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
Physiological Behavior Triggers
Sometimes behavior can be attributed to what children consume or don't consume. Sugar does not make children hyperactive. A 1994 study published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology clearly refuted this common belief. In a study of 5 to 7-year-old boys, parents were told they would receive large doses of sugar, and were then asked to rate their behavior. The majority of the parents rated their children as being more hyperactive, despite the fact that half of them didn't have any sugar! But based on parent expectations, they perceived their boy's behavior accordingly. However, the converse may affect behavior: low blood-glucose levels leads to an increased release of compensatory adrenaline, known as hypoglycemia. Children are hungry and angry, due to the change in glucose and adrenaline levels. In addition, artificial additives--found in cereals, chips and juices--are linked to hyperactivity. Lastly, a study in 2013, based on nearly 500 children between 7 and 9-years-old indicated that low levels of omega-3, long-chain polyunsaturated fats, were correlated with increased behavior issues, a lower reading level, and poorer memory.
Lack of Sleep
Nowadays with increased sports and activities, and a multitude of screens, children may not be getting the requisite amount of sleep necessary to feel refreshed for a school day. The recommended amount of sleep for children between the age of 6 and 13 is from 9 to 11 hours. For kids under 11, a good bedtime is around eight or nine o'clock. For teenagers, starting at ages 13 or 14, there is a phase delay, so they often sleep around eleven o'clock, despite the fact they still need at least 9 hours of sleep. The other major issue is lighting, in particular blue light, or short-wave; these light sources trick children believing it's still daytime, which inhibits the secretion of the sleep hormone melatonin. Therefore, screens should be shut down completely at least one to two hours before sleep.
Many settings in a child's life can be overstimulating and overwhelming at times. This goes for a classroom and school as well. Among the bright lights, loud sounds and voices, smells, visual distractions, and technology, a classroom can be a very busy and challenging environment to successfully navigate around in. Research shows that 1 in 6 children experience auditory and tactile sensory symptoms that negatively impact their everyday life. One in 20 suffer from sensory processing disorder (SPD), a disorganization of sensory signals and responses in the brain. Children with SPD find it harder to process auditory or tactile stimuli. Some struggle with touching certain fabrics, others find lighting and sounds disturbing, and still others may not process certain sensations, such as cold and hot properly, leading to dangerous situations. Sensory objects have been known to help, but occupational therapy may be necessary.
Immature Verbal Communication Skills
These critical skills can be delayed or absent due to several reasons, such as the discouragement of outward displays of feelings and emotions. However, Ockwell-Smith believes "all behavior is communication." Therefore, instead of ignoring bad behavior, she recommends giving them attention, in order to get to the root of the problem and correct it.
Psychological Behavior Triggers
Lack of Control
There needs to be a fine balance between control and boundaries. Children need to have some sense of control over their lives (food, clothes, use of time), related to their respective ages and personal development. If they feel oppressed and resentful, they may counter with their perceived limited power: shouting, whining, violence, or tantrums. On the other hand, without boundaries and limits from a permissive parent, children will feel unsafe and insecure.
Undesirable Behavior in Others
Children model and imitate behavior around them at an early age. The famous Bobo Doll experiment in the 1960s by psychologist Albert Bandura clearly showed the powerful effects of mirroring (social learning) on children. The results showed that children were more aggressive if they witnessed an adult being aggressive. Also, boys were three times more aggressive than girls, and all children were more aggressive if they observed an adult of the same sex.
Lack of Connection
Children demand, crave and need attention, especially when they are younger. Younger kids may hit or kick if they feel you are ignoring them. Older children may not listen or stay away from home, as a subconscious way to get adult attention. Parents or other adults getting angry and giving punishments may compound the problem by weakening or even severing the connection they desire. A regular, daily check-in at least once a day is recommended to maintain a healthy connection and relationship. When a child feels loved, valued and heard, they gain a strong sense of security and belonging.
Source: Gentle Discipline, Sarah Ockwell-Smith, 2017
This book, written by Howard Eaton, caught my attention because of my recent interest in learning disabilities.
The basis of the Brain School is neuroplasticity, or basically the ability of the brain to adapt. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, neuroplasticity is the “capacity of neurons and neural networks in the brain to change their connections and behaviour in response to new information, sensory stimulation, development, damage, or dysfunction.” This is good news when you consider the people suffering from serious disorders and illnesses related to the brain, such as stroke, injury, autism, ADHD, learning disabilities, brain deficits, depression and addiction.
