Tony Gurr

Stop Talking…Start DOING!

In Book Reviews, Guest BLOGGERS, Our Schools, Our Universities, Uncategorized on 19/12/2011 at 11:24 am

Sticky TEACHing and LEARNing


In November I started a “series” based on the work of those lovely chaps at the 21st Century Fluency ProjectLee CrockettIan Jukes and Andrew Churches very kindly gave me permission to use their new book Literacy is NOT Enough to create a number of “guest-posts” (now, if we could only get more writers to don their “creative commons” hats)!

To date, I have done five posts:

#1 – Can a committee write a poem? 

#2 – Why we need more “Committed Sardines”…

#3 – From Literacy to Fluency – 21st Century Fluencies, that is…

#4 – Getting FLUENT with the 5 FLUENCIES… 

#5 – How to make LEARNing “stick”


I was planning to complete the series in six posts – with the last one highlighting the type of lessons teachers can develop to really “breathe life” into the “Fluencies”. Best laid plans and all of that!

However, I had to edit down Post #5 – and missed a very important bit of commentary from Andrew, Lee and Ian…

So, here is Part 6 – or perhaps Part 5b…… 



A study that was conducted by the Bertelsmann Foundation in Michigan back in 1998 clearly demonstrates the effectiveness of cultivating higher-level thinking as well as measurable learning and retention. In the study, two groups of 100 social studies students were taught the same information by two different methods. One group was taught in the traditional way that’s all too familiar to us: full-frontal lecturing with students sitting in rows. They poured over worksheets and were hammered with drills, drills, and more drills, and traditional tests and quizzes.

Weapons of Mass Instruction


The second group learned primarily through problem- and process-based approaches.

This group of students worked both individually and in groups. They benefited from self-assessment, peer assessment, and teacher assessment. They focused on creating real-world products to solve real-world problems.


At the end of the year, both groups were tested, using the same traditional state-mandated exams for social studies. The results were stunning, and most likely not what you would expect.

The scores were nearly identical for both groups, regardless of how they learned. You might be confused now as to the point of this. Perhaps you’re thinking this indicates that there is no point in investing in technology or new instructional and assessment methods.

Apparently the old approach still works just as well as ever.


You’d be wrong. One year later, unwarned and therefore unprepared, the students were given the very same test that the previous year they had passed with both groups performing equally well.

The results were astonishing!



The group that was taught using traditional methods was able to recall only about 15 percent of the content. To make matters worse, an analysis of the results and the students’ thinking indicated that they viewed social studies as a series of itemized facts—this happened on this date, this happened on that date, and one event did not influence another in any way.

Theirs is an excellent example of lower-order thinking.


The group that was taught using problem- and process-based learning approaches recalled more than 70 percent of the content. More important, they demonstrated a deep understanding of the integrated nature of their learning. In other words, they not only remembered the content but also understood its significance. They were able to make abstract connections between events. Effective learners make attachments or connections between their existing knowledge and new information.

This is Velcro learning! This is higher-order thinking. These are the goals we have for our students, and we need to make this shift in the instructional approach to give them the opportunity to develop the skills we know they need.

They are limited not by their abilities, but by our lack of flexibility in making the shift.


Even though this research has been around for decades, many educators continue to depend completely on the “stand and deliver; sit and learn” full-frontal lecture method. If we were to be really honest with ourselves, we know intuitively that this isn’t working.



Teachers are good people who are committed to their students and want to do what’s best for them. Yet what they’re doing isn’t working. They know this, but they continue to do it. Why? There is an unprecedented pressure on educators today. As our students are failing, fingers are being pointed at teachers. In many cases, teachers’ salaries and employment are being tied to student performance.

Governments are demanding that more information be taught than there are hours available in the student’s career. At the same time, millions of dollars are being slashed from budgets. In the panic to meet the mandates, teachers are attempting to cram as much information into students’ heads as possible. Many students are seeing education as a 16-year process of slowly and painfully memorizing facts that can be Googled in seconds. The result is that they are tuning out and leaving school in unprecedented numbers—in some cases more than 50 percent of students. As we discussed earlier, this is happening not just in high schools but also in universities.

