Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Vary times for learning

Charly Baumann teaching his tigers
I was recently thinking about the timing of learning sessions.  What got me to thinking about this was a recent article in Science News citing research in animals that supports the idea that staggered lessons may work better than lessons that are timed at regular intervals.

When training lions and tigers and many other wild animals, I recall that I got the best results when I used a training schedule that included frequent but rather random short sessions.  I didn't have any particular scientific basis for doing that . . . it just seemed more natural to me.  More like how we learn things from our environment in "real life."  Now scientists are seeing that perhaps there is something to this idea.

I know that with my 8-year-old, if I ask him to spell one of his spelling words for the week occasionally throughout the day, every day, he remembers them much better.  Not just on his weekly spelling test, but for a longer term.

I tell my college anatomy students to study their flash cards in random, short intervals throughout the day, too. Those that do this find that it's a very effective way to learn a lot of facts very quickly . . . and retain them in long-term memory.

Perhaps if we can find ways to stagger our classroom lessons a bit, this should leverage the ability of students' brains in ways that help them succeed.\

My high school rotated classes over an 8-day cycle.  I like the fact that math class was not always after lunch!  And sometimes I could start the day with biology . . . a great way to start any day!  Years later, when I returned to the same school to teach I loved this schedule at least as much as when I was a student there.  Maybe moving classes around this way