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Learning Matters: Remembering lessons learned

September 05, 2013|By Joylene Wagner

I've more than once heard this statement: "Today's students learn differently than we did." I'm inclined to disagree.

Yes, today's students have informational technology we didn't have and they use it with an ease and speed some of us lack and that industries and professions increasingly require. Technology is transforming how teachers can teach. And yes, today's students require a wider variety of instructional strategies because America is committed to all students learning at higher levels of proficiency than was expected in years past or than is expected anywhere else in the world.

American teachers must engage with students from a broad array of cultural and linguistic traditions. Their students have wide-ranging physical and developmental abilities. And all students are expected to show progress. Today's teachers must have bags of tricks to rival the magic bag Mary Poppins carried.

Yes, the demands of teaching have increased. Yet I will argue that learning itself hasn't changed. Human brains have not evolved in a generation. Our children's brains process information as ours did. But cognitive science has evolved, and students, teachers and parents would benefit from knowing what that science teaches us, even if it seems like plain old common sense.

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Most of the little I know about cognitive science I learned several years ago in an adolescent psychology course offered by Cal State Northridge as part of its teacher credentialing program. The class focused on how our brains store, process and retrieve information.

The professor, Dr. Carolyn Jeffries, brilliantly demonstrated what prospective teachers needed to learn about learning. Her lectures, our reading and written assignments, and her tests all modeled teaching strategies shown by cognitive science research to be important for learning. I learned a lot in that class, but three points stand out as information today's students could really use.

Homework is important, because repetition and time help imprint information in memory. Previewing a lesson before the teacher delivers it and reviewing it shortly after, and then again later, is more effective than cramming before a test or trying to learn everything in class and calling it a day.

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