Home › Forums › Why Don’t Students Like School? By Daniel T. Willingham › Chapter 4 › Shallow knowledge › Shallow Knowledge
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March 7, 2018 at 1:51 pm #394
Honestly much of what I have learned through my core SLU classes thus far has appeared (to me) to be shallow knowledge. I will never need to know simply from memorization the exact steps of mitosis, or what year the Ottoman Empire fell apart. All of this “base” knowledge can be beneficial in abstract ways, but in a straightforward sense, shallow knowledge lacks understanding. Understanding knowledge and being able to apply it in a useful manner should be the predominant basis of education. A student being able to recall or recognize, but not do much else, needs to be avoided at all costs in schools. Shallow knowledge is okay and even necessary in the beginning stages of learning, but teachers should strive to encourage their students to make deeper connections with the learning they are receiving. It is not entirely useless and should not be entirely avoided, so long as students are being pushed to go beyond the simple shallow knowledge.March 7, 2018 at 3:13 pm #397
I agree with Courtney in many ways. I think that many of the foundational classes are made up of a lot of shallow knowledge rather than knowledge which is actually applicable. I think that in some of the classes I have taken, I have benefitted from memorizing the shallow knowledge because other times in that class, things are built upon the shallow knowledge and then applied to the new material. I agree when Courtney says that is should be avoided in schools. Besides the necessary foundational skills such as knowing the alphabet, students should not have to memorize for no purpose. Many times, there are much more beneficial ways to learn information rather than having to memorize shallow knowledge.March 9, 2018 at 12:38 pm #401
Willingham would call this Rote Knowledge, or having no understanding of the material, with the ability to memorize it. This kind of knowledge cannot be expanded on. In 8th grade my middle school does the “constitutional challenge”. All the 8th grade classes have to make these note cards with facts about the constitution and US government. I remember having a stack of like 300 cards. Are homework was to memorize these cards then in class we would split the classroom into two groups and compete to see who could score the most points. There were head to head challenges and speed rounds. Then we would compete with the other classes. At the end, there was an assembly of all the 8th grade classes to see the final to classes face off. This was a prime example of shallow knowledge. In no way did I understand what all those cards meant. I just knew the correct answer to give to get my class points.March 14, 2018 at 12:37 pm #408
I would argue I saw shallow knowledge every day in every subject during my three years of teaching. This seems to be the result of standardized assessments (in Virginia where I live, we call them SOLs), other states follow Common Core. Because many teachers are focused more on students passing (due to their evaluations & ultimately their employment tied to student performance), we are creating generations of “shallow” individuals who wants to be told what to do, an example of how to do it, and then shown step-by-step how to execute it.
I think there is a place for shallow knowledge, because IT IS how we introduce a concept to students (if you have ever watched Brain Pop Jr. videos you will understand what I mean); however, teachers never go beyond this point. That is where deeper, abstract thinking is supposed to occur and we rarely do it, BUT I would argue that teachers are not trained on how to do it effectively combined with that is not what is valued at the present moment.March 19, 2018 at 1:43 am #422
Willingham would say that you related that to the concept/tune/structure of already knowing the English alphabet. “We understand new ideas by relating them to things we already know”..
My example of shallow knowledge relate to many tests I have took over the years that had a written response section. I didn’t have time to study the entire subject so I just remembered a few facts about it. I wrote a very detailed response got all points for it. I didn’t have a clear understanding of the topic, but I had enough shallow knowledge to get by.April 3, 2018 at 7:42 pm #484
Wellingham would likely say that there isn’t much meaning to shallow knowledge, but it is better than no knowledge at all. In a way you can compare shallow and deep knowledge to snorkeling and scuba diving. Shallow knowledge is like snorkeling because you are just skimming the surface. On the other hand, scuba diving is like deep knowledge because it is a deep dive into a topic where you can see the big picture.
Like Ariel, I remember studying for my history final freshman years and simply focusing on knowing enough facts to get through writing the essay. I had definitely forgotten them by the end of the day because they didn’t hold any meaning to me other than helping me get through the test which I had already finished.
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