Highlights everywhere with different marker colors. Blue, orange, green, yellow. The most common sense studying strategy my kids’ teachers use with their pupils. I’ve always wondered what the meaning of all that was, as my kids tend to highlight almost everything! I’ve questioned myself what the connection was between disconnecting parts of a text with not much methodology to it. And I’ve asked my kids how they decided what to highlight. They’d just say, “my teacher told us to highlight the important parts if the text”. The funny thing is that they considered everything important, so it meant that the pages simply changed colors!
My suspect of the total inefficiency of such common-sense practice is corroborated by scientific research and also mentioned in a Time article http://t.co/lMsKsG0d. In “Highlighting Is a Waste of Time: The Best and Worst Learning Techniques”, author Annie Murphy Paul explores what I had suspected – studying strategies being used by students are the least effective for retention. Annie points out that according to a report by psychologists in Kent State University, highlighting, underlining, rereading and summarizing are considered to be of “low utility” in the learning process.
In contrast to these ineffective strategies, research about how memory works has shown that some of the most useful ways in which we can help our students learn and keep it in their long-term memories has much more to do on how we retrieve the information over time. As Dr. Spitzer puts it in a very interesting post by Larry Ferlazzo about brain-based learning in the classroom,
We thought for many years that the best way to learn is to study, study, and study some more in preparation for a test. However,recent research has demonstrated that although studying is good, and indeed is essential, consistently practicing the ability to recall information is even more effective.
Evaluation of long-term retention of knowledge has revealed that a sequence of study-test-study-test-study-test is more effective than a sequence of study-study-study-study-study-test. This may seem counter-intuitive, but it tells us that repeated testing, involving retrieval of information, assists in consolidation of the learning process. Students can use it as a method of studying or teachers can enforce it with quizzes and other informal assessments.
When I look back into my own teaching practice, I’ve realized that, intuitively, I’ve been on the right track to help my students learn, and these are some strategies I’ve used that seem to have scientific foundation, mainly if you consider the research from Dr.
(http://www.sciencemag.org/content/319/5865/966.abstract )Their study shows that repeated retrieval practice in tests generates great benefits for long-term retention. What I’ve been doing that you might find useful:
- Every beginning of class, I’d find a different way to retrieve the content we had previously studied through different forms of mini-quizzes; they wouldn’t take long, but they would be broad enough to include content not only from previous classes, but distributed subjects that we had seen during our time together as I am not teaching for test taking, but for true learning.
- I had a place on the board called “the Learning Cycle” in which I’d invite learners to retrieve info, ideas, thoughts from previous classes.
- I’ d encourage students to create quizzes for their partners
- Having this test-study-test-study practice cycle in mind, I want to raise students’ awareness about it through the exploration of techniques, such as the creation of digital flashcards, using Quizlet and Evernote flashcards for constant retrieval.
- I want to engage my students in a reflective practice of learning strategies that really work
- I hope to explore engaging ways to keep testing knowledge through quizzes, challenges, digital projects
Finally, I need to keep becoming a better informed educator about recent studies in the neuroscientific field to guide my teaching without preconceived, ineffective ideas that will do no good for my students in their learning process, for I want them to have learning that “sticks” to their long-term memory through engaging retrieval practices. Highlighting no more!