The Remarkable Power of Surprise as a Teaching Tool

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One of the most important landmark literature reviews in recent memory, Teaching Adolescents to Become Learners, poses the following, all too common, situation:

Consider the example of a ninth-grader who enters high school unsure of his academic ability and worried about finding friends. When he struggles with the problems on his first math assignment and has a hard time finding a lab partner in science class, he interprets these situations as evidence of his intellectual and social shortcomings. These experiences contribute to growing preoccupations with a lack of belonging and ability which then begin to undermine the student’s academic performance, leading to further academic difficulties and lack of confidence. Though the student entered high school feeling unsure of himself, his interactions within the high school context and his participation in its routines reinforce his initial self-doubts and lead to increasingly negative mindsets. These mindsets can become self-perpetuating as the student interprets his school experiences in a way that further undermines his self-efficacy and self-confidence. He withdraws effort from his schoolwork, which results in further poor performance, [creating] a recursive, negative loop between academic mindsets, academic behavior, and academic performance.

-Teaching Adolescents to Become Learners

This situation or ones like it are far too common in our schools, and while the answer to them–breaking the cycle–is pretty clear, how to do that for any given case is an incredibly difficult question. The tricky part is that persuading someone to change a deeply-held belief is one of the hardest things for a human to do. If you don’t believe me on this, I encourage you to come to Thanksgiving with me next year and say something political.

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The Best EdTech Tool For Improving Writing Instruction

Ellis’s Essay (written by a person, not a computer)

In 1966, Ellis Page, often referred to as the father of computerized grading, published an essay (see right) in Phi Delta Kaplan where he argued that “We will soon be grading essays by computer, and this development will have an astonishing impact on the educational world.”

The computers he was talking about? Mainframes that took up entire rooms, and according to him the “soon” was right around the corner.

It has been over 50 years since Page published his essay on “The Imminence of…Grading Essays by Computer” and yet his dream of a computer program that can take over grading or feedback duties remains out of reach. While some EdTechtrepreneurs try to state otherwise, no AI program currently exists that can reliably grade or providing feedback to writing at a high level.

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