Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Scientific Breakthroughs in Effective Teaching

Ya gotta love science and its way of replacing assumptions with facts about how things really work. A recent NY Times article describes several such points about teaching methods that we can implement to improve our teaching. Even if you don't take the time to revise your syllabus right now, just being aware of these tips can steer you toward greater effectiveness.

Click here to read the brief article, and I'll summarize the main points for those who don't have time.

1. Quality of homework matters more than quantity.
2. Neuroscientists, cognitive scientists and educational psychologists have made a series of remarkable discoveries about how the human brain learns.
3. Implementing these elements have caused test scores to rise between 13 and 50% (in the incidents mentioned in the article).
4. Technique 1: “Spaced repetition.” Exposing ourselves to information repeatedly over time fixes it more permanently in our minds, by strengthening the [associated] neural networks.
5. Technique 2: “Retrieval practice.” Being "tested" or calling information FROM our brains as opposed to reading, reviewing, making notes, and putting it INTO our brains again is far more effective at cementing that knowledge.
6. "Another common misconception about how we learn holds that if information feels easy to absorb, we’ve learned it well. In fact, the opposite is true." The harder we work at learning something, the better we learn it. Researchers have intentionally made things harder to study (small font, blurry characters, punctuation errors, etc.) with positive learning results.
7. Technique 3: "Interleaving." Rather than having three similar story problems in a row, interleave them with dissimilar ones. When the student doesn't know what to expect next, s/he has to think harder and will learn better.

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