This is the third blogpost expanding on the TouchPaper Problems first discussed at #Researched2013 and due to be tackled at the first TouchPaper Problem Party.
Question #3 – If a child needs to remember 20 chunks of knowledge from one lesson to the next, what is the most effective homework to set?
One of the most frustrating moments as a teacher is when you ask students to recap something from a previous lesson and there is silence. “Come you!” you say, “We went over this yesterday! None of you remember the dates of WWI/Hamlet’s occupation/the word for salad in Spanish?!”
Thing is, human minds are not brilliant at remembering things from one point in time to another. We need to (a) pay attention to the item in the first place, and (b) turn it over in our minds enough that it moves from our short-term memory to our long-term memory. Classrooms are not always good for attention. I cannot be the only teacher who has had the experience of teaching a class packed full of knowledge for the students to only remember, often in precise detail, the part of the lesson when a bee came into the room. They can tell you which window it entered, who spotted it, the look on Miss’ face when she realised her lesson was shot, how the subsequent screams and chase sequence went, and even where mr bumblebee met his death. But the rest of the lesson – GONE.
One way to get around this is we set homework I used to set vocabulary tests all the time. “Here, learn these words I would say”, passing out a leaflet with information from our lesson and hoping that somehow the motivation to do well in a subsequent vocabulary test was enough. But: is “learn these words” really the best I could do?
Was there not, perhaps, something more specific I could have set students?
What if I had said: Every day between now and next week say these words every morning when you wake up and every night when you go to bed. Would that have been better?
On the one hand it is more specific, so students who don’t really know how to just “learn this” would at least have something to do. But on the other hand, would it actually motivate students? If I didn’t test them, would they really have learned it? And would it even have worked? Would it have actually increased their memory between the two?
I don’t know is the honest answer. It’s why I set this as one of the problems.
There’s also the additional factor that many people think rote learning isn’t enough. Some people will say that they can’t just say words every day, they need to do something with them. If so, might it be better if I get my students to select an activity – rewrite the words, say the words, or do actions for the words. [Yes, that’s the old visual-auditory-kinaesthetic idea that I know deeply divides people. Stick with me though, we’re just thinking through the possibilities….]
In the end, it is a puzzle. We have things we learn in one lesson and we will learn them through a variety of activities depending on the lesson plans, resources, textbooks, etc, that we have. And then we have homework. And then we have another lesson that builds on that original knowledge. The solution to the puzzle lies in figuring out how that homework part of the equation can most effectively bridge the other two parts.
Any answers? Let us have them in the comments!