Inquiry Book Study: Week Four

Welcome to week four of our inquiry book study – you can access the discussion from the first three weeks here.

Week Four: Play Out of Town
As vice president for technology and research at the Great Books Foundation, Mark Gillingham plans technology-related infrastructure, marketing, production, and service. Major projects include enterprise applications for web content, constituent management, and telephony; he is also responsible for technical development and analysis of web sites. In addition, Mark is engaged in tracking education and reading research. Mark has a doctoral degree in education from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and has been on the faculties of the University of Maryland, Washington State University, Michigan State University, and the University of Illinois-Chicago where he taught, managed programs, and conducted research. You can find Mark on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and at Wrigley Field.

David Perkins’ clever metaphor of playing the game of baseball works well for “transfer,” the
main idea of Chapter 4. Without transfer, there is no reason for instruction as we know it.
Without transfer, knowledge we applied to towers would never apply to holes; what we applied
to cars wouldn’t apply to trucks.

Transfer is complex with many ancillary topics: near and far transfer, negative transfer, Bo Peep transfer, high-road, and low-road transfer. Teachers who can create lessons in which students excel at transfer are performing a great feat. If our lessons don’t have strong cues that lead toward transfer “then the sheep do not come home” when placed in an out-of-town bin (the lost sheep theory).

At the Great Books Foundation, we promote Shared Inquiry Discussion–a form of critical
thinking. First, the teacher explores a concept of interest that is relevant to a story. This helps
elicit background knowledge and connections from the students. Then, the story is read (often
aloud) and students ask questions about it. During the second reading, readers are asked to
pause to engage in brief activities, which vary by age and ability. Then the teacher (or other
leader such as a peer) asks an interpretive question–one that is rich and authentic. Students
discuss this question completely giving everyone a turn. Usually, there is another activity that
includes writing or other creative response to the story. You can see other video examples from
grade 2 to middle school and adult discussion at our Vimeo channel.

In this example one may see that low-road transfer of decoding, vocabulary, reading strategies
can occur, especially if this sort of reading and re-reading are a normal part of a curriculum–
many games played in a season. High-road transfer occurs while finding evidence, formulating
questions, and listening to others. Each new story is a new game and each new interpretive
question is a new out of town playing field. For even further transfer, a new leader can be
chosen to ask the questions and lead the discussion (a game at a neutral field).

Motivation to expend effort in this game is usually very high because humans have opinions
and like to talk, but the cost of an opinion is evidence (a favorite quote from a volunteer leader). The junior versions of Shared Inquiry have to be carefully constructed so that the students can understand the story and find evidence in it.

Chapter 4 makes me wonder what other rich games we can play in classrooms to promote the
conditions for transfer and if the out-of-town (transfer) games serve all disciplines well.


One thought on “Inquiry Book Study: Week Four

  1. Thank you, Mark, for your post for the “Playing Out of Town” chapter. After a close read, I reflected on your links and Perkins’ illustrative examples of how good shepherding fosters the transfer of student learning. I am struck by the degree of intentionality required for good shepherding. Admittedly, I have spent a great deal of time negotiating the flawed logic of BoPeep transfer and of Lost Sheep transfer, while trying to master the “What?”, “Where?”, and “How?” of high and low road transfer mainly due to my slow response to barriers that often hijack learning.

    Perkins identifies transfer as “…mostly a front-end problem…” (p. 113) for an instructional design that intentionally incorporates opportunities for flexible thinking and elaboration to overcome the “common pattern of human learning, [a] fixation on surface characteristics” (p. 112). This suggests qualitative measures of Creativity; flexibility, fluency, originality and elaboration. It permeates as a Creative Problem Solving (CPS) framework where Perkins identifies the value of divergent thinking “…from a standpoint of learning by wholes, [whereby] transfer is a matter of building up rich extensible action repertoires – “games” that we mix and match for other occasions” (p. 114). CPS can be used for organizing a conceptual “mess” through divergent ideas that are subsequently converged upon toward a “best” problem solution (Osborne, 1967; Parnes, 1981).

    Mark, you asked about rich games to promote classroom conditions for transfer. I like this CPS framework to encourage students to intentionally think through topic selection for research projects, and for its accessibility for students at any level. Students are better equipped to handle the What? Where? and How? of the Junior Version of research, and they are less likely to be saturated by the topic by the project’s end.

    The most enduring message that Perkins has left with me from this chapter is to explicitly “teach thinking skills [that] have demonstrated considerable transfer of learning” (p. 121). Metaphorical and analogical thinking strategies are used in elaborations of “Inventing to Prepare for Learning (IPL) through cycles, and triggers, not unlike collaborative Problem Based Learning methodologies that I find challenging to replicate from a fidelity standpoint. The Northern Ireland and the Israeli – Palestinian conflicts represent “realistic analogies”, while the example of Ernesto Gore’s fabrication of organizational developments that help business clients toward insights into internal problems in their organizations reflects a “fantasy analogy.” Both types are elaborated upon in J.J. Gordon’s (1962) Synectics, a book devoted to the creative exploration of problem analysis. Analogical thinking scaffolds personal connections, access to multiple points of view and complex concepts that would otherwise be over students’ heads.

    Perkins saved the best for last in situating “transfer as importing” as a learning goal in his instructional design to incorporate high road metacognitive reflective abstraction, and low road threshold experiences of facing emotional barriers when students “play out of town”(p. 127). Easier said than done, but brilliant nevertheless.


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