The average American student will take American history at least four times in the span of his or her education. How many of those people can now recall why the Battle of Quebec, fought in 1759, was an important event in American history?
I was talking about this concept with a teacher this week, and his response was, “Ah, a perfect point for why we need repeated practice. Just like in sports, there’s a lot of value in having our students repeat content, like repeating a skill in practice for any given sport. If we repeat it enough, each time the student will get it a little better than the time before, and eventually he or she will master it.” A little paraphrasing there on my part, but the essence is captured and preserved entirely.
This conversation immediately brought to mind the recent tension between the content-focused camp versus the skills-based camp. And that gave me pause to reflect.
In my estimation, this is one of the foundational, keystone issues we’re facing in education today. Do we focus on the skills of learning how to learn, or do we focus on the content that we believe students need to know in order to be able to apply skills contextually? Or, as many advocate, do we need to accept these two aren’t mutually exclusive and strike a balance between the two? Balance sounds great, but if we’re going to advocate for balance, that means we’re accepting that we need some foundational level of content with which to bestow upon our students.
How do we decide what constitutes the foundational content knowledge?
Just this morning, Karl Fisch posted these thoughts which show how so much of the content we typically classify as foundational is becoming even more immediately available, if such a thing is possible. If content is that at the ready, do we continue spending time trying to get students to repeat until “mastery?”
For the record, the Battle of Quebec in 1759 was the turning point in the French and Indian War (part of the Seven Years War for friends across the pond). The outcome of the war gave England control of land that sustained people who would eventually revolt and form their own country- America. Most history teachers find this of paramount importance, and worthy to be committed to memory. I’m willing to bet at least a few of you easily found the information using Google.
So, I’ll repeat. How do we decide what constitutes the foundational content knowledge that every student should know without assistance? Should there even be such a thing?
Thanks to Nathan Dainty for the Flickr image.