Monday, January 5, 2015

5 Myths About How Children Learn

I used to believe that-
  1. Distractions disrupt learning
  2. Creating consistent routines increase retention and absorption of material
  3. Dividing out learning time into smaller chunks will make the student take longer to understand material
  4. Practicing multiple skills in one learning session leads to confusion and lack of expertise
  5. Teachers who give students prepared study guides are helping them learn better than teachers who let students create their own self-quizzes.  

We are constantly pushing kids to focus and it seems like an uphill battle. We are pushing our kids to live up to the vision of the “ideal student” in an increasingly distracting environment!

What is the ideal student?

Able to concentrate for long periods of time, organized with good study habits.  Yet, if there was a camera in every teenager’s room we would see that even the best student interrupts study time with everything from texting to snacking. Even as I sat down to write this I broke up the time with getting a cookie, doing the laundry, answering the phone. What did these breaks do? They provided my brain and body with small periods of time to think, forget and then remember, view things from another perspective.

While there is no argument that young children need structure and predictability, I propose that even preschoolers can benefit from changes to routine and learn quickly how to adapt, solve problems and become more resilient!

Embrace Distraction!
My favorite teacher in 7th. grade teacher used to break up intense study sessions by unexpectedly shouting “Daily Double” and throwing candy in the air which we all struggled to catch. Not only was this a strong memory of that time but I also remember doing my best work that year. I was able to work harder and more efficiently than ever before.

How can teachers do this?  Insert activities that give kids breaks: Aerobic movement, stretching, singing a song, will give kids a way to decompress and renew. This encourages them to become cognitively flexible and sets productive patterns for learning that avoids that “stuck” situation we often find ourselves in.

Change the routine!
Studies have proven that we learn better when things are changed up. So, try a  math lesson in the block corner or the book corner, or outside! How about doing math during gym time with a vigorous movement activity? The more varied the environment, the more the material is absorbed and not tied to a comfort zone! - a specific environment. I have found that kids respond more openly to a change in routine then their teachers!   

Short and Sweet!  
Longer is not always better. Shorter lessons repeated more frequently allows kids to re-enter the material, do it again and re-store into memory. Play a sorting game for 15 minutes and then doing it again over the next few days is actually better than working on sorting for one hour once a week.  

Mix it up!
While there is no doubt that repetition leads to mastery, especially for the young eager learner, we know how quickly how children can be ready for the next challenge. So why not mix it up? Strengthen what was learned a month ago by revisiting the activity, blending it with the current challenge. Revisit building blocks to make sure they are still solid! When you mix up various skills, kids learn how to adeptly move between them.

I can do it myself!
Kids who have difficulty in school are given detailed study guides, practice underlining and highlighting important key facts but what is missing is training and practice on how the children can create their own study guides as part of their work on learning the material. Young children can begin to learn this by teaching others skills that they know. Have kids play at being the teacher by showing and telling their classmates how to draw a tree, sing a song, build a tower. This helps them learn how to break down a skill, communicate the process and the practice the steps necessary for completion.   

Want to learn more? I was inspired to write this article after reading,“How We Learn” by Benedict Carey.

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