letting my social brain do its thing at the RSA

February 26, 2010 at 3:14 pm 4 comments

Originally uploaded by floridapfe

by Alec Patton

I just got back from an excellent seminar on ‘the social brain and the curriculum’ at the RSA. Really good speakers: from the Wellcome Trust Centre for NeuroImaging, Prof. Chris Frith and Dr. Ben Seymour; from the RSA Social Brain project, Dr. Matt Grist; from Loughborough University, Lewis Goodings; and Prof. Neil Mercer, from the University of Cambridge, who heads up the Thinking Together project.

Some really compelling stuff – glancing back at my notes, there’s (among many other things) the evolutionary basis for altruism (because in the long term, individual survival depends on group survival), evidence that the plasticity of our brains means that we learn best through practice (in both senses of the word), evidence from a recent study that problem-solving by people working in pairs has better outcomes than by the most able member of the pair working alone, and the evidence (see Hart and Risley, 1995) that the amount of talk going on around a kid at home in the early years is a strong predictor of future success.

None of this stuff is surprising – and yet all over the world, schools expect students to learn by listening to lectures, and do most of their work as individuals – and actively discourage cooperation (think of what happens when two students ‘cooperate’ on an exam!)

Of course, assessing group work is tough, and isolating individual contributions will never be as effective as just making students work alone in the first place. In educational discourse, this tends to get used as an unanswerable argument – ‘Measurement of outcomes will be less simple, and probably less reliable. Well, we don’t want that. Conversation over.’

What this means is that the basic structures of mainstream education will run counter to all we know about how people learn, until we accept the radical notion that the measurability of student outcomes is less important than the quality of those outcomes.

update: you can now see video from the event here

Entry filed under: Education & Children's Services.

New Information = Better public services Going with the grain…..

4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Tom  |  February 26, 2010 at 4:31 pm


  • […] of human behaviour is the obvious thorn of assessment. As the Innovation Unit’s Alec Patton blogged on Friday, cooperation between students when it comes to assessment is currently constituted as a cardinal […]

  • […] they spend training their students for tests – this is the cost of what I described before as valuing measurability over quality. Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)Melinda Gates on educationWhat makes an effective […]

  • 4. Links for March 2010 II  |  April 9, 2010 at 1:14 pm

    […] Alec Patton on the RSA’s seminar on the Social Brain and education […]


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