Monday, May 29, 2017

How Do You Retain Information?

You learn something new every day. That concept isn't very new, is it? But, have you ever thought of how much of what you learned, you remembered? Understood? Retained? If students in 6th grade learn a new vocabulary word, or math concept, will they use it 5 years from now? Will they remember it for their standardized test, or SAT? Probably not.

Every day I walk into my classes, and 9 times out of 10, we take notes. I look at a screen at the front of the room and fill in blanks on my paper. The next class, we're handed out a new set of notes, and the next class, and the next until the day of the test. At that point, it's very unlikely I or anyone else in my class remembers much from the first set of notes, and activities. So, what do my classmates and I do? We stay up late the night before, and cram as much information as possible, remember it long enough to last us through the test, and then hope for a good grade.

Now, I have all this information in my head, and I probably could remember it for a while. But the next day, there's a new unit and we get more information. With new information, the old one becomes useless. If I have no test, whats the point of struggling to remember it? See the problem?

Students feel as if old information is now obsolete. If I don't have to be tested on this information, why retain it? New information is being thrown at me right now that I will be tested on.

Students are forgetting information, because they don't feel that it's useful. Usually, the things you remember, you found important when you learned it. So how can you help students to remember topics that were taught years ago?

I think some great ways to do this, is for teachers in later grades to assign review questions on every homework assignment they create. It doesn't have to be much, just a few questions to jog the students memory. That way, students will at least have an idea on what to do if a 7th grade math question pops up on the SAT.

But it's not just about remembering. There has to be a reason why students aren't remembering topics. I think a big part of this is the fact that students simply don't find this information useful. When am I going to need the formula for the area of a triangle, or the turning points of World War 1 when I'm an adult? Having students review topics from many years ago will help, but if you can get the topic to stick into their minds in the first place, you wouldn't need as much review.

In Ellin Oliver Keene's chapter in "Adolescent Literacy" edited by Linda Rief, Kylene Beers, and Robert E. Probst, she talked about what it means to truly understand something, and it goes along with what I'm saying.

Students constantly take notes and answer questions on worksheets, when they should be asking their own questions on the topics, and using real world problem solving methods to answer them. Another way to make topics seem meaningful is relating topics to a students preference, and individualizing a lesson best suited to a student.

The key is getting a student to like a topic, so that they will see it as "meaningful" information. By solving this, not only will students be learning topics how they want in a way they like, but they will be taught how to solve real world issues. After all, isn't school supposed to prepare students for the real world?

Beers, G. Kylene, Robert E. Probst, and Linda Rief. Adolescent Literacy: Turning Promise into Practice. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2007. Print.

How Do You Retain Information?

You learn something new every day. That concept isn't very new, is it? But, have you ever thought of how much of what you learned, you r...