Sometimes doing nothing is actually doing something--something good for your memory, that is. New research suggests that when trying to memorize new information, taking a break, dimming the lights and sitting quietly can reap benefits. This is known as reduced interference.
Of course, this is actually nothing new. In 1900, German psychologist Georg Elias Muller and his student Alfons Pilzecker conducted experiments on memory consolidation. When studying meaningless syllables, half the group was given a six-minute break. When tested 2.5 hours later, the group with the break remembered nearly 50% of their list, compared to 28% for the group with no break.
In the early 2000s, a study by Sergio Della Sala at the University of Edinburgh and Nelson Cowan at the University of Missouri. They followed Muller and Pilzecker's original study, but with a 10 minute break, and the participants with neurological injury (eg. stroke) improved from 14 to 49%, similar to healthy people. More impressive results came with listening to stories and answering questions. Without rest, they could only recall 7% of the facts; with rest, this jumped to 79% recall.
The process is not yet known, but generally memories, after encoding, are consolidated into long-term memory. This seems to occur during sleep, as communication between the hippocampus and the cortex build and strengthen the new neural connections for later recall. Perhaps surprisingly, Lila Davachi at New York University, in 2010, found similar neural activity during periods of wakeful rest, just lying down and letting your mind wander.
In terms of education, this could mean the difference between rapidly switching from once subject to the next, and giving students a five-minute break just to sit and contemplate and reflect on their learning (with dimmed lights), of course.
Source: David Robson, BBC Future, February 11, 2018
Zest is enthusiasm for and enjoyment of something. John Holt wrote in 1967 that since we don't don't what people need to know in the future, "we should try to turn out people who love learning so much and learn so well that they will be able to learn whatever needs to be learned." This makes a lot of sense and is similar to lifelong learning.
The authors break down zest for learning into two bodies of knowledge: psychology of flourishing (psychology traits, theories of intelligence, positive psychology and psychology of motivation) and education for flourishing (purpose and pedagogy). So they cover a lot of varied but interrelated topics. This entry will be more of a brief summary of key ideas.
The psychological traits needed for zest can be summed up with the mnemonic OCEAN: openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism. Embracing novel experiences, risk taking and taking on new challenges is a big part of zest.
Theories of intelligence related to zest are cognition, experiential learning, deliberate practice (expertise) and experience flow. Zestful learners find meaning, both in body and mind. Experiential learning began with John Dewey, Kurt Lewin and Jean Piaget, and the experiential learning cycle involves thinking, acting, experiencing and reflecting. The authors argue that the learning that happens in classrooms is as valuable as "real-life" learning. As much as teamwork and collaboration is held in high esteem in learning and society, deliberate practice is often best done alone, as in the case of elite athletes (Anders Ericsson). There is some disagreement with deliberate practice and flow, coined by Csikszentmihalyi. Angela Duckworth, who focuses on grit, explains that deliberate practice helps in preparation, but in the performance flow happens. Cal Newport and Jordan Peterson feel that flow might keep people in thrall but not actually improving. Duckworth is more positive about flow and feels grit is necessary to keep in the flow. Grit comes through four ways: 1) cultivate your interests; 2) develop a habit of daily challenge-exceeding-skill practice; 3) connect your work to a purpose beyond yourself; 4) learn to hope when all is lost!
Positive psychology studies well-being, self-actualization and flow. Similar to flow is the notion of "the zone" (Ken Robinson) when activities are "completely absorbing," A word of caution regarding the self-esteem movement, based on dispositions and character strengths, which carried to the extreme can lead to narcissism. The authors believe self-esteem based not on subjective feelings but rather the innate value and dignity of human beings is a wiser approach. Peterson and Seligman have identified 24 character strengths, based on six virtues, related to zest: 1) wisdom and knowledge; 2) courage; 3) humanity; 4) justice; 5) temperance; 6) transcendence. Carol Dweck's growth mindset also connects to this area of positive psychology; as well, maintaining optimism, physical activity and social well-being are all important aspects of zest.
The psychology of motivation is related to performance (though there are differences, of course). Performance has been turned into an equation by Campbell and Pritchard (1976):
performance = f (aptitude level x skill level x understanding of the task x choice to expend effort x choice to persist x choice of degree of effort to expend x facilitating and inhibiting conditions not under the control of the individual)
Four key factors for motivation are based on two habits:
1) performing well (feedback from good performance; expectation of good performance; goals worth pursuing) and 2) finding meaning (a sense of purpose)
Maslow (1970) identified 15 characteristics of people who are able to self-actualise. The following 8 are related to zest:
Source: Zest for Learning, Bill Lucas & Ellen Spencer, 2020
Among teens, 13 - 17, 1 in 3 struggled with anxiety, and 8.3% suffered from a severe impairment. What's the cause? Well, about 30-40% stems from genetics. Nearly 1 in 5 adults have suffered from an anxiety impairment in the past year. So, anxious parents and their reactions/behavior towards their child can create anxiety in that child. So a parent who recalls his own experience of falling off a bike will be more reluctant and fearful for his child to ride, for both the child's safety and the parent's peace of mind. Unfortunately, all this protectiveness eventually leads to a child's accumulated disability: the inability to cope, adapt and function with life skills.
An example is of a boy named Theo with separation anxiety in kindergarten, followed by future worries, which led to sleep issues in elementary grades, so parents took turns sleeping with him. Eventually, his life's needs were being catered to and met, which led to more anxiety and fragility and stress on Theo's part. One part of the solution is for both parents and child to receive treatment for anxiety disorders. There's a 77% of success in that case compare to 39% if only the child is treated. Another treatment method is progressive desensitization, whereby the child takes incremental steps to face her fear or anxiety. Instead of avoiding dogs all the time, walk pass one, then the parent should pet one. This builds the muscles of tolerating anxiety and building competency. This is somewhat similar to gradual release of responsibility: I do it, we do it, you do it.
Anxiety disorders usually appear between the ages of 6 to 10. Some big ones include sleeping, eating, using the bathroom and playdates. Developing social skills from K - 3 are critical as most anxiety disorders at age 8 - 10 stem from social problems, not academic. If kids are not able to spend time in their peer groups, they will not develop the necessary interpersonal and conflict resolution skills needed as they get older. Then in middle school and high school, with higher academic and future educational stakes, parents may continue to provide accommodations and make excuses to account for their child's lack of sleep, cleanliness, use of tech late at night, and inability to cope academically. All the while, having responsibility and the maturity to do chores would actually aid in their overall development.
Source: Ready or Not, Madeline Levine, 2020
Daniel H. Lee
This blog will be dedicated to sharing in three areas: happenings in my classroom and school; analysis and distillation of other educators' wealth of knowledge in various texts; insights from other disciplines and areas of expertise that relate and connect with educational practices.