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David Mazella's picture


The boredom question is very important, because students, especially younger and less experienced students, get very anxious if they feel that they're just "flailing around," which quickly reverts to boredom and disengagement if the teacher does not respond in some way to their worries.

I think Anne's citation from the Willingham piece on the "Privileged Status of Story" provides some clues here, because it argues that storytelling derives its pedagogical power from its ability to encourage "medium range inferences."

If students are asking questions the way they're supposed to, the first thing they will want to find, according to Willingham, is causal relationships. Yet causality is a principle that can only be discerned after repeated empirical observations, and even then will seem "speculative" until many others confirm and validate the observation as significant and regular. (And can inexperienced students even recognize the causality that a trained researcher would notice?)

So the inquiry model runs up against its first obstacle when students try to move to slightly more generalized or predictive accounts, (are these observations?), something along the lines of Willingham's "medium-level inferences." This, I think, is what Willingham meant when he said that puzzles are fun only when they are not TOO difficult nor TOO easy to work out. I suspect that good teaching depends on a similar spectrum of difficulty, in order to sustain student engagement.

Finally, I think both the humanities and the sciences demand a similar level of "sitzflesh" from beginning students, but I don't know if students in the sciences complain that their teachers have ruined their appreciation of nature.


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