Need for research in pedagogy and aspects that need attention - Ensuring Learning India S1 E.009

In earlier posts in 'Ensuring Learning India' series, this blog discussed various aspects of assessments, need for teaching at the right level and technology in education. This post identifies the areas in these aspects that have pedagogy component and thus need attention.

1) Translating abstract themes into implementable processes: This blog discussed about teaching to the right level earlier. Teaching to the Right Level is an idea but how do we implement this in classroom for different concepts? There can be many possible ways to this. Which are better ways and what are the principles that one has to follow while building up pedagogy using this theme? How can one design processes that are not too cumbersome for teachers to follow but still be effective? All of these need significant time, efforts and iteration.

2) Understanding the reasoning behind children's conceptions and commonly made mistakes or misconceptions: This blog earlier discussed about  diagnostic assessments and customized treatment. To be able to diagnose children's problem, one has to first understand the nature of the problem and also need to understand the reasoning behind those conceptions to be able to do a customized treatment. 

An earlier post quotes an example on decimals and different possible reasons behind same mistake. Do we have such collection for all concepts?


For example, some students answer that the shaded portion is one third of the triangle. It is first important to understand that such conceptions are existent in some children and then one should also understand the reasoning behind such conceptions to be able to correct them.

Such knowledge database for all concepts in all subjects is required.




This understanding of students' thinking is also necessary to design questions for assessments.

3) How to teach and how not to teach?: There are some conceptions that arise because students misinterpret them or don't think critically before forming those conceptions but some can also arise because of the manner in which they are taught. For example, if fractions are taught as, 2 cars out of 5 is 2/5 and so on, then it becomes difficult for students to comprehend 4/3 - 4 cars out of 3?

There are also decisions that teachers have to take regarding the sequence of teaching the topics. Should the concept of volume be taught first or that of surface area? Should numbers be taught using number line or using objects? These decisions are often taken by teachers based on experience and from peer learning but it would be good to investigate each of these approaches and uncover the advantages and disadvantages of each of these in a systemic manner.

4) Pedagogy for ed-tech products: Ed-tech products sometimes need different approach to teaching certain concepts given the advantages and limitations of the technology. In such situations, what are the trade offs that one can make? With the advent of adaptive learning tools, which are supposed to adapt to the learning level and needs of the child, the concept of learning paths is becoming essential. What is the best way to design a learning path from point A to point B given the earlier responses of the child?

5) Neuroscience research on children's learning: How does brain learn and process numbers and letters? Are children born with inherent intuition for numbers or it's a concept which develops later? What explains the fact that some students are comfortable with numbers and math while some aren't? Is it just a matter of teaching and practice or is it also because of early age influences and the way their brain functions? What is the best language of instruction - mother tongue or english? If it is mother tongue, then at what age should the transition happen, given the importance of english?

Does language have an effect on the process of learning numbers? There is research in neuroscience which seems to suggest that the language of numbers can be an important hurdle in the way of child's learning. A language which has 100 distinct names for first 100 numbers makes it difficult for a child to learn them as compared to a language like Chinese where double digit numbers don't have specific names, 23 is read as two-three and so on. Do we know of any more such insights?

There are many such questions that research in neuroscience can throw light on.

Another interesting aspect here is, what do we know about the relation between different concepts? Can we say that a student who is good at topic x has greater probability of being good at topic y too? If yes, what is the strength of this relationship?

Can we have a network map like this for a subject, let's say Maths, where each dot represents a concept and the lines connecting the dots represent the strength of connections between the concepts? If there are more lines emanating from a concept, it means that learning that might help in learning various other concepts as well. 

This can also be used to predict students' strengths and weaknesses given their understanding on some concepts. This underscores the importance for availability of data on students' learning which as of today is scarce.




There is also some existing literature on all the above five aspects. Some researchers have done good work but much more is needed, along with addressing the challenge of incorporating learnings from the existing literature into teaching processes. We should aim towards a scenario where decisions regarding teaching are taken based on rigorous research and not just from intuitions and experience.

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