Promoting development

There is a vast literature exploring ways to promote development. Much of this literature focuses on speeding up development, some of it focuses on optimizing development. Although both approaches are intended to support development, there is evidence that approaches focused on optimizing development are likely to do a better job. This is because development involves two intertwined processes, differentiation (broadening and deepening knowledge) and integration. In plain(er) English, you get more adequate integrations at each level if you accomplish rich differentiation at the prior level.

When we code an assessment, we pay close attention to the degree to which the test-taker elaborates each of the sub-skills it targets. In our personal feedback, we note areas of strength and areas that appear to require further growth. The basic idea is to bring all of the sub-skills up to an optimal level of elaboration to support the emergence of next-level integrations.

Most of the readings we suggest are targeted one to two phases (1/4 to 1/2 of a level) above the level of a given performance. This practice has been shown to provide the ideal level of challenge (scaffolding) for optimal growth. We also suggest activities like engaging in discourse with peers, journaling, cultivating a habit of reflection, and improving metacognitive skills, all of which provide support for growth.

We do not teach people to think at higher levels. Higher levels of performance emerge when knowledge is adequately elaborated and the environment supports higher levels of thinking and performance. We focus on helping people to think better at their current level and challenging them to elaborate their current knowledge and skills—including the not-so-sexy nuts-and-bolts knowledge required for success in any context.

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4 thoughts on “Promoting development

  1. Interesting. I guess we’ve never really seen development being promoted or tailored this way before because of the fact that we haven’t been able to make these fine distinctions between levels in the past.

    I read this in the Hiearchical Complexity Scoring System Manual:

    “It is also suggested that whatever the upper limit may be for a particular individual, that ceiling is almost totally heritable. For example, there does not seem to be any variation among identical twins who have been provided with similar training. Providing additional training to both twins merely causes acceleration of transition in the slower twin, but only up to the limit achieved by the other twin, not beyond.”

    Do you have any general thoughts on this subject concerning predetermined ceilings? Also, do you think the results might be different if the twins used your way of promoting development? Future research? =)

    • I think there are almost certainly upper limits on attainable level that are determined by genetics and the early environment (including the fetal environment), but there is very little research on this subject and none of it is experimental. In any case, I think every society should work toward optimizing the development of all of its citizens, regardless of their genetic endowment, which means I’d rather see our research dollars go toward learning how to do that than demonstrating that there are limits. In any case, we are far more likely to obtain authoritative knowledge about limits if we learn to do a good job educating all people.

  2. Theo, this reminds me of what you said at JFK… that humans thrive on feedback that says “almost, not quite.” I think the speeding up development crowd remembers the “not quite” but not the “almost.”

    Hi Jonas! Fancy meeting you here… what a small world we travel in. Facebook me if you use it. Ha det bra!

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