Friday, May 3, 2013

Memory is like a Slippery Fish...

 Photos this week were selected to show the range and power of human communication with words...Words that we assume lead to memory  Most of the black and white photos are the work of Henri Cartier-Bresson. 

Try a little experiment with yourself – think about a lecture, speech, or  'listening encounter' that you have had within the last week.  Now, sit down with a paper and pencil and see how many of the concepts and details from the talk you can jot down.  How did you do?  Most of us leave the lecture with a sense that "that was really interesting" or "boring" or "I really liked it a lot"...but at the same time we remember few details.  Heck, most of the time I can’t even remember what I had for dinner two nights ago. 

High School Class - Tanzania
Now imagine that you are 15 years old and its 4th period, just before lunch. The teacher is explaining the difference between mitosis and meiosis.  This student may be thinking, “  I’m starving – should I get pizza or a hot dog for lunch…? I wonder where that new cute girl eats…?  I wonder if she would talk to me if I sat down at her table?  All this time the teacher is explaining critical ideas about gamete production by meiosis.  The teacher is quite pleased because today everyone seems to be looking intently at her during the presentation. 

Henri Cartier-Bresson - Relaxing at Picnic
When the time comes to ask review questions about how mitosis and meiosis are alike and different – the first person passes – “I’m not sure…” The second student says that they both have something to do with cell division… “That’s correct – Can you tell us more?”…”Well, I think that only plants have meiosis”  …“No, animals have meiosis too. Would you like to call on someone to help you …?”  "Tayeisha will you help Jerome…" “Well with mitosis you end up with two identical cells that each have a full set of  chromosomes, but with meiosis you end up with two cells with only half as many chromosomes”. Teacher "Good now we can go on -  'What is a tetrad?" … 

Student group in Washington DC

Stop … hold the camera… this is the moment to examine…Clearly few of the students understood the difference between mitosis and meiosis and yet the teacher made the assumption that students upon hearing the correct answer suddenly  “got it”and that its safe to move on… "They heard it - they learned it - OK to move on"  Have you ever seen this is a class you observe ...or have you done it yourself?

Henri Cartier-Bresson - Neighbors
When free discussion of a topic occurs in class - how much permanent learning occurs  for students?  The discussion may be interesting for the moment - but sit down one on one with students the next day and have them tell you what they remember from the encounter...   Its humbling to discover 'not much'.  Good teachers do 'research' like this frequently.

Henri Cartier-Bresson - Civil Rights dispute

If you go to Google and ask ‘how much of what we hear do we retain?’ Generally  a very small number is listed... 

The following chart is attributed to William Glasser:

     "At the end of each day, the average person can remember:
      11% of what they heard that day
      30% of what they saw
      50% of what they heard and saw
      90% of what they did"

Such information, though often quoted, needs to be interpreted with a grain of salt.  Many factors determine how much we retain.  Think back to your own experiences about what  causes you to 'learn' and remember.  How intently interested are you in the topic affects retention, the authority of the speaker influences learning,  how much information is presented, did you relate positively to the speaker, are you sleepy or anxious?, how abstract is the content ?...  How long ago did the learning take place?

I know a local politician who had to read and remember vast amounts of information  before each city council meeting.  He found that it worked better for him if he read the materials just before the meeting.  He often quoted:  "Read no piece before its time".

Henri Cartier-Bresson: Tribunal end of WW II
 It is also true that the more senses that are involved in our learning the more we retain.  Most good teachers today begin with a careful section of learning goals for the day, and for the unit.  The learning experience is presented with multiple encounters with the concept using different learning modes.  We can choose to present ideas that require the student to listen, read, talk within teams of 2 or 4, lab activities, and more...  The challenge is to limit the number of concepts to be learned and then to provide adequate varied learning experiences. 

Henri Cartier-Bresson - Matadors

Good learning is like a snowball rolling down hill.  A good teacher comes back and revisits important concepts with the students.  By reviewing, everyone reconnects with past learning and then add on to it...  Facts learned individually get lost in the shuffle.

Make it a mantra for yourself - post it where you do your lesson plans - repeat it to yourself when you enter the classroom... "Hearing does not equal learning..."  Effective teachers are constantly on the search for better methods for how to make learning happen for all students .... It becomes a career long compulsion with good teachers to continue that search.

Henri Cartier-Bresson - Argument

Henri Cartier-Bresson - Blessing