We're heading off to the National Association of Gifted Children Convention, so we'll be away from the blog for a week. Expect our next post November 14th.
Functional brain imaging seems to be a great way to learn how we remember, so what does it imply for teaching?
Studies show that we will remember best if:
1. We have a personal reaction (emotion, empathy) to the material.
2. It's something new (repetition inhibits novelty-associated memory).
3. It's funny.
4. We're make decisions about the information (i.e. not passively read or watch)
5. It evokes imagery.
These concepts are familiar to many teachers, but how often are they the first tools a teacher, tutor, or parent reaches for when students have fallen behind? Motivation can play a huge role in mastery and memory for material, but we may have more impact on students than we think.
The brain study below shows the difference in brain activation depending on whether subjects were ask to make a decision about what was presented ("pleasant" or "unpleasant")- i.e. task memory vs. just memorizing information in a list. Just by having to relate to the information personally, brain activation for memory encoding and subsequent remembering (not shown here) shot up.
Wow, what a difference. This supports the benefit of "active reading" and think-aloud strategies and self-questioning, as well as lessons presented with playfulness and novelty.
In some cases, a student's greatest block may be that he doesn't know why something should matter to him. Some of the middle school malaise is a feeling that school has become a monotonous hamster wheel of deadlines, requirements, pointless memorization. Students may need to be energized "pre-discussions" that whet the appetite, novel or interesting tidbits or different views on lessons, and directed instruction that connects new information with real life or individual interests.
What this also implies is that teachers should be allowed to learn more about the real-world applications of the information they are given responsibility to teach. Here in the Seattle area, the University of Washington has programs for science teachers to learn from UW biologists. What about other disciplines - say math? law? business? computer technology or engineering?
We'll close with a quote from that excellent educator and observer William James:
"In mature life, all the drudgery of a man's business or profession, intolerable in itself, is shot through with engrossing significance because he knows it to be associated with his personal fortunes. What more deadly uninteresting object can there be than a railroad time-table? Yet where will you find a more interesting object if you are going on a journey, and by its means can find your train? At such times the time-table will absorb a man's entire attention, its interest being borrowed solely from its relation to his personal life. From all these facts there emerges a very simple abstract Programme for the teacher to follow in keeping the attention of the child: Begin with the line of his native interests, and offer him objects that have some immediate connection with these."
William James on Interest
Context and Remembering
Miall -- Emotion and the self: The context of remembering
Content, Novelty, Memory, and fMRI
Journal of General Psychology: Contextual Connections Within Puns: Effects on Perceived Humor and Memory
Think-Alouds Boost Reading Comprehension