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15 February: Gestalt and problem solving

15 February 2011

The loose ends of the behaviourism session which we discussed at the start of today’s session were based on the response to the post-its on 8 February.

A propos of the concluding remarks about behaviourism–see here. (Erich Fromm was a psychoanalyst.)

Reading groups

You mentioned Rueven Feuerstein’s emphasis on teaching thinking skills rather than content–largely through detection of patterns, which fits well with today’s work on Gestalt. As so often, the stuff on the net is advocacy and PR rather than critical evaluation, but you could look at;

But much of the discussion went back to behavioural theory and its applicability, particularly in respect of behaviour management;

And the origins of willy-nilly are explored here.

Here’s an earlier version of today’s presentation:

The basic page for this session is here.

The original version of Betty the Crow’s tool-making comes from here. There’s a good popular article here. More generally here’s a TED talk on corvid intelligence:

…and here is a crow doing the same sequential tool process as the chimp in the presentation (mutatis mutandi):

One example of crows using stones to raise the water level is here.


We discussed constructivism as an aspect of cognitive theory, and touched on how its applicability varies according to discipline; in particular I mentioned the distinction between convergent and divergent subjects (note that the link focuses principally on the claimed “thinking styles” and discusses the epistemological issues only in passing).

If the qualitative shift of Gestalt theory represents “getting it” and “the penny dropping” etc. then the corresponding occasions within the curriculum for  that happening are known as “threshold concepts“. Follow the link and don’t come back until you get it!

The place of “deliberate practice” in skill development, and the origin of the “10,000 hours” principle can be traced back to this article by Ericsson et al. (1993).

Kuhn’s ideas on paradigm shifts are summarised here. The reference is: Kuhn T S (1970) The Structure of Scientific Revolutions Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Learning to pole-vault: Mittelstaedt’s (1958) paper is both obscure and technical; but his distinction is between behaviour which can be adjusted through feedback (shooting a rifle) and that which cannot be interrupted, so that learning comes through repetition of the complete act (clay-pigeon shooting with a shotgun is his example, but diving from a board is another) otherwise known as calibration. For a (more) accessible account and a full reference see Bateson, G and Bateson, M C (1988) Angels Fear London; Century Hutchinson pp. 42-46.

The case of  S.B., the man who regained his sight in his 50s, is generally covered here and more systematically here.

The concave mask illusion is illustrated here, with a commentary by Richard Gregory, who also did the case-study above (there are more examples on YouTube):

Oh! In view of references yet again to neurology, you may enjoy this.


All but one pink this week. And the blue one was iffy!

“How is Wikipedia for these theories?” Not bad at all. This is not a terribly contentious area so the pages are fairly stable and reliable. Hint: don’t just look at the page, click on the “Discussion” and “View History” tabs at the top of the page to get a feel of how it is shaping up. And Wikipedia now flags when the standard of scholarship is not what might be expected (as it does for Gestalt).

“I’m still confused about how this applies to my teaching…” “Really is approaching teaching styles and methods?” These comments echo Graham’s concerns in class…

What’s the difference between the average canteen chef and Heston Blumenthal? HB assembles his dishes from first principles, based on a deep understanding of ingredients and the physics and chemistry of what cooking does to food. The canteen chef has learned the procedures to implement recipes devised (and often part-cooked) by someone else.

Even Petty’s Evidence-based Teaching is principally a recipe book, although he does explore the underlying principles. It’s immediately relevant and practical and useful, but ultimately limiting. This unit is about the ideas and models underpinning the recipes, so that you can create your own snail porridge, and bacon-and-egg ice-cream, and worm pizzas (so to speak).

“The understanding of patterns applies only to certain types of learning. Is this correct or too narrow?” Good question. It’s correct (insofar as anything is in this business). As we discussed with behaviourism, every approach to learning has its own “range of convenience” or basically “what it is good for”:

…and indeed some people are now arguing that this is not a reflection of the inadequacy of the theories, but of our failure to realise that the label “learning” is really much too broad, and it embraces a wide range of different processes involing different parts of the nervous system in different ways–but this is all very speculative.

“More on Threshold Concepts, please.” You may regret asking for that!

For the week after next… Intelligence

  • Curzon Pt 7.
  • Jarvis M (2005) ch. 3
  • Gould (1997) Critical account and a big read!
  • Gardner (1993/2006) (New ed. due in April)
  • Dweck (1999)

or Gross or any of the standard textbooks.

My main page on this is here, but I hope to up-date and add to it over half-term if I have the time.

So have a good half-term, but watch this space…

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