A psycho-educational assessment measures a variety of areas with a percentile rating (25% - 75% is average range, while 50% is age-level ability) :
ARROWSMITH PROGRAM (19 cognitive dysfunctions and common features)
DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THE PSYCHO-EDUCATIONAL ASSESSMENT AND THE ARROWHEAD ASSESSMENT
The purposes of the two assessments are very different. The psycho-educational assessment seeks to diagnose a learning disability, assist in skill remediation, in-class adaptations, and assistive technology. The Arrowhead assessment is used solely to design the cognitive capacity training intervention for achievement acquisition. Psycho-ed assessments take about three to four hours, while the Arrowhead assessment can take several hours more. The psycho-ed assessments finds percentile scores on measures of intelligence, cognitive ability, and achievement in reading, writing and math. The Arrowhead assessment does not measure reading, spelling, or mathematical abilities but rather cognitive areas, and results falls on a spectrum from very severe to moderate to mild to above average.
It is unique in some ways. It goes from 8:30 to 3:00 pm, and has eight periods; six of those are cognitive classes, each 40 minutes long, and the other two are English and math. The focus of the school is cognitive remediation. There are two teachers per classroom, so the teacher-student ratio is around one-to-nine. When a student masters a cognitive exercise, a new one is started. Students keep track of their achievements and set new daily goals. In one word, students are focussed--on cognitive exercises, active engagement, and repetition. Despite the intensity of the cognitive classes, students engage in other activities, as well. Daily physical education is 40 minutes a day, and students can participate in extracurricular activities, such as field trips, plays, guest artists, track and field and a talent show.
Source: Eaton, Howard, 2011. Brain School. Vancouver, Glia Press.
Teachers nowadays are being asked to differentiate learning by meeting students’ individual learning styles, differing cognitive abilities and multiple intelligences. Is this possible? And how effective is it? Willingham, a cognitive scientist, turns that notion on its head. He states that children are more alike than different in terms of how they think and learn.
COGNITIVE STYLES VS. ABILITIES
First, let’s differentiate between cognitive styles and cognitive abilities. Cognitive ability is the capacity for success in certain types of thought; for example, mathematical concepts. Abilities are how we deal with content and how well we think. Cognitive styles are biases or tendencies to think in a certain way, such as thinking sequentially or holistically. Styles are how we prefer to think and learn. Of course, more ability is better than less, but one style is not better than another.
COGNITIVE STYLES (a sample list)
Three characteristics of cognitive styles: 1) stable within an individual during different situations and times; 2) consequential: has implications for future actions; 3) not an ability measure
There are people who have very good visual or auditory memories. However, Willingham explains why teaching different modalities to learners with a prefered style is ineffective. He gives the example of a visual learner and an auditory learner learning vocabulary words. In theory, showing the words with pictures to the visual learner while playing a tape with words for the auditory learner should be most helpful. Yet studies show this is not the case. Why not? Because it is not the auditory or visual information that is being tested--it is the meaning of the words. Generally in schools, students need to remember what things mean, not what they look or sound like. So, if this theory is wrong, why do 90% of teachers (and students) believe it to be true? Willingham chalks it up to several reasons, the first being accepted wisdom: it must be right because everyone believes it. Another reason is because a similar fact is true: kids are different in their visual and auditory memories. Learners may have good visual and auditory memories, but this not being a “visual or auditory learner.” Lastly, the psychological phenomenon known as confirmation bias comes into play here. Once people believe something to be true, then all future ambiguous events are seen through that viewpoint. For example, people believe crazier things happen during a full moon, and, in fact, crime and births increase during a full moon. However, when there’s an uptick in crime and babies on non-full moon nights, no one bats an eyelash. In conclusion, Willingham says that all cognitive styles, not just visual-auditory-kinesthetic, suffer from the same issues; at best, the evidence is mixed.
ABILITIES AND MULTIPLE INTELLIGENCES
Over the years, studies and experiments have shown that some kids are good at math, some are musical, others athletic, but not necessarily the same kids. This must indicate there are different mental processes at work here. In the mid-1980s, Howard Gardner, a Harvard professor, proposed his theory of multiple intelligences: linguistic, logical-mathematical, bodily-kinesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, musical, naturalist, and spatial. At the time, many psychologists felt contention to Gardner’s theory. However, educators were (and are) interested in the three claims of his theory: 1) they are intelligences, not abilities or talents; 2) all eight intelligences should be taught in school; 3) many or all of these intelligences should be used to teach, matching the different intelligences of students. Gardner made the first claim, while the other two were made by others, although Gardner disagrees with them. Gardner argues that some abilities, in particular logical-mathematical and linguistic, have greater status in education than say, musical ability. He questioned why one was called “intelligence” while the other was a “talent.” Claim 2 is made on the basis of equity and fairness, that all intelligences should be acknowledged and celebrated. However, Gardner feels that curricular decisions should be made by the values of community, and his theory should only be a guide. Cognitive scientists believe Gardner has simply relabelled talents as intelligences, rather than “discovering” musical or spatial intelligence. The third claim is to use multiple intelligence modalities to introduce new knowledge. For example, when learning how to use commas, students could write a song about commas (musical), search the woods for things that look like commas (naturalist), and create sentences with their bodies (bodily-kinesthetic). So, in theory, students would come to an understanding of commas easier if taught with a particular intelligence in mind. Gardner wholeheartedly disagrees with this notion. The different abilities are not interchangeable; mathematical concepts need to be learned mathematically, and skill in music will not help. Writing a poem about your bat swing will not make you a better batter. These abilities are separate enough that one strong skill can’t compensate for a weaker one.
