more of an intellectual work around it. But second, what’s the whole point of the information? The whole information is valueless unless it goes on to serve a purpose for a student, and that purpose is developing a question. That purpose is answering a question. That purpose is building something new into the world. It has to serve some greater intellectual purpose or information is just stuff that you know and has no value in itself. It only has a value to the extent that it’s contributing to what you don’t know.

Dave Carillo: You know, I totally agree. And you know, one of the things that you know that always strikes me about this is that I think a lot of faculty want students to see the importance of the kind of work they do in their disciplines. They want them to see what’s at stake in these kinds of conversations. It’s not necessarily a matter of just intrinsically being interested as as much as as being able to provide students with with a way to find interest. Right, right. Well seem to locate interest. And again, I don’t want to plug our system, but I think back to how early students recognized the need for them to find their own question, concern or conflict when dealing with their own work. And you know, that’s something that they develop. They find it. They they they are now invested in some sort of resolution, and maybe I’m naive to think that they’re all entirely invested in the same.

Steve Pearlman: No, Dave, they are all perfectly.

Dave Carillo: I thought, I thought, I thought so. Nevertheless, though, I mean, that’s something that, you know, for better or for worse, we teach what we teach because we see the value in it, we see the relevance and there are ways there are ways to get the students equally invested in that material. And it’s, you know, it’s it frequently has to do with with not lecture as it were to now put something as like awkwardly as possible.

Steve Pearlman: What a way to wrap this one up.

Dave Carillo: Right? Just like some just awful, awful, awful syntax, I don’t.

Steve Pearlman: I think it was, I think, not lecture a wonderful point, though.

Dave Carillo: Well, you know, yeah, let’s try to make a couple of wonderful points.

Steve Pearlman: Once in a while,

Dave Carillo: Once in a while.

Steve Pearlman: Thanks, everyone. Have a great one. Take care.

Voiceover: Thank you for listening to the Critical Thinking Initiative podcast. Got questions for Steve and Dave? Just send them to info at the Critical Thinking Initiative dot org. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter and find us at W W W Dot The Critical Thinking Initiative. Org.


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