Teaching with HEART
To get the maximum result out of classroom instruction, it is necessary for teachers to understand the psychological processes that affect how a student learns. Knowledge of how human cognition works can enhance teaching and learning.
While utilising a variety of creative teaching strategies goes a long way in stimulating active learning, the materials presented to students play an equally significant role in how students acquire, process and assimilate knowledge. Engaging students in active learning without using appropriate, cognitively-sound materials is like successfully dribbling the ball up to the goal without ever scoring a point.
Research studies in cognitive psychology reveal that it is what is contained in the materials and how they are presented that determine the outcome of teaching and learning.
This explains why textbook publishers go all out to make learning materials more attractive, interactive, and colourful for students. While these are helpful, there are additional properties that determine how successful learning is. This is true regardless of the lesson's level of complexity.
Whether the materials to be learned are easy or difficult, learning is enhanced when the following points are used.
Break it down
Breaking knowledge into small packets enables students to more easily process the information using their working memory. Various research studies indicate that the working memory, where real-time mental activities take place, is very limited in capacity and duration. Only a limited bit of data is held in the working memory at any given time. Therefore, teachers should present one idea (one packet) at a time.
This could be accomplished by presenting an idea and reinforcing the same with explanations, examples and discussion, giving students additional time to reflect upon and digest the information.
When a teacher dwells on a particular idea for a longer period of time, the student would have had the opportunity to sufficiently interact with, make sense of, and eventually commit that piece of information to the long-term memory. Since the working memory is the first cognitive structure that is involved in learning, a sudden flooding of information will not help in the eventual acquisition and retention of knowledge.
Information that is successfully processed through the working memory is held in the long-term memory. Paradoxically, the long-term memory is immeasurably large, with no known limits. Research by psychologist Adriaan Dingeman de Groot in the 1940s indicates that the major difference between expert and novice chess players was not superior search moves or larger working memories. Instead, expert chess players possess an enormous store of real game configurations in their long-term memories. While playing, they draw from a huge bank of stored board configurations and are aware of the best moves associated with each particular configuration.
Other psychologists investigating a wide range of problem-solving areas also recognise that the long-term memory plays a crucial role in higher-order thinking and learning.
Teachers should activate and leverage on the long-term memory by connecting what was already learned with what is to be learned. Regularly reviewing past lessons, connecting past lessons to each other, and building new knowledge upon existing understanding enhance the working of the long-term memory.
Both breaking down knowledge and connecting it with previous learning could be effectively done on a day-to-day basis through the use of tools like advanced organisers, concept maps, mind maps and regularly-scheduled short-review quizzes/exercises that are fun and not graded.
Dr Edward Roy Krishnan is the director of strategic planning at Kent Institute, Thailand (http://www.kentthailand.com) and Wells International School (http://www.wells-school.com). He also lectures in the Graduate School of Psychology, Assumption University. He can be contacted at email@example.com. To access additional articles by him, visit http://www.affectiveteaching.com.
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