Friday, April 22, 2011

Harder learning can be deeper learning

“For a teacher trying to design an assignment, the ideal thing is to put your students in a situation where they are challenged. The more someone struggles with something, the more they are going to learn,” Mr. Kornell said. “You want them to eventually feel something is easy to process, but only because they’ve worked through it and made it their own, not because you made it easy for them.”
That’s from a great new EdWeek article on research showing that, though people think they will remember content best if it seems easy to understand from the beginning, people are wrong about that.  What really work is spending some time wrestling with something challenging.

For example, students think that studying short vocabulary lists of 5 to 7 words will work best, but research shows that struggling with a list of 30 words actually builds better memory.  It's harder work at the time, but the effort means the information is more deeply mastered.

“Desirable difficulties” is a helpful way of describing the challenging work that makes knowledge memorable, shared in the article by Robert Bjork, director of UCLA’s Learning and Forgetting Lab.

Reading, my mind kept offering the image of Gerber baby food.  It's carefully cooked, mashed, and strained to be easy on new eaters, but if we kept giving our children the soft stuff, they'd never learn to handle regular food on their own.  This research seems to me to argue that it is really important for students to start "chewing" information independently.

For more on this powerful insight, check out the full EdWeek report here.

1 comment:

  1. Susan - could you please share with me your sources on vocabulary learning? It has been a (long) while since I've read anything on that subject, but my last readings were in favor of fewer words (15 or less) at a deeper level of understanding rather than more words (20 or more). I'm always trying to keep up with the research and if I need to change my classroom practice, I will if best for my students. Thanks!


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