In 1970, an actor played a lecturer, aptly named “Dr. Fox” at the University of Southern California School of Medicine. Dr. Fox was presented as an expert in the field of Game Theory and proceeded to present a lecture that included, by design, a high dose of excessive talk, off comment remarks, contradictory statements and non sequiturs. In other words, he was confusing and probably off-putting. After the lecture, participants rated their experience and Dr. Fox overwhelming received positive reviews (a ratio of 6:1). Interestingly, time and time again researchers have tried the Dr. Fox experiment, and each time the actor’s expression and engagement lured high perception data from students, regardless of the quality of the content presented or the level of content actually obtained. Students appeared to have a difficult time determining what they were learning. Because of this, many have argued against the use of (or at least curb) perception surveys to grant tenure or take part in evaluations. I think a greater question is whether students actually have the tools to understand their own learning, talk about their progress and proficiency, and work with others and access resources to improve their learning.
Next to Mount Wellington, a volcanic peak in Auckland, a beautiful primary school, Stonefields School, focuses on developing a learner’s assessment capabilities. That is, the school focuses its efforts on ensuring learners have the knowledge and skills to discern their own learning performance, understand the dispositions that make a great learner (e.g. to persevere), and a language to discuss their learning. Assessment capable learning has an effect size of 1.44, way above the average effect of .40 which constitutes approximately one year’s growth over one year’s time (Hattie, 2009). At Stonefields, learners as young as 5 develop the knowledge, skills, and language to understand and engage in their own learning process. Young learners use the phrase “building knowledge” when they are beginning to understand an idea or multiple ideas. They say “making meaning” when they are relating ideas and “applying understanding” when they are transferring their understanding of ideas to real world challenges or rigorous tasks. They also use the term “the learning pit” to describe the process of failure and the necessity of failure to construct knowledge and go back and learn more information. Learners use data to determine their performance levels, leverage peers to give and receive feedback, and advocate for clear guidance from teachers to ensure they are reaching established learning goals and success criteria.
The research of Dr. Fox is far more telling of our lack as an educational system in focusing our efforts on giving students the skills needed to actually “own” their own learning. I wonder how Dr. Fox would do with the young learners in Stonefields? My guess is that perception data would be much more accurate on the impact a teacher was having on their own learning and they would be less blinded by window dressing.