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Disobedient Thinking

October 18, 2017 — Leave a comment

Critical Thinking Cheatsheet

Over the past 25 years that I have been involved in the education I have seen so many claims that this or that technology will begin to replace teachers in “X” number of years. Years ago, my initial response to these types of articles was humor and occasional annoyance because I know from first-hand experience that there is much more to learning than just delivery of content. Unfortunately, authors of most of these types of articles are wrongly assuming that learning just involves the delivery of content and then the regurgitation of that content by the student. This commonly held and very naive understanding of how we learn that goes back for centuries. If you look at the notion of the Nuremberg Funnel from the 17th century that is depicted in this image/stamp you will see that this idea of pouring information or content into the brains/heads of our students is a very old idea.

Nuremberg Funnel
The 19th-century commercial artist Jean-Marc Côté created a series of picture cards as inserts that were intended to depict how life in France would look in a century’s time. The education card depicts the notion of pouring information directly into the student’s minds.

21st Century School
While some may see this as an early prediction of the audiobook the notion of pouring information into the learner’s minds is the focus of the image and is at the heart of the problem with these types of depictions/predictions. Before I focus on what I believe is the primary issue I need to acknowledge that there is a very long history of unrealistic claims of how technology would reform education. The following two contemporary authors have documented how schools have failed to effectively use technology to enhance learning. Larry Cuban’s Teachers and Machines: The Classroom Use of Technology Since 1920, addresses how the potential of film, radio, TV and computers has been wasted in the classroom. Todd Oppenheimer’s The Flickering Mind: Saving Education from the False Promise of Technology expands on Cuban’s work and further reveals that creative power of computers has been squandered due to their use as standardized testing tools. Both these authors acknowledge the potential and power of technology but show how we have failed to leverage that power for learning.

This brings me back to the heart of the matter. Are we using technology as a tool to help make meaningful connections and to address the challenges of tomorrow or are we just using technology to deliver content and confirm that the student can regurgitate that content? There was a time not so long ago when getting access to information was the greatest challenge. We only have to look back a few years to a time when the Internet didn’t exist and we had to go to the library or other repositories of information to get at the content. I am not that old but I can recall a time in the 1960’s when a set of encyclopedia was one of the most important purchases a rural family could make; I grew up searching those books for all kinds of answer. In the last 15-20 years the explosive growth of the Internet and more recently the ease with which we can find information with Google, YouTube or other search tools and then can share that information on blogs, social media and in so many other ways has changed the way we need to view our challenges regarding information. The greatest challenge of the industrial age was accessing information and now that we have moved into digital information age our greatest challenge or problem is assessing information. This means we need to reassess our primary role or job as teachers.

If I imagine my primary job as a teacher is to serve information, am I helping solve the current informational problem or do I make it worse?

And given the vast complexity of the informational network, if I insist on my centrality and authority, does that establish or harm my credibility as a teacher?

If assessing information – and the wisdom & experience that this requires – is the central challenge of the current informational age, then are teachers more or less necessary?

Depending on how you answer this question should determine if your role as a teacher can easily be replaced by a computer or an inspirational robot. If you believe that your primary job is to deliver information to your students then these predictions will come true sooner than you expect. Technology is at the point where the delivery of information and the assessment of the reception of that information through some form of standardized test is already happening and can easily be automated. If you are a teacher that practices content delivery as the primary way to prepare your students for standardized tests then you can easily be replaced by a computer, robot or other technology.

If you are a teacher who believes it is your responsibility to inspire your learners and to help them assess information and make meaningful connections by creating significant learning environments (CSLE) in which you give your learner choice ownership and voice through authentic (COVA) learning opportunities it will be impossible to replace you with technology. Furthermore, if you hold to the CSLE+COVA approach then you are not afraid of technology and can put technology in its proper place by using it to enhance the learning environment.

Before you breathe that sigh of relief that your teaching job is secure because you believe in the student-centered rhetoric of Dewey and other constructivists you may want to have a look at your practice. Are you talking the talk of Dewey but walking the walk of Thorndyke? Along with the long history of misapplying technology in education, we also have a long history of using the constructivist or progressive rhetoric of Dewey but practicing the behaviorist methods of Thorndyke’s standardized testing (Labaree, 2006).

If you really don’t want to be replaced by an inspirational robot then you need to not only talk the talk of Dewey but walk the walk. Does your practice match your rhetoric? If it doesn’t what are you doing about it?


Bodkin, H. (2017, September 11). “Inspirational” robots to begin replacing teachers within 10 years. The Telegraph. Retrieved from

Hill, D. J. (2012, October 15). 19th century French artists predicted the world of The future in this series of postcards. Retrieved October 3, 2017, from

Labaree, D. F. (2005). Progressivism, schools and schools of education: An American romance. Paedagogica Historica, 41(1–2), 275–288.

Nuremberg Funnel. (2017, January 6). In Wikipedia. Retrieved from

If this video isn’t enough consider the following resources that debunk learning styles:

Willingham’s Learning Styles FAQ – (lots of additional links to the research literature –

The Myth of Learning Styles –

Learning Styles Debunked: There is No Evidence Supporting Auditory and Visual Learning, Psychologists Say – Association for Psychological Science (APS) –

Learning Myths Vs. Learning Facts –

Peer-Reviewed Scientific Articles
Pashler, H., McDaniel, M., Rohrer, D., & Bjork, R. (2008). Learning styles: Concepts and evidence. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 9(3), 105-119.

Rohrer, D., & Pashler, H. (2012). Learning styles: Where’s the evidence? Medical Education, 46(7), 634-635.

Klitmøller, J. (2015). Review of the methods and findings in the Dunn and Dunn learning styles model research on perceptual preferences. Nordic Psychology, 67(1), 2-26.

Not many things we do in education decrease kids achievement and some of these actually make sense. The presence of one disruptive kid in a class negates the performance of most kids, so when you take those kinds of negative ones you’d expect to be negative out, about 95 to 97% of things that we do to kids to enhance their achievement work. — Hattie

When you combine Hattie’s research on student achievement with the foundational ideas on learning from educational thought leaders like Dewey, Bruner, Piaget and Papert one can argue the human being is the most amazing learning entity in the face of the planet. I like to summarize these ideas by suggesting that just as long we aren’t physically or psychologically harming our learners almost anything we do as an instructional practice will help our students achieve.

But as Hattie warns just because we can show some type of improvement in achievement that doesn’t mean that anything goes and that we should continue to do what we have always done in the classroom. On the contrary, Hattie points to his research that shows we need to focus on those things that will move student achieve beyond the average effect size of .4. We need to do those things that will help our students learn the most.
Effect Size

We need to focus on the things like formative feedback, visible and mastery learning and much more that will do the most to improve student achievement and not focus on the politically expedient things like class sizes, rigor, and homework and so many other things which have a smaller than average impact on achievement. The following videos and images below provide an effective summary of what we should be focusing on to improve student achievement.

Hattie spends a considerable time talking about Outward Bound activities because they make learning visible, provide an authentic context for learning, and also give the learner immediate feedback on the learning process. Authentic learning opportunities feed Hattie’s notion of visible learning because they provide a wonderful opportunity for teachers to evaluate their own teaching and enable the teachers to see learning through the eyes of their students and help their students become their own teachers and learn how to learn (Hattie, 2009, 2011). Hattie also argues that teacher must develop the following mind frames that underpin their every action and decision:

  1. My fundamental task is to evaluate the effect of my teaching on students’ learning and achievement.
  2. The success and failure of my students’ learning is about what I do or don’t do. I am a change agent.
  3. I want to talk more about learning than teaching.
  4. Assessment is about my impact.
  5. I teach through dialogue not monologue.
  6. I enjoy the challenge and never retreat to “doing my best”.
  7. It’s my role to develop positive relationships in class and staffrooms.
  8. I inform all about the language of learning.

John Hattie: Visible Learning Pt 1. Disasters and Below Average Methods.

John Hattie, Visible Learning. Pt 2. Effective Methods


Source: Hattie Ranking: Teaching Effects


direct instruction

Additional student achievement ideas to consider:
Full Hattie Ranking –
Hattie’s Visible Learning site –
The key to improving student achievement –

Bell, M. (2011, November 28) John Hattie: Visible learning Pt 1 disasters and Below average methods. [Video File]. Retrieved from
Bell, M. (2011, December 1) John Hattie: Visible learning Pt 2 effective methods. [Video File]. Retrieved from
Bruner, J. S. (1960). The process of education. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Dewey, J. (1916). Democracy and education: An introduction to philosophy of education. New York, NY: Macmillan.
Hattie, J. (2008). Visible learning: A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement. Routledge.
Papert, S. (1993). The children’s machine: Rethinking school in the age of the computer. New York, NY: Basic books.
Piaget, J. (1964). Development and learning. In R.E. Ripple & V.N. Rockcastle (Eds.), Piaget Rediscovered: A Report on the Conference of Cognitive Studies and Curriculum Development (pp. 7–20). Ithaca, NY: Cornell University.