School & District Management Report Roundup

Effort, Engagement, and Student Learning

By Sean Cavanagh — June 16, 2009 1 min read

Schools that often emphasize fun, student-centered classroom activities in instruction, and evolutionary processes over many generations have helped shape humans’ interest in those engaging social activities.

Yet for students to tackle new and difficult, or “evolutionarily novel” material in reading, math, and other subjects, schools need to emphasize effort and persistence.

That’s the argument put forward by David C. Geary, a professor of psychological sciences at the University of Missouri-Columbia, in a study. It was published in the October edition of the journal Educational Psychologist but publicized this month by the university’s press office. It focuses on the connection between evolution, culture, and the role of schools, which the author describes as “evolutionary educational psychology.”

The process of evolution, Mr. Geary says in the study, has resulted in students being able to acquire certain types of new knowledge and skills, such as language acquisition, in a relatively “effortless” manner through processes that are engaging. Schools have arranged lessons to suit those desires.

Yet evolution has not provided the necessary scaffolding to help students with challenging content, such as algebra and reading, Mr. Geary argues. Only determined effort in classrooms will help students meet that demand, he says.

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A version of this article appeared in the June 17, 2009 edition of Education Week

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