We’ve all encountered children who just couldn’t seem to remember what we taught them – or who seemed unable to learn to begin with. It is human nature to begin wondering if there is something about the child that is not working well.
Is he not listening? Is she lazy? Is she not trying? Is he just super forgetful? Or is it more serious than that? Is he just not able to learn? What REALLY is going on?
Do any of these scenarios ring a bell with you?
These scenarios happen all the time in every classroom. It’s not just you!
If this pretty much sounds familiar, let’s just take a moment to see how learning happens when it happens beautifully.
ALL learning begins with sensory input. But all input is not created equal, my dears. Teaching and learning can involve talking and listening, but those things are some of the least effective ways to make learning happen. Teaching verbally, listening, reading, memorizing: all these things register in the brain in very limited and short term fashion. Our brains are not hard-wired to store these types of experiences in long term memory. Not unless there is a whole lot more going on. Let’s take a close look.
First, here is what is happening in the brain during a lesson:
Smell is so closely related to setting (context) and memory that it would be worthwhile and fun to experiment using scent on purpose while learning something boring or hard. Then when you want to know what your child remembers, diffuse that scent again and see what happens.
Location is also a great way to anchor learning and make it memorable. Don’t do all your teaching with the students sitting in the same exact place for every lesson. Try mixing it up. How many times have you been trying to remember something you forgot and you say to yourself, “I remember I was standing right by the back door, I was holding my sunglasses in my hand, and the doorbell rang just then…” and hopefully as you recall those related events, the thing you were trying to remember comes back to you.
Story is one of the most powerful ways to help children learn and remember. This is because when you tell a story with learning concepts in it, the child’s brain is stimulated in all the places it would be if he were IN the story experiencing the action, seeing the sights, moving, feeling emotions, etc. Stories are powerful ways to convey a lot that otherwise would be tedious and hard to remember. They are also powerful because they explain the “why” behind dry facts.
Metaphor is extremely effective as a teaching/learning/remembering tool. Very much like stories, they SHOW rather than tell. Choose something that is very familiar to your child, something he or she can see, and use that to explain some new abstract concept that is loosely related. Example, network of roads is like the circulatory system.
Color and Pattern and anything else that is super visual like pictures that show the learning are captured instantly in the brain. What a child sees will stick far more readily and permanently than what he hears. Show, don’t tell.
Context is very important for children. Never give them an isolated detail and ask him or her to just remember it. Build it into its environment, show how it is part of a pattern. Rather than study something from a book, go to the source as often as possible and give first-hand experience.
Belief is the strongest factor in learning. Your belief in your child and his/her belief in their ability to learn. For this reason, it is critical you use your very best teaching tools, learn as quickly as possible what your child’s learning strengths are. He/she must experience success. There is no question about whether or not they can learn.
Respect the child’s natural design. Adults allow for specialization for themselves, but we tend as educators to demand that all children perform equally well in everything. We would be so wise to help the child focus on his/her strengths from childhood so as they grow up, they will know what they are good at. Better that than turn the focus on what they don't do well!