I have, once again, been thinking hard about knowledge building and knowledge construction. (I am teaching a class about it on #plpnetwork so I had to get up to speed!)

A couple of the pioneers of ‘knowledge building’, Marlene Scardamalia and Carl Bereiter  suggest that what kids frequently do in school is ‘knowledge telling’ – not ‘knowledge building’.  In other words, kids research something and then paraphrase it back to us in some form of report – written, Powerpoint, etc. They basically repeat that which they have read without doing a great deal of synthesis or application of that information.

I would agree that this is often the case.

My colleague, @brendasherry, and I were chatting and she told me the story of a teacher who mentioned that she wanted her students to do more ‘knowledge sharing’.  At first blush, both Brenda and I equated that with ‘knowledge telling’.

But, as I was driving today (where lots of great thinking goes on!), I recalled a story of a young developmentally challenged student and his teacher.

I realized the power of ‘knowledge sharing’ and the need for the right tools to do so!

People can’t share their knowledge if they don’t have the right tools…

I was in the classroom with the young teacher and a young man about 12 years old. I had just shown him the basics of single keystroke Logo.

If you press F it moves the turtle forward some distance.  Press R and it turns right 30 degrees.

The student had played around a bit with the commands and he easily made a square when he was asked.

I asked him to make a triangle.

The teacher rapidly pulled me aside and gasped to me, “Don’t ask him to do that. He doesn’t understand and he’ll be frustrated.

As we turned back to the student and the screen, the teacher was shocked. The young man had done it. With ease.

He had shared his knowledge. The tools had afforded him the ability to demonstrate understandings he had locked up inside.  Logo had acted like a ’cognitive partner’ enabling him to share with us his knowledge.

It comes down to differentiation…

We learned a lesson that day. The teacher had a perception of the student’s abilities that was off base because the young man typically hadn’t the tools to express himself.  The tool of ‘language’ escaped him because of his challenges.

It speaks to the need for encouraging and supporting differentiated displays of learning.

I’ll work to always remember that – with all people – the young and the elderly – the firm and the infirm. That is my challenge.


My ‘think aloud’ about writing this post:

It started out as a piece comparing ‘knowledge telling’ and ‘knowledge sharing’ and ended up being really about the importance of one aspect of differentiated instruction – that of ‘encouraging and supporting differentiated displays of learning’.  

Writing is a learning experience. Thanks for traveling with me on my learning adventures.