An IU student.



Bottlenecks Across the Disciplines

"...Expert teachers are sensitive to those aspects of the discipline that are especially hard or easy for new students to master. This means that new teachers must develop the ability to 'understand in a pedagogically reflective way; they must not only know their own way around a discipline, but must know the conceptual barriers likely to hinder others' (McDonald and Naso, 1986:8). These conceptual barriers differ from discipline to discipline."

Bransford, J., Brown, Brown, A., and Cocking, D. (2000). How People Learn. Washington,DC: National Academy Press.

  • Students, who have been successful at memorization, do not know how to move beyond it to start the problem solving process.


  • Students often cannot see the "double and triple meanings" in a passage of text, and when this is taught, some students feel I am making the obvious obscure and even absurd.


  • Students have difficulty relating mathematical equations/solutions to physical phenomena.


  • Students have difficulty relating computer model results to the real world.


  • Students do not know how to check whether a mathematical or computer result makes sense.


  • Students cannot correlate two dimensions of data on a graph.


  • Students are unable to move from terminology and verbal descriptions to visualizations of function or processes.


  • In creative writing students cannot distinguish between "telling" and "describing."


  • Students cannot parse a broad topic down into manageable and researchable concepts.


  • Students want to focus on details (what they call facts ) rather than mastering big concepts.


  • Students have difficulty deciphering information presented in graphical formats.


  • Students cannot distinguish fact from an author's argument.


  • Students do not recognize that they need different intellectual tools to solve different problems.


  • Students generalize too quickly (i.e. from "this is true" "this is always true").


  • Students move automatically from issues of fact to issues of value (i.e. from "this is" to "this is good/bad").


  • Students begin _____ discipline with incorrect notions of what practitioners actually do in the field.


  • Students assume that there is only one possible answer.


  • Students don't reflect on their own learning (lack of metacognition).


  • Students are not able to make assumptions concerning information not provided in a case.


  • Students personalize a problem or filter it through their own personal experience to the point of distortion.


  • Students don't know what they don't know.


  • Students are unwilling to allow uncertainty to continue long enough.


  • Students spend so much time focusing on details that they might be tested on that they are unable to get the "big picture."

For Further Reading: "One Bottleneck at a Time," written by J. Jose Bonner (2000 FLC Fellow), William Harwood, and Christine Lotter, Dec. 2004.

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© August 2003 - Credits
Comments: flp@indiana.edu
Last Updated: 1/14/04