If anyone asks why so much educational theory is seen as irrelevant by practising teachers, the answer is simple. IT IS IRRELEVANT! Why is it irrelevant? I think a lot of it is irrelevant, not because of WHAT it says, but because of HOW it says it.
It's what I call the Give-a-dog-a-BIG-name syndrome and render it impotent to all but the few initiates. Most of us can recognize a good, practical, useful dog when we see one, but who would woof with enthusiasm at 'Quadripedal hirsute carnivorous biped's comrade'?
It's not a joke. I've spent a lot of time in the last couple of months eyeball-deep in educational theory, so I'm living proof that a practising teacher can survive, and even benefit from a thorough dunking in the stuff. Just occasionally this prolonged dunking sets off a sequence of light bulbs in the head. This is truly exciting - a refreshing and energising experience for a soggy-lunged, long-toothed cynic. So why am I saying it is irrelevant when it has clearly enhanced my epistemic fluency? Let's take the case of epistemic fluency'.
All that this obnoxious term 'epistemic fluency' means is a case of the cognitive trots! So wouldn't it help us if they told us this?
Given my dreadful commercial background, I'll write advertising copy and you can work out whether your class needs a dose of epistemic fluency:
KNOWLEDGE OUT OF INFORMATION
Do your students suffer from cognitive constipation? Can they
make knowledge from information with ease and fluency?
Do they have all the skills and strategies they need to make
knowledge out of information?
Information lies around in books, in people, in Encarta, in the
Internet. To make information into knowledge that is relevant
and personally meaningful you need to work on it, just like you
use cooking strategies to transform raw ingredients into scrumptious
edibles. Think about your class. Can they:
• use comparing and contrasting strategies?
• use maps, tree diagrams, cognitive webs, spidergrams and other
• formulate a problem; analyse the problem; formulate relevant
• work out cause and effect; goodies and baddies, shades of grey?
• see the wood for the trees; isolate critical events and features?
• prioritise and make lists; work out stages?
• work out patterns, like trends and cycles, pros/cons?
If they can, they are epistemically fluent, potentially successful
members of a knowledge-building community.
If they can't they need A DOSE OF EPISTEMIC FLUENCY to give them
the cognitive trots!
When you actually work out what it is, the message is valuable.
In our gallop to implement new curricula, are we neglecting some
of the basic learning skills and strategies that help students
TO HELP THEMSELVES to turn information into knowledge?
The problem with inflating the language is that it takes an interpreter
to stop us feeling inadequate, and to make us realise that we're
already DOING a lot of it. Anyone who can play "I spy" and "animal,
vegetable, mineral" has most of what they need to be 'epistemically
fluent' if teachers make the links and make the opportunity for
them to practise these epistemic games in the context of curriculum
No sweat! All we need is a little nudge from time to time to
tell us to remember to talk to our students about learning strategies,
to make opportunities to model them in action, to link them to
what students can do, and give them the chance to learn the names
of these tools and practise using them. Learning is a lot easier
and more enjoyable if you have the right tools and use them well.
Learning happens in the head, so you need cognitive tools for
epistemic fluency. Whoopee!