The Fundamental Principle of Teaching and Learning

Today, teaching is a challenging task we face due to such high expectations from education.  Many educators’ have taken on the hard work of developing strategies and thus we have seen many positive improvements to education.  However, we find that there is still a missing piece in the education-jigsaw-puzzle.  The problem is that it is not very clear ‘what is the missing piece?’  In this article, we will explore what this missing piece might be in teaching practice, and how to fit this piece to finalize the education-jigsaw-puzzle.

What is the missing piece in education?

We understand that the “goal” of education can vary among different institutions.  It could be ‘critical thinking’, ‘communication’, ‘acquiring knowledge’ and many more.  With these different goals, it seems difficult to find a common goal that represents everything.  As different fields cover different area, each institute has to provide diversity of subjects.  The question is, “Is there one universal goal that stands for everything?” 

As discussed in the article ‘Unique in general, ‘making connections’ can stand for general teaching methods.  While students make connections based on concepts, they will build their knowledge and thus, they will know what to do next.  Making connections and building knowledge are the bases of ‘what to do next’.  This means that ‘what to do next’ is the result of education.  We can refer the phrase ‘what to do next’ as judgment or decision-making.  Thus, the ultimate goal of education is to teach students how to make decisions.  Our life is filled with decision-making opportunities; leaders of societies, companies, or governments make decisions every single moment.  It is not just those people who are in the leadership positions.  Every single person is making a decision every waking moment.  This implies that decision-making is the biggest part of our life and education should be designed to teach students to be able to make decisions based on the knowledge they have learned.  Thus, decision-making is the missing piece in the puzzle.  Let us examine ‘how to fit this piece into the education-jigsaw-puzzle to finalize it. 

It is obvious that each institute provides the best of their resources to ensure that their students will be good decision makers.  But we find only a limited number of students turn out to be efficient decision makers.  It is also not surprising to see that many people with even higher (post-graduate) education do not make proper decisions for a given situation, even though they were trained to do so.  This means that education is not effective enough to teach ‘how to make a decision based on what they learned.’  In other words, the education provided does not really educate to make general decision makers.  This implies that many students are not able to take what they learned from their classrooms and apply it to real life situation.  The question is then, ‘how can we generalize the education to make students to be a decision maker by applying what they learn?’

Key to make decisions – Logical thinking by making connections of learning materials

As we all clearly understand, the decision-making should be based on logical thinking and learning.  This implies that logical thinking should be taught together with learning materials.  Many educators assume learning materials include logical thinking and instead deliver only the teaching materials.  The reason so many educators end up this way is because it is the students who are holding the key to their education, which is ‘asking questions.’  Since asking questions is the best way to develop logical and critical thinking with lecture materials, it seems not easy to teach logical and critical thinking unless students ask questions.  For example, let us use a scenario of a learning topic of ‘wind, temperature, and storms.’  In order to develop logical thinking, students should ask questions like, ‘what are wind, temperature, and storms and how are they related?’  By asking these questions, when the educator provides the information about the air circulation due to temperature, etc., students will make that connection of ‘temperature – air circulation – wind – storms’ all together.  In this way, students learn not only about the characteristics of air movements but also connections to other related topics by thinking logically.  If there aren’t any questions, there will be plain delivery of air and temperature independently and connections cannot be made.  This can be done from the students’ end where they think about the learning topics by making connections and reading the lecture materials provided before class.  However, many students neither study before the class nor know how to study properly.  So instead, is there a way from educators end to teach students to make connections of each learning material to develop their logical and critical thinking?

Asking questions to students

Making connections of learning material is the basis of logical and critical thinking.  Making connection can be compared with wiring a series of bulbs.  Considering the same example above, we can consider temperature, air, air circulation, wind, and storms as bulbs.  For many students, these bulbs are not connected together.  In other words, they are not lit.  This means that they know the bulbs are there (most of the time) but they don’t know how to hook to bulbs together so they will light.  In other words, students do not know how to utilize the knowledge.  To make students use the bulbs (teaching materials), educators should help them wire the bulbs.  As mentioned above, the best way to wire them is for the students to ask questions.  Since the best method is not available majority of time, we should consider the second-best method; that is for educators to ask questions to students to promote logical and critical thinking.  This brings us to, ‘what are the questions to promote students’ logical thinking?’

Asking the RIGHT questions to students

Asking questions is the key to make connections among the concepts but this doesn’t mean that any questions will work.  Let’s consider an example using global warming and a question like, ‘what would be the solution to global warming?’  This seems to be a valid question to ask during class.  However, if we take a closer look at the question, we notice that the question only encourages students to think similar solutions that are already published.  Once in a while, a few students may contribute very unique ideas, but for the most part, many students would end up bringing similar ideas that are already out there.  Thus, this question will not effectively promote students’ logical and critical thinking.  To promote students’ logical and critical thinking, an educator should ask a series of questions such as, ‘what is global warming? or ‘why is it a problem?’ as discussed in article ‘delivering concepts.  By exploring each field related to global warming, students can make a connection between the lecture materials and finally learn where to look to solve problems.  From this point, students can start thinking logically and critically.  The difference between these two questions comes from whether there is preconceived notion by the educator.  In the first case, asking students to think of solutions means that there are solutions already.  If students are given this question, they will bring solutions which are not different from others because the educator already put expectation that there are solutions and global warming is a problem.  However, the second question is simply providing opportunity for students to search and connect each different field because there is no premade decision whether global warming is real or not.  Since students have to start from the facts and start making connections each fact, they will realize the seriousness of global warming as well as the nay-sayers and think about what to do to solve the problems.  By asking question that is not defined as ‘good or bad’ or ‘real or not’, students will try to find the definition of the questions and will try to understand what it means before being biased to one side.  In other words, the educator’s job is just to help students connect all the different pieces of information while thinking logically.  Thus, questions that do not hold the preconceived bias are the key for student to develop logical thinking.

Teaching how to make decision

As discussed above, the questions that are not predefined is very important to promote students’ logical thinking.  Then, how does this related to making decisions?  Let’s consider the second question from the previous example to see how ‘questions that are not predefined’ is related to ‘decision-making.’  The question with missing definition is leading students to explore each field step by step to understand the question.  This means they are learning by themselves and while they are learning, they will identify the problems.  By knowing the problems, they will think about solutions.  In other words, students will develop solutions after taking lectures other than exploring solutions from others.  This makes big differences.  Here is another example, from ‘education in childhood,’ to better understanding this point.  If a child leaves toys on the floor and his mom says ”clean up,” it means that the mother has already set the rules and the child should follow.  In this case, the child doesn’t have to think but just follow.  However, when the child is asked, – “where do the toys belong after you are done playing?” then the child will start to think logically and decide by himself to clean up.  In other words, asking questions that do not have any judgment or that are not predefined promotes learners to think logically and to make decision based on their learning.  One more important question to ask is – what about students?

Learning how to make decision

Since skills needed in decision-making should be built by developing logical thinking while connecting concepts, students will learn how to make decisions with a given topic during class.  However, some students who do not research on their own wouldn’t be able to make proper decisions for cases other than the topics covered during class.  This is because the connections are made by educators.  As stated above, the best way is for students to ask questions but many aren’t trained to do so.  This means that the most important learning material for students is not knowledge but ‘how to ask the right questions.’  When educators connect concepts, students will start thinking logically.  As they start thinking logically while connecting the concepts, they would start asking a series of questions.  With trial and error in asking questions, students will learn ‘how to ask the right questions.’  When they are able to ask the right questions, the goal of education is achieved.  Thus, what students should learn from educators is ‘HOW TO ASK THE RIGHT QUESTIONS’.