Posts Tagged homework

Brains, homework, more tests and marbles

Did you know there was an International Mind Brain and Education Society? And that its nifty acronym is IMBES? And that they have this nifty logo?

It’s a whole new discipline founded on cross-collaboration between biology, education and cognitive/developmental science. It looks like it takes a scientific, research-driven approach to finding out how kids learn. I first heard about in this piece in the New York Times Sunday Review by Annie Murphy Paul.

There’s a journal and a conference and Harvard even has a master’s program.

The easily-inspired and optimistic part of me looks at developments like this and sees a possible solutions to all problems in education. So much of neuroscience is so new, relatively, that it seems sensible and feasible to expect that we will be able to teach better as we learn more about how kids learn.

Don’t worry, I’ll get cynical in a bit. First, some highlights from the article.

Murphy Paul’s Times piece focuses on the application of MBE findings to homework, which is what I’ve been thinking about lately as I wrestle with my students over getting them to actually do any homework. That so few of them complete it has been leading me to think that I may not be assigning the right work (it’s easier to say they’re lazy, yes, and they are, but still).

There’s the idea of “spaced repetition,”which would have students “encounter the same material in briefer sessions spread over a longer period of time.” We know that exposing ourselves to new information over and over again will cement it in our brains. But I often give homework based on that day’s lesson, then move on. If they learned anything at all, it’ll be gone by the next week. But I think my teacher-gut steers me away from giving students the same task over and over again. I may need to check that.

Then she talks about “retrieval practice,” and this one is really interesting. It calls for using tests as a way to reinforce learning, not  to assess it. So more tests? That throws me for a bit of a loop, given my general attitude toward tests (which is strongly influenced by the nature of our state tests and the weight they carry), but it makes sense. Murphy Paul: “Every time we pull up a memory, we make it stronger and more lasting, so that testing doesn’t just measure, it changes learning.”

That also gets me excited about the explosion of online test and quiz generators. Sites like Veri (still in beta), Quizlet, QuizBreak, and all these sites that Larry Ferlazzo put together could help us cash in on the value of retrieval practice.

And then there’s the finding that when we work harder to understand information we can recall it better. Apparently, psychologists have even found that the following techniques help learning: “sprinkling a passage with punctuation mistakes, deliberately leaving out letters, shrinking font size until it’s tiny or wiggling a document while it’s being copied so that words come out blurry.”

That makes me feel really good about my budget-saving practice of reducing the size of my handouts to fit four pages of text on one sheet of paper.

I know I promised to get cynical, but now I don’t feel like it. I’m excited about this strategy of making myself harder to understand to my students. I might put marbles in my mouth tomorrow before a lecture. Is that cynical?


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