Are Our Teaching Methods Hindering Our Learners?


As I begin a new semester, part of the unwritten curriculum that I attempt to instill in my students is learning strategies.  So often, my Advanced Placement students graduate, attend college, and are quickly met with their inability to properly study.  I believe they are great a memorization, and therefore coast through high school.  When college begins, they attend believing their high school ways of “studying” will suffice…that is, until they’ve had a month of classes and memorization doesn’t serve their needs adequately for the test.  What’s a student to do?  I believe they either learn to learn or suffer immensely for their college career.  In an attempt to curtail this college jolt of learning reality, I try to teach them the skills throughout my AP Psychology course that will be of benefit throughout their high school and college careers.  Already this semester (3 class meetings) I’ve touched on the importance of retrieval practice and dual encoding.  

I wonder; though, if our education system is making learning appear too difficult to our learners.  I know I constantly attend professional development focusing on some new system of teaching or a new bell/whistle that should reach the unreachable student.  While I certainly believe this training works for some, I cannot help but speculate whether we are creating a system of bells and whistles students believe they have to have in order to learn.  For example, a student may implicitly believe they cannot learn unless they are in a cooperative learning group, with four different colors of highlighters, working in a think-pair-share sort of way.  While I’m not saying there isn’t merit to this way of learning; it isn’t always feasible…particularly when college begins or even when one starts their career.  Are the bells and whistles that accompany the learning environment in high school really becoming crutches for their lifelong learning?  I think maybe so.

So how do we combat this construct?  Well…of course I don’t have the cure-all.  That would be too easy.  I do believe; however, the best thing we can do as teachers is to strip down our lessons of the unnecessary and occasionally unproven jargon/policies/programs.  We should be equipping our students with the learning strategies and skills to succeed at the next level.  If we are to make our students college and career ready, they need exposure to the skills to be successful in college.  In my opinion, this equates to researched and scientifically proven learning strategies.  Currently, I believe The Learning Scientist do the best job with deciminating this information to the masses.  I find it hard to argue with research studies proving retrieval practice, interleaving, elaboration, spaced practice, concrete examples, and dual coding.  These strategies work…across curriculums…for almost all learners.  I believe you would struggle to find other constructs that cover such a wide swath of the student population.  The aforementioned are not bell-and-whistle policy or a shortcut to learning; they are the learning.  I believe they provide the standard for practice of material.  

As an educator of mostly junior and senior level students, I believe it my duty to prepare them for the next phase of life.  For most of my population that means university.  In my opinion, I’m not doing my job properly if I don’t place them in a learning environment occasionally similar to that of a college course. So, I do lecture. I don’t provide daily assignments for a grade.  I don’t baby them through material.  I don’t constantly correct them for checking their cell phone.  I don’t check or grade their notes.  I allow them to fail a few assignments or tests while the training wheels of high school are still on.  Then I attempt to guide them through the thinking of why proper note-taking is important.  I implore them to not just re-read their notes, but to quiz themselves with the material or provide illustrations that assist with their retention of material.  I specifically ensure that my students try all of the six learning strategies in differing situations with changing material.  Hopefully, they gain an understanding of how and when to apply the strategies and they become their norm for studying.  I fully believe that will be of true assistance in their high school and college courses, and throughout their life.

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