Friday, May 6, 2016

"Oh yeah! I kind of remember that..."

It's the end of my academic year working with interns and student teachers  - I have seen a lot of really good teaching and some - not.  Its a good time for me to reflect on the idea of ' learning'

Try a little experiment with yourself – think about a lecture, speech, sermon, or 'listening encounter' that you have had this 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.  Most of the time I can’t even remember what I had for dinner two nights ago. 

The watering can/ umbrella effect in education...
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 lunch…?  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.  

There are several different modifications of this chart - but they carry the same message... We tend to apply it more in school education than in presentations to adults... time to change
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 think that mitosis in part of animal 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  " "Everybody got that?" ...nopresponse... "Good now we can move on - 

I see this quite often...

Stop… this is a 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 they all “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 were part of ...or have you done it yourself?

Has this ever ben you?
When free discussion of a topic occurs in class - how much real learning happens 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...   It's humbling to discover 'not much'.  Good teachers do 'research' like this frequently to assess their own teaching success,

The following chart is attributed to William Glasser (educational psychologist )

     "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"

Sadly I frequently am part of adult meetings where it is assumed that if it is spoken... that is all that is needed - We adults need opportunities to assimilate new information too.
Whether you agree with his exact numbers or not - the basic concept we all know to be true from experience
I am seeing a few enlightened churches posting key questions in the bulletin and allowing time to reflect and write - also space to take notes for individual use. More and more in well run seminars the processing of ideas in taken into account... "There is more to learning and retaining than hearing the information one time!"

The Dale and Glasser pyramids 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.  
In a 'high stakes' exchange - Memory of first meeting with the one you love... a coach giving you instructions... The instructions on how to drive your new car...  The warning a police officer gives you... How intently focused  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?
Sharing of ideas crosses all cultures

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".

Learning by Conceptualizing - applying - acting - reflecting - conceptualizing what you have e learned...
We each have our own learning style - I take notes. I hear the idea, I process the idea mentally and choose words mentally, and then tactically - I write them down, I come back later and reread my notes.  If I need to really learn something from reading - I take notes as I read - this forces me to be alert and identify key ideas - rephrase - and write down...

 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 clear posted list of learning goals for the day, and for the unit.  The learning experience is presented with repeat 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. 

What we hear in emotional exchanges is often retained longer..

Developing your understanding of a concept is like a snowball rolling down hill.  You start with a basic understanding, then add more knowledge to  develop your basic understanding  A good teacher comes back and revisits important concepts with the students.  By reviewing, all students  reconnect 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.

I hope this doesn't apply to this blog