Part 2: How Do Virtuosos Differ from Artisans?
Within the domain of expertise, what is the difference between routine experts (what Bransford calls "artisans") and adaptive experts (what Bransford calls "virtuosos")? And what are the implications for teaching and learning?
In his informal essay "Thoughts on Adaptive Expertise," Bransford describes routine experts in the following way:
"Routine experts ('artisans'). . .tend to accept the problem and its limits as stated. . . Their approach to these tasks is primarily to find things that they have done before that can be applied to the new situation. They attempt to 'get the problem solved' as efficiently as possible and then move on to the next task."
Note the emphasis here on the routine expert's focus on solving rather than framing or even reframing the problem. Yes, problems eventually need to be solved. Bransford's work, however, takes a step back and gives studied attention to posing the problem--and, in the process, to making explicit one's tacit assumptions and to testing them against various criteria, in the same spirit, I believe, as John Dewey at the turn of the 20th century in the original notion of progressive education.
In characterizing routine experts, Bransford goes on to state,
"Routine experts continue to learn throught their lifetimes, but the learning tends to be one of becoming increasingly efficient at doing what they have been doing, and perhaps of adding a few new tricks along the way. Studies of cigar rollers in a cigar company showed that they kept getting faster over time.
Being a routine expert is great if one's world stays stable. About 40 years ago, adolescents could learn how to fix cars from their Dad or Mom and turn this into a lifelong area of employment. today, good car mechanics have to undergo rigorous training about every 6 months because there is so much change."
Stability is not a notable feature of the early 21st century, while change is one of its defining characteristics. The adaptive expert (virtuoso), as described by Bransford, offers, then, a better profile for the kind of learner we seek to cultivate:
"Compared to routine experts, adaptive experts are more likely to relish challenges that require them to 'stretch' their knowledge and abilities. They tolerate ambiguity, at least for a while, and they think of themselves as people who know a lot, yet still know little compared to all that is knowable. They are particularly aware of the 'assumptive nature of knowing'. . .and they are are able to 'let go' of these assumptions without feeling overly threatened."
In chapter 2 ("How Experts Differ from Novices") in How People Learn, Bransford drives home the centrality of adaptive expertise in promoting "successful learning":
"The concept of adaptive expertise (Hitano and Inagaki, 1986) provides an important model of successful learning. Adaptive experts are able to approach new situations flexibly and to learn throughout their lifetimes. They not only use what they have learned, they are metacognitive and continually question their current levels of expertise and attempt to move beyond them. They don't simply attempt to do the same things more efficiently; they attempt to do things better. A major challenge for theories of learning is to understand how particular kinds of learning experiences develop adaptive expertise or 'virtuosos.' "
In what kinds of experiences, indeed, can we engage our children in our effort to cultivate within them adaptive expertise? Both Dan Pink and Steve Zades offer us frameworks. In A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future, Pink states that we are entering the Conceptual Age in which we will need to complement our more left-directed linear reasoning with six more right-directed aptitudes or senses, which are:
Design (“Today it’s economically crucial and personally rewarding to create something that is also beautiful, whimsical, or emotionally engaging”)
Story (“The essence of persuasion, communication, and self-understanding has become the ability to fashion a compelling narrative”)
Symphony (“Synthesis—seeing the big picture, crossing boundaries, and being able to combine disparate pieces into an arresting new whole”)
Empathy (“[L]ogic alone won’t do. What will distinguish those who thrive will be their ability to understand what makes their fellow woman or man tick, to forge relationships, and to care for others”)
Play (“In work and in life, we all need to play”)
Meaning (“Purpose, transcendence, and spiritual fulfillment”).
A question worth exploring in schools--all schools from early childhood through graduate school--is this: What might a school day look like if we strategically incorporated and drew on these six right brain-directed aptitudes or senses in our design of curriculum? In the experiences we provide children? In our pedagogical approaches?
Similarly, in Mad Dogs, Dreamers, and Sages: Growth in the Age of Ideas, Steve Zades (and his Creative Odyssey) offers seven "Tools for Developing Imaginative Intelligence." Again, what might a school day look like if we strategically incorporated and drew on these tools in our design of curriculum? In the experiences we provide children? In our pedagogical approaches?
Discovery ("The process of finding new insight, knowledge, and invention. Discovery requires risk, experimentation, mistakes and failures. Dead-ends and messy explorations often spawn our greatest successes.")
Story ("The vessel for values, identity, purpose, and personality. Story is a rich resource providing a wealth of identity, powerful kinds of knowing, and insightful understanding.")
Conversation ("The genuine interactions for listening, changing, growing, and bringing a fuller range of vision to your own experience.")
Contradiction ("The unlikely connections of knowledge provide portals for breakthroughs. . .Through contradictions. . .you discover things you didn't anticipate; they become new opportunities to build on.")
Voice ("An artesian well, voice is the best resource of each person. . .Being heard is the act of being transformed.")
Sketchpad ("The process of getting to our most potent ideas. Focusing on developing ideas as works-in-progress rather than final form and outcome, the sketchpad process encourages us to cycle ideas rapidly and explore their furthest reaches without losing momentum. It requires intuition, resourcefulness, experimentation, curiosity, courage, and collaboration.")
Space ("A nourishing environment. A source of stimulation, inspiration and communication. . .The role of leadership is to conceive, design and utilize space in a way that enhances planned and spontaneous interactions while connecting disciplines of knowledge.")
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The virtuoso learners--the adaptive experts--we seek to cultivate in our schools thrive in environments in which play and meaning, discovery and contradiction, space and voice, story and empathy are embraced and deeply embedded in the fabric of teaching and learning. Summit provides just such an environment.
-- Michael Ebeling, Head of Summit School
Friday, February 13, 2009
Part 2: How Do Virtuosos Differ from Artisans?