January 20, 2011

The best way to learn: Practice retrieving what you've studied.

"What we recall becomes more recallable in the future. In a sense you are practicing what you are going to need to do later."

In the study reported at the link, the students who wrote a free-form essay on what they remembered from what they'd read learned the material best, even though they felt least confident that they had remembered well.

24 comments:

David said...

In first year of law school, I did detailed typed outlines of every course I took to prepare for exams. Then I did shorter outlines of the outlines, mostly from memory, checking my notes and the casebooks only occasionally. Damned if it didn't work. The exams seemed to write themselves when the time came.

Joan said...

Awesome. I was literally just explaining this exact principle to my students today -- if you can write a summary of what you've learned in your own words, you've really learned it.

They still complain, though. And they really whined when I told them that they should study in the same environment in which they would be tested -- no facebook, no iPod, no TV, and get off the bed! Sit up straight at a desk and turn off the music, tell your body it's learning time. Then when you're in that exact same position in school, your brain will recognize what it's supposed to do.

They really don't believe me on that one. Oh well.

Kathy said...

It's called "narration" and is not a new idea. Charlotte Mason, an educator from 100 years ago whose ideas are currently popular among homeschoolers, made it one of the foundations of her method.

Fred4Pres said...

Pain is an excellent motivator.

At least they used pain of pushups and holding ones rifle out at arms length in the Marine Corps. Trust me, it will definitely motivate you.

Chip Ahoy said...

I agree. Okay, what?

traditionalguy said...

The term "learned" is another concept from "listened to" or "read about". Learned things are by definition memory accessible at will. Memory access IS the mind's capacity to form connections. Nuff said.

edutcher said...

Sounds about right. I've drilled myself on the test questions until I barely need to see them to spit out the answer.

(of course, that says nothing about whether I have the concepts)

rhhardin said...

If you cheat, you don't have to learn.

Pogo said...

The best recall seems to come from singing lyrics.

But it's difficult to find a song for calculus.

Fred4Pres said...

Ann, here is something to learn and post about. Bing is all about this today.

Fred4Pres said...

My 12:26 post should have been on the Chinese Mom/Ben Stein post.

Hagar said...

I went to public school in the old country. We were assigned written problems in math and physics to be turned in weekly and written themes or essays every other week. In ink, not pencil, and the "What I did on my Summer Vacation" alternative was an automatic C max.
In the classroom, the teacher would spend the first 10 minutes spot checking to see if we had read the textbook assignment, then go on to expound on material not in the textbook(s).
At exam time, we were responsible for it all, in the books or not. Graduating from high school, the final exam grade in each course was the final grade, and the exams covered the entire 5 years, including courses that were not taught in the last 2 or 3 years.

We also had other things to do, such as skiing, swimming, and soccer, not to mention girls, etc., so we learned to study.

I could not believe it when I started college in this country and found the professors wasting time by spoonfeeding material already covered in the textbooks.

kcom said...

Compare and contrast

Especially the part about "verbal overshadowing". And then ask yourself if you should take this (and all similar studies) with a grain of salt.

kk said...

@Joan

Actually, new studies show that it's more effective to study in a variety of places, not just a designated study spot, because the different surroundings cause the information you acquire there to be more widely distributed/associated across your brain.

Browndog said...

Maybe these "scholars" should have used written narration to reaffirm what they learned to be the best techniques to advance human learning long ago.

Reinventing the learning wheel is necessary because it has been discovered that the "old" wheel isn't quite as round as once thought.

Hagar said...

There are too many people being paid with taxpayer money to study more and more about less and less.

Roger J. said...

Pogo--Tom Lehar must have written something about calculus--other than that the only song I know that references calculus is "I am the very model of a modern major general." Gilbert and Sullivan of course.

dbp said...

Fred4Pres said...

Pain is an excellent motivator.

At least they used pain of pushups and holding ones rifle out at arms length in the Marine Corps. Trust me, it will definitely motivate you.


Our drill instructors used to say, "You may learn nothing here privates, but at least you will leave here strong."

Hagar said...

You are all silly. Kids just have a much higher capacity to learn than imagined by those teaching. It is not necessary to either threaten or cajole. It is just a question of expectations.

Hagar said...

And of course, actually teaching something the kids recognize as being something, rather than "shaping young minds."

PaulV said...

First you need to get the students' attention.
Example of this occurred in WW2 when two sets of troops were given a lecture in Italian architecture. The group that was told it was important because that German snipers would be hiding in and on top of the buildings did much better.
WV: evali

Jane said...

(Kathy, I wrote this before I saw your post in #3):

A lot of the homeschool moms are using the Charlotte Mason/narrative approach, which sounds exactly like free-form essay writing.

The education establishment usually lags behind the nimble homeschooling families.

Joan said...

kk, I'm not talking so much about physical location as removing distractions and having a "study stance" the same way baseball players have stances in the batter's box. If you're slumped on your bed with your iPod blaring, facebook on one side and the tv just behind the notebook propped up on your lap, chances are you aren't going to retain much of anything that you're "studying" at the time.

John Lynch said...

Uh, duh. You are taking a test, so practice the test. You fight like you train.

Learning is simply the ability to remember things later. If you can't, you didn't learn it.