CONTENT VS. STUDENTS
Since catering to cognitive styles have been shown to be essentially ineffective, think in terms of curricular content. For example, in socials, a country’s geography should be seen, an anthem should be heard, and a traditional meal should be made and eaten.
CHANGE PROMOTES ATTENTION
Variety is the spice of life and the surge in energy during lessons. Switch between talking and listening to something visual; go from deductive thinking to free associative thinking; quick brainstorming could lead into thoughtful, reflective responses. Give all students practice in these different mental processes.
VALUE IN EVERY CHILD
Every child is unique and valuable, regardless of their intelligence. Trying to be equitable and egalitarian and have everyone possess “multiple intelligences” may be misleading. Also, determining who is “smart” depends on which intelligences you consider and at what level; is it top 10 percent or top 50 percent? In reality, there will be many students who are not especially gifted in any of the intelligences. Telling a child they are smart or have a skill in an area they don’t rarely works. In fact, telling a child they are smart actually backfires in reality.
Source: Willingham, Daniel T., Why Don’t Students Like School? (2009)
People with ADHD suffer from impulsivity, which means acting without thinking beforehand.
Generally, until people are in their early twenties, their decision making and responses take place in the limbic area--the "emotional brain." There is less inhibition and evaluation of consequences, but as they mature, they begin to respond with the frontal cortex--the "rational brain."
However, individuals with ADHD respond primarily with their limbic area instead of their frontal cortex. So they act or react immediately, without thinking of the potential consequences.
People with ADHD can work on skills and strategies of delaying gratification and evaluating consequences, as well as medication if necessary.
Source: The Disorganized Mind, Nancy A. Ratey, 2008
Erratic working memory and a faulty attention system (impaired executive functions) leads to procrastination. Think of working memory like RAM in a computer; without enough RAM, the brain forgets what it was working on, and moves onto the next task at hand.
People with ADHD also have the uncanny propensity to forget or suppress their goals or important activities they need to complete and instead spend time on trivial tasks, even when they know the consequences of failure in these more critical tasks.
Yet, people with ADHD also "benefit" from procrastination, though probably in somewhat unhealthy ways. When they reach a point of "do-or-die," then a couple of things happen: cortisol (stress response and stress hormone) and dopamine (neurotransmitter of attention system) activate in the body. Suddenly, the frontal cortex is "turned on" and RAM and executive functions begin to work normally. Then these individuals are able to focus their effort and attention on the task at hand.
Therefore, as painful as procrastination can be, people with ADHD still feel they are able to pull a rabbit out of the hat at the last minute, which continues this cycle of procrastination.
Source: The Disorganized Mind, Nancy A. Ratey, 2008
Learning takes effort. The harder it is (usually), the better you remember and learn. A classic example is how many major tests are often structured: first, true and false; next, multiple-choice; then comes short answer; finally, there's the long-answer or essay question. The key is generation. If your choices are already there in front of you, as in the case of T/F or multiple-choice, there is very little effort and no generation of the solution. However, short- or long-answer questions require retrieval and memory pathways are strengthened as the problem is being worked out.
Another method in improving learning involves reflection. It only requires a few minutes of review after an experience or lesson. The cognitive activities involved are retrieval (recalling knowledge), elaboration (connecting new knowledge to previous), and generation (using own words to understand key concepts).
Source: Make it stick: the science of successful learning, Brown, Roediger III, McDaniel, 2014
It seems, after all, testing is good for student learning. Testing helps reduce forgetting, which is the nemesis of the retrieval and remembering of information and knowledge.
A real-life study at Columbia Middle School in Illinois in 2005 put promising lab results "to the test." Certain social studies classes were given quizzes on about a third of the material: one in the beginning of the class, one at the end of class, and one 24 hours before the unit exam. Clickers were used to answer multiple choice questions. Results: the students scored a full grade higher on material they were quizzed on compared to material not quizzed.
Of course, tests that are more cognitively challenging, such as essays or short-answers, are more beneficial in learning, although recognition tests like multiple choice or true/false are still surprisingly useful.
Rereading texts and cramming for exams are probably the two worst methods to learn and acquire information.
Interestingly, delaying feedback, especially in motor skills, such as sports, is more effective than immediate feedback. Immediate feedback is akin to "training wheels" that artificially support a rider far beyond their necessity. Let students use trial-and-error to make corrections, wait, and then give feedback. Delayed subsequent retrieval requires more effort, and more effort strengthens learning.
Source: Make it stick: the science of successful learning, Brown, Roediger III, McDaniel, 2014
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.