There are lots of differences between South Korea and the United States, but the most important one today is probably this: the South Koreans have tested the majority of their (much smaller) population for coronavirus, and this knowledge enables them to enact precise public health measures aimed at containment. Meanwhile, the United States has tested the minority of its (much larger) population, and as a result has to enact blunt closures aimed at mitigation.
My point isn't politics. It's that governments, it turns out, have one of the same limitations that human beings do: when we don’t know enough, sophisticated action is not possible; when we know more, our abilities improve.
Unfortunately, too few of us know this and base our practice on it. According to a recent report by Deans for Impact, when 1,000 teacher candidates from a handful of teacher colleges were quizzed on basic principles of cognitive science in the fall of 2019, their average percentage score was 49%. It wasn’t a measurement of the teachers’ skills — just a measurement of their knowledge. But undoubtedly, not knowing fundamental learning principles from cognitive science will be followed by not being able to teach as effectively. Skill will follow knowledge.
There are all sorts of implications for our work here — the need for knowledge-rich, evidence-informed PD; the need for coherent, sequential, cumulative, knowledge-rich curricula at every grade level; the need for classroom-based assessments that teach us both what our students can do (skill) and what our students know.
But with so much in limbo right now, let’s end by examining the implication over which you and I have most control: our own personal “knowledge portfolios.”
I came across this concept in Andrew Hunt and David Thomas’ The Pragmatic Programmer: From Journeyman to Master — a book I learned about some time ago from a book list. This is one of my favorite kinds of books — completely not about my work as a teacher but oddly apropos nonetheless.
The authors write:
We like to think of all the facts programmers know about computing, the application domains they work in, and all their experience as their Knowledge Portfolios. Managing a knowledge portfolio is very similar to managing a financial portfolio.Andrew Hunt and David Thomas, The Pragmatic Programmer: From Journeyman to Master, p. 12
The authors go on to argue that the most important tip in building a knowledge portfolio is simple in theory, difficult in practice: invest regularly, as a habit. Learn one new language per year, read a technical book each quarter, mix in nontechnical books, take classes, participate in local groups, etc. Their tips are great, but their theory is even better.
So let’s bring it home. Almost all of us are experiencing a wider-than-normal gap between what we’d like to be able to do for our students and what we’re actually able to do. There’s perhaps never been a better time to assess the balance of our knowledge portfolios and invest accordingly.
Need some spots to start? Consider the “Dig Deeper” or “Resources” sections of KnowledgeMattersCampaign.org. There’s at least a book’s worth of reading there.