One of many cognitive scientists whose work I read, one of my favorites is Daniel T. Willingham of the University of Virginia. I do not always agree with what he says, but he offers some fantastic insights into teaching and learning. In his book, Why Don’t Students Like School? , he states the following”cognitive principle”:”Memory is the residue of the idea .”
What exactly does Willingham mean with this? He implies that our students don’t recall what we teach, they remember what they believe about what we teach. And that is a very important distinction.
You see educators often labor under a restricting self-delusion–that pupils should remember what we teach. By”teach” here, I truly mean”input” Obviously we select information to enter because that is the material we need our pupils to recall.
But remember that which Willingham said: pupils do not recall what we teach (enter ), they remember what they think about what we teach–that is, they remember what they process. So, if we actually want our pupils to bear in mind that the significant material from the program, we need to get much more informed and intentional about managing the processing portions of our lessons. If you do so, you will construct habits of lesson construction that will stick with you and who will benefit your pupils throughout the school year. Following are some of the key points concerning the processing for one to consider.
Less Input, Longer Processing
The very first issue you want to look at is the proportion of time spent throughout your average lesson on input vs. the percentage of time spent on calculating. Most teachers do a lot of input and do not provide pupils with enough processing time to encode the information. Remember, they really learn through the processing period, not during input.
Take a look back during your lesson programs and do a fast check. Look over your input chunks and decide how long you spent talking about topic A, or how long you had students reading about topic B, or how long the movie was that introduced students to the topic C. Then, do the same with your processing tasks –your peer conversations, your group stocks, your graphic organizer construction, your cooperative learning problem-solving tasks, etc.. Don’t count time spent on summative tests, as those aren’t really learning time. But, DO rely on ungraded or low-stakes on quizzing as processing actions, because that is what they are.
Are you doing 70% input and 30% processing? 60-40? 50-50? Whatever you do, get these numbers. Now, ask yourself,”Do I need to change the percentages a bit to perform a little less enter plus a bit more processing?” For most teachers, the answer to this question would be,”Yes.” I can not tell you what the perfect percentage of processing time ought to be, because it differs based on grade level, subject matter, your teaching style, and many other facets. Simply ask yourself the question frankly, and if you think some tweaking may be so, start figuring out how you could go about that.
1 fast acknowledgment before moving on to another point. I am aware that a few of you (maybe all of you) are thinking,”Yeah, but if I spend more time on processing tasks and less on input, I’ll never get through all of the info in the program.” I understand. It’s a real concern. Most colleges have an overstuffed curriculum that’s actually getting in the method of student learning. Trying to pay too much means you often spend too long on input and not enough on processing, and students usually do not learn much of everything you do cover. Talk about getting the opposite effect of what you desire!
Make Sure Students Procedure What You Want Them to Remember
The next major difficulty teachers encounter about processing has to do with getting students to recall exactly what you want them to remember. It is a really common issue. A teacher works hard through an input to cover all of the important information she needs her students to understand, but later on, finds out that what they recall from this input is nothing like what she wanted them to recall. I bet it’s (it surely has happened to me).
Let me give you an example. Let’s say that you’re a science teacher, and you also spend some lecture time talking about the life and achievements of Thomas Edison. Let us further say what you expect and anticipate your students to consider in the lecture chunk comprises the fact that he was among the first, if not the first, inventor to apply the fundamentals of mass production to innovation. Additionally, you expect your students to try to remember a number of the key inventions that Edison and his team were responsible for, including the light bulb, the phonograph, and the motion picture camera.
Let’s also say that, during that chunk of lecture you devote a small amount of time telling the stories of some of Edison’s more controversial endeavors and perspectives –including his link to state-sponsored executions (although he was a supporter of non-violence) through his debate that electrocution was a painless procedure of execution, and his perspectives on God (he was called by an atheist, though he was actually a supporter of Thomas Paine’s”scientific deism” and believed in a”Supreme Intelligence” that was much different than the God of the theologians.
Here is my question: if you were to provide some kind of assessment soon after finishing this chunk of lecture, then what will your pupils remember? Well, without any intervening processing activities, my guess is that your pupils are all over the area with their recall of the lecture. Another student would remember about the light bulb, but not the phonograph. And perhaps only a little number of the course would recall that Edison initiated a group invention procedure. There is 1 thing I am pretty certain about: more students would recall the info about Edison’s connection to the use of the electric seat for executions along with his views on faith than would remember the factual material you would like them to recall.
What’s this? Two reasons, mainly. First, the info about executions and spiritual views was likely presented longer in a story format compared to the factual information, and the mind is quite good at remembering tales. Secondly, the things about executions and religion are much more emotional; people are typically more interested in and emotionally spent in discussions of these subjects than in factual material.
Now, I’m probably not telling you anything you do not already understand. I’m confident that you’ve had the expertise (as have I) of instructing everything you thought to be some extremely important information and having your students concentrate on (and remember) something you said that you thought was totally tangential to the main lesson. So, what do we do about it? We get actual intentional about the processing activities we build into our lessons.
Therefore, for this particular example, you need to make sure the processing activities you have your pupils engage in after the chunk of a lecture on Edison compels them to process the group invention procedure and his important inventions. Maybe you have students fill out a graphic organizer such as a word web with”major inventions” in the center, Edison’s key inventions in the first ring of circles out from the middle, then a sentence about the effect of each creation on the planet now within another circle out. After students create these organizers, they can then do a fast pair share with a spouse to further assimilate those facts in their own minds.
You may then have them brainstorm in tiny groups the benefits of a team invention process over a single process. You could have each group share out their thoughts though you catch a complete list on graph paper to go in their notes. By having your students focus their processing tasks on just what you would like them to recall in the input signal, the chances go way up that this will indeed occur. Of course, they will still remember the stories about the electric chair and religious perspectives, but that’s OK–to you, that is just some cool, additional information. As long as they got the key information you would like them to retain, what do you really care if they also learn some additional”bonus” stuff?
Vary the Number of Students
Many educators get”stuck” using the exact same few processing activities repeatedly. By way of example, individual work like freewriting, journaling, or filling out a graphic organizer is fantastic for an individual pupil to think about a subject without the possibility of”freeloading” it at a group. On the other hand, if you use individual processing to the exclusion of other activities, pupils don’t get the advantage of hearing the thinking of other students that might nuance their understanding of the topic.
So, again, do a quick self-audit by going through the last month or so your lesson plans to see what processing activities you’ve been having your students do. Are you overly heavy on individual work? If this is so, consider ways you can mix this up a little with pair work and small group activities. Are you over-using your cooperative learning groups? If that’s the case, have students do more individual work or pair work, then have them report to their coop groups and use a group share arrangement for further processing.
Vary the Processing Activities Themselves
Besides changing the number of students involved in your processing activities, you may also consider finding a few new processing activities to grow your stockpile. As I mentioned previously, it’s easy to have”stuck” with the exact same four or five processing activities over and over. Whenever you do this, your lessons get stale for your students. They no longer grab their attention keep them engaged. And if they don’t engage in the processing activities, they do not do the mental work they need to do so as to solidify the learning.
So make a commitment to rotating in a few new processing activities into your upcoming lessons to keep your students curious.
Don’t Forget to Test
In the end, don’t neglect the testing effect. Ungraded (or grade, but for minimum factors ) quizzes at the end of the course period or a couple days following the initial processing forces retrieval and reprocessing and can go a long way toward solidifying the initial learning. They’re in reality a great deal more precious for apex learning answers that they’re for assessment.
I am hoping that these pointers and reminders concerning the significance and efficient use of processing actions are helpful. Happy teaching!