Sunday, March 13, 2016

Brain Apps.

This entry is a "bonus."  Thanks to the rainy weather, I'm reading a lot and getting inspired as I do:

I’m loving my reading of Make It Stick, by Peter Brown, and I encourage every educator to read it.  Understand, it’s not a warm and fuzzy read.  It is literally what I call, “…two feet on the floor, at the kitchen table…” reading.  It’s been fun for me, though, because with it, I’m practicing what science tells me is good learning:  I’m drafting review questions, studying it in spaced sessions, returning to what I’ve done previously, tying what I’m learning to what I already know, and, here, writing about what I’m learning.  No doubt, the book will spawn many blog entries.

Brown says that the result of deep and purposeful learning is what he typifies as “brain apps.”  His example is driving a car, but driving a golf ball would apply as well.  At first, all the many skills of driving are nearly overwhelming.  Perhaps this is why young drivers have a comparatively poor record with insurance companies.  But, with thousands of hours of actually driving a car, skills like speed control, lane placement, awareness of dangers, and braking become semi-automatic.  I’ve driven cars and trucks with a manual transmissions for fifty years and I seldom think about what gear I’m in or how to manage a clutch.   But, it’s recently become obvious to me that an automatic transmission is a challenge to me because, for someone who’s used to a stick shift, an automatic is NOT automatic.

Think of what this means for classroom education.  So many of the skills that seems so obviously “easy” to us are, to young students,  like the 16 year-old learning to keep a car in the center of the lane.  Even when they “get” a skill like “borrowing” in subtraction, it is, at first, an isolated and uncomfortable operation, not the seamlessly integrated part of a more general “Subtraction Brain App” that it will someday become.  In time, countless subtraction situations, practice with operations, and the arithmetic facts that support the computations, will coalesce into the “idea” of subtraction which will be more like the refined skill which we attempt to teach.

My point?  I think we need to patiently disaggregate our understanding of the things we teach, attempting to remember how we arrived at our present skill.  Regardless of any pressure we feel to show that our kids are meeting the current set of standards that some political or administrative entity has drafted for us, it’s important to understand how learning takes place.   We can provided distributed practice.  We can look for simple links to students’ lives and experiences to tie current learning to their prior knowledge.  Most importantly, we can provided reassurance that learning is long range, not immediate.

Any attempts to hurry up the process or learning are likely to lead to some short-term successes - think “cramming” for the test - but long-term failures when, without measured repetition, the learning never achieves the status of “Brain App.” 

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