Dr. Alison Gopnik on “why preschool shouldn’t be like school”

Note: This is cross-posted with my Cognitive Science Blog.

Dr. Alison Gopnik of UC-Berkeley writes in Slate:

Shouldn’t very young children be allowed to explore, inquire, play, and discover [in a setting less ‘school-like’ than is the case with many pre-schools today]? Perhaps direct instruction can help children learn specific facts and skills, but what about curiosity and creativity—abilities that are even more important for learning in the long run? Two forthcoming studies in the journal Cognitionone from a lab at MIT and one from my lab at UC-Berkeley—suggest that the doubters are on to something. While learning from a teacher may help children get to a specific answer more quickly, it also makes them less likely to discover new information about a problem and to create a new and unexpected solution…

As so often happens in science, two studies from different labs, using different techniques, have simultaneously produced strikingly similar results. They provide scientific support for the intuitions many teachers have had all along: Direct instruction really can limit young children’s learning. Teaching is a very effective way to get children to learn something specific—this tube squeaks, say, or a squish then a press then a pull causes the music to play. But it also makes children less likely to discover unexpected information and to draw unexpected conclusions.


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