It’s time to shift the instructional approach away from talking as teaching to problem- and process-based learning. In the 21st-century classroom, we must move the responsibility for learning from the teacher, where it traditionally has been, to the student, where it should be. Students must become active participants in their education. The teacher becomes the facilitator of learning, posing real-world problems that have relevance to the learners and guiding them through the process of creating a real-world solution. It’s up to the students to decide how best to communicate their understanding. The learning is not scripted, and it doesn’t limit students—they have the opportunity to explore, to communicate, and to create.

While it is not an easy shift, it is very rewarding – for both teachers and students.


As the 21st-century learning environment revolves around real-world problems, teachers must transition to be crafters of these problems. A well-written scenario that connects real-world relevance to the learner, cultivates the 21st-century fluencies, and addresses curricular objectives sounds like a lot to ask for.

Road to Truth (Buddha quote) Ver 02


Like any skill, it takes time to develop. It also takes a willingness to make mistakes – that is what debriefing is all about – and finding a way to do it better next time.

In the next chapter, we walk you through the process of developing scenarios. We also provide samples and templates of the unit plans we have created for our 21st Century Fluency Kits. This next chapter is the real meat of this book, so let’s get at it and have some fun transforming your classroom into a 21st-century learning environment.


This guest-post is adapted from Chapter 10 of Ian, Andrew and Lee’s new book Literacy is NOT Enough

  1. Thanks for an interesting and inspiring read. I have been trying to locate the report by the Bertelsmann Foundation you mentioned in your post, but haven’t been able to find it. Can you pass on the full reference please?

    • Meghan,

      Thank you – I’m sure Lee, Andrew and Ian will be thrilled you enjoyed it 😉

      My apologies – I actually meant to hot-link it (getting old)!

      The Bertelsmann Foundation study is often dated as “1998” – this is based on the report prepared for the Foundation by Reeves:

      Reeves, C. T. (1998). The impact of media and technology in schools –

      Obviously, Reeves’ interest is pretty clear – and the report builds on a lot of earlier work into the power of learning “with” technology and the value of computers as “cognitive tools” – but he also links this to wider “media” and the importance of “constructivism” to effective teaching and learning.

      However, the actual study is from 1993 (actually called “hypertext literacy” studies back in the day):

      Lehrer, R. (1993). Authors of knowledge: Patterns of hypermedia design. In S. P. Lajoie & S. J. Derry (eds.), Computers as cognitive tools (pp. 197-227). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

      And, also Lehrer’s other similar work:

      Lehrer, R., Erickson, J., & Connell, T. (1994). Learning by designing hypermedia documents. Computers in Schools, 10(1-2), 227-254.

      The guys at the 21st Fluency Project use the Bertelsmann Foundation study to establish a context for all those “doubting Thomass” – as do the people at CompassLearning ( – who also link the Bertelsmann study to a wide range of research and models.

      This is similar to a lot of the research done for Apple’s Classroom of Tomorrow (ACOT) initiative and “challenge-based learning” ( – and other approaches that seek to help learners leverage the technology they use in their daily lives to solve real-world problems (a la PBL).

      Hope this helps. Thx for popping in 😉


  2. Fantastic articles – thanks for the references 🙂 What I found most interesting in Reeves’ article was how slow of a process it is for teachers to make the change from traditional teaching methods, with the author claiming that it took ‘years of of experience before they adopted more innovative strategies’. The uphill battle continues!

    • I know – so long ago (nearly 20 years – but so “relevant” today). Of course, all these things take time – it’s not really about LEARNing or TEACHing, you know! It’s all about change and “adaptation” – or “human development” (we teachers are, after all, “human” too – so many parents and kids forget this) but I loved all the reports this year about educators “taking over” the WWW 😉

      This having been said – we all need to remember that it is not the hardware, the software or the webware. It’s the headware, the heartware and the careware 😉

      Teachers, really…..rule;-) Have a great Xmas………

      Take care,


  3. Exceptional. It can be easy in a higher education environment (as opposed to private language school, for example) to slip back into the traditional style of learning due to a number of factors (e.g. classroom setup, environment, etc.) and your post is a great reminder (or trigger) to consider what works for the students better long-term. Onus be on us to make that change.

    • Thx Tyson – I’m sure Ian, Andrew and Lee would be more than happy to agree with you. As I noted to Meghan – the actual study is quite “old” but shows the impact of “some other C’s” – constructivism, choice (for learners), control (the student variety) …and change 😉

      Thx for dropping in – have a great Xmas 😉


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