For one thing, if the feedback comes
long after the work is performed, the
student may have already lost motivation for the task. For another, the student may have forgotten the thinking
processes that went into the work and
thus will find it hard to remember why
his or her choices seemed like a good
idea at the time.
Saying that students must have factual
knowledge is all very well, but what can
educators do to accomplish this goal?
Again, on the basis of learning characteristics that are generally true of all
students, here are a few could dos, most
of which would help students gain the
factual knowledge they must have.
Distribute study time. One strategy to
make fact learning more effective is to
distribute study time. That is, if a class
of 9th graders is going to spend a total
of 60 minutes in class studying Spanish
vocabulary, it’s better to distribute that
60 minutes into three 20-minute sessions on different days, rather than to
crowd all 60 minutes into a single day.
Even more important, students should
revisit this material weeks or months
later (Cepeda, Pashler, Vul, Wixted, &
Practice recalling facts. Another laboratory finding on learning that seems
to apply well to the classroom is the
benefit of querying oneself. The surprising truth is that probing one’s memory
in an effort to locate a bit of knowledge is an excellent way to ensure that
the knowledge becomes permanently
affixed in memory.
Suppose each of two science classes
does a two-day project on magnetism.
On the third day, students in one class
listen to the teacher review the principles that the project illustrated, while
students in the other class answer a
share are fairly
the manner in
di;er is not.
series of questions that encourage them
to recall those principles on their own.
The second class will later remember
the principles better. Once something
is in memory, you’re better off trying
to remember the material than you are
studying it again (Roediger & Butler,
Cycle between the concrete and the
abstract. Here’s a final example of a could
do. Abstract concepts—such as
adaptation in biology, or a variable in mathematics, or irony in literature—are some
of the most difficult to teach. A number
of studies point to the best path to help
students understand such difficult concepts. The answer is neither emphasis
on the abstract nor emphasis on the
concrete, but rather a cycling back and
forth between concrete examples and
the abstract principles, preferably with
a broad variety of examples (Kalyuga,
Chandler, Tuovinen, & Sweller, 2001).
For example, one abstract defini-
tion of an adaptation is a change in an
organism to make it better suited to
live successfully in an environment. A
teacher might offer varied examples.
Body features might change to exploit a
food source, as Darwin observed in the
change in finches’ beaks when differ-
ent types of seed became more or less
available. Adaptation can be symbiotic,
as seen in the relationship between the
clownfish and sea anemone; the clown-
fish eats invertebrates that could harm
the sea anemone, and it gains protec-
tion from predators by the anemone’s
stinging cells. The continued integra-
tion of such examples with the abstract
description of the principle helps stu-
dents recognize the principle when they
later encounter it in a different context.
Choices for Practice
Clearly, there are many examples from
the cognitive and education literature
of near-universal principles around
which a good teacher may build his
or her practice. In fact, closely observing a high-caliber teacher’s classroom
will reveal several of these principles
interacting at any given time. Because
many of these principles are supported
by significant consensus in the scientific
literature and are also reflected in craft
knowledge, we can be fairly confident
in committing ourselves to creatively
exploring and deploying them. In contrast, the observation that not every
student can do everything the exact
same way at the exact same time should
not lead to the overreaction of hyper-individualizing the curriculum.
Instruction geared to common learning characteristics instead of individual
differences can obviously increase
efficiency and produce more bang for
the buck because the teacher no longer
needs to teach different lessons to students assigned to different categories.
But another cost saving is even more
important—the cost of failure. Although
the characteristics that students share
are fairly well documented, the manner
in which students differ is not. Thus,