This is the third in a series of posts examining the new text How People Learn II: Learners, Contexts, and Cultures a companion to How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience and School. In this post I share my reaction to chapter 4: Processes that Support Learning.
Iterative knowledge building, learning and knowledge-related biases, and the value of “desirable difficulties” and elaborative interrogation are only four of the topics covered in this chapter but they are more than enough to focus on for this blog posting.
Learning Iteration and Bias
Meaning making is knowledge building and it’s a task all learners work through based on experiences they’ve had inside and outside of structured educational environments. As noted in chapter 4 memory is a “partial” but not a “perfect” record of what actually happened. In this chapter the authors further explain how
“…memory traces with common elements [that] are simultaneously activated and linked, knowledge is expanded and memories are iteratively reworked” (p. 86).
A web of connections to present and past experiences underscores all of the work that learners are doing to make meaning of new pieces of knowledge.
“…studies underscore the active role of the learner; that is, even young children do not simply accrue knowledge from what they have experienced directly but build knowledge from the many things that they have figured out on their own” (p. 87).
Expertise comes with many benefits and is most often seen as an asset in any environment, but although experts can organize their knowledge more efficiently and effectively, they also often have learning biases which are “implicit and unknown to the individuals that hold them” (p. 91). A learner’s initial level of knowledge can also impact their interpretation of new knowledge (p. 92). Biases can have both positive and negative consequences. They can:
- “Undermine the acquisition of new knowledge and skills” (p. 91)
- “…blind individuals to new evidence” (p. 92)
- “Promote well-being and health” (p. 92)
- “Refine perception and serve to blur distinctions within categories that are not meaningful” (p. 92)
Desirable Difficulties & Problem Based Learning
Some of the desirable difficulties or “useful challenges” that are identified in this chapter as the best ways to positively impact learning include:
- “Retrieval practice
- Spaced practice
- Interleaved and varied practice
- Summarizing and drawing
- Explanations: elaborative interrogation, self explanation and teaching” (p. 98)
Problem based learning can also present useful challenges to learners and the learners point out that this learning technique “…instills in learners flexible knowledge use, effective problem-solving skills, self-directed learning, collaboration and intrinsic motivation” (p. 94).
Putting it into practice
So how do you apply this to the classroom? Here are a few ideas:
- Have students start a unit of study with a self reflection of what they already know about the topic. Use this as a starting point for them to examine as they move through the unit of study so they actively identify ideas/concepts that are disputed or different than what is being discussed and studied in class. Encourage them to examine why that is. Where did the original understanding come from? Is there some truth there?
- Identify content in your class that students need to know quickly in order to access other knowledge. Definitions and calculations often fit nicely into this category, however you could also use this activity with a topic like connecting the correct genre to a piece of writing to help students become more comfortable with identifying and differentiating between different genres of writing. Using a quiz mechanism return to this practice of retrieving the correct answer/classification throughout the semester using different examples and questions. By spacing out these practices you will further strengthen students’ knowledge and retrieval skills
- Design a problem based unit of student that requires students to explain and teach complex topics to support their proposed solution. This activity has the added benefit of providing potential presentation and public speaking practice. Like this — SO AMAZING!!
What’s up next?
Next week we’ll take a look at one of my favorite topics – motivation.