5 Steps To Deeper Learning #1: Let Them Struggle
This is the 1st post in my Deeper Learning Series. My sole intention is to get you to evaluate how effective your instruction is and if your students are really learning. Some parts you read may feel like I’m kicking your ass… If they do, I’m sorry, but it’s for your own good. And mine too. Hey, I’m kicking my own ass here as well, as I realize that I’ve done a lot of things wrong in the past. I am figuring this whole teaching thing out. I’ll always be figuring it out. I hope you’ll join me in figuring it out. It’s fun. It’s worth it. Our kids deserve it.
You just covered a new topic in your class.
What happened next?
Did you move on to a new topic? Did you assign homework and moved on to new material? Was there a worksheet students filled out in class or for homework? Was there a discussion that followed your presentation? Did you have a project on the covered topic? Did you do this or that whatchamacallit?
Those questions don’t matter. Neither do answers. Not really. But here’s one question that does…
Did Your Students Learn It? I mean... REALLY LEARN IT?
Let me explain...
I recently attended an educational technology conference at which the keynote speaker claimed 80+ percent of American teachers mostly lecture. You know, we PowerPoint or Google Slide or Keynote the kids to death. Man I hope she’s wrong!
I suppose lectures have their place... But what I’m getting at is that lectures have little to do with actual learning. They are meant to give information, but if students don’t apply it... well... it’s worthless. It’s like watching a video on fixing a car. You get the info, but unless you pop the hood and get your hands dirty, you didn’t learn jack. And, you’ll forget everything about it other than the fact that you watched some video on fixing cars. If it featured a red Corvette you might remember that... Yep. Still worthless.
You see, I’ve come to the frightening conclusion that IT MATTERS LITTLE HOW WE GIVE THE INFORMATION. Don’t get me wrong here. Every teacher should strive to make the content delivery as exciting as possible. After all, we are counting on the release of those really cool neurochemicals that help with focus, motivation, memory formation, and all that jazz... You know... Dopamine. Acetylcholine. Norepinephrine.
But, no matter how excited the students are, if they are not allowed adequate processing time; time to use and apply the concepts presented; it may be all for nothing. I mean... Many will regurgitate what they can on a test (and there’s a large variance here), only to swiftly forget most of this “knowledge.”
Now the frightening part… If 80+ percent of teachers mostly lecture, then how much time is given for students to process what they supposedly “learned?” Scary…
I know a recently retired social studies teacher. Dude was legendary… The legend was that if you were a student who could teach herself you might learn something. The class consisted entirely of presentations and packets. After copying the notes from slides, the students were tasked with transferring much of this information to a bunch of stapled worksheets.
Somewhere someone needs a scribe. Let’s just hope the job pays well enough to cover the arthritis meds.
And don’t give me that homework crap. It gives you ZERO USEFUL FEEDBACK. You can collect it, but have no certainty if the students understand what they wrote down. Don’t believe me? Just ask that kid sitting behind Johnny. He got the answers to that worksheet you gave for homework last night on Snapchat. He forwarded the pic to three of his buddies for a Red Bull and two Snickers bars. He’s not twitching ‘cause he’s high or feeling guilty. He just flushed those Snickers down with the contents of a silver 20-ounce can. He’s about to take flight ‘cause you know…
So for the love of all that’s sacred: Stop it already and go deep! You can’t learn to swim by only getting your feet wet, so submerge fully. Immerse yourself completely in the learning and take students with you. It’ll kick ass.
Hope the intro entertained you. But now it's time to examine the First Step To Deeper Learning.
To Achieve Deeper Learning, Let Students Struggle And Make Mistakes...
The struggle is real goes the cliche. To me, the struggle is real, because it leads to deeper learning, which is real learning - the only kind of learning that matters. When we structure classroom activities to promote wrestling with ideas, encourage making mistakes, and explain why learning this way is effective, we foster deeper learning.
When applying a newly “learned” concept, ask your students to practice answering questions or solving problems from memory. Tell them that you want them to struggle and not use any aids, such as their notes, book, or the web.
Ask them to recall as much as they can from the presentation, the video, or the reading. This stimulates recall of existing neural connections in the brain, which in turn strengthens these connections and helps form long term memories. The more they dig for and recall information from memory alone, the more solid the connections and memories become.
Explain to the kids that doing it this way increases their chances of understanding and remembering more later. Tell them it is okay for them to make mistakes, as long as they correct them later. In fact, make it clear that you expect they will make mistakes, as they are part of the learning process.
Creating a classroom culture in which such struggles and mistakes are embraced builds resilience in addition to formation of stronger neural connections in your students' brains. As stickwithitness (totally a word) is a character trait of the uber successful, it is something all teachers should foster.
Struggle builds strength.
Of course, students should be given timely (instant is best) feedback and opportunities to analyze and correct their mistakes for deeper learning to occur. This is what the follow up posts to this one will discuss.
The struggle is real so let ‘em.
You Have The Power To Change The World. Use It Often.
I want you to know that my book "Crush School" is now 40% off on Kindle until January 15th. I wrote it to explain the brain science of learning to teachers, students, and parents and to provide effective strategies that help teachers teach with more intention and students learn more effectively.
Click on the links below to check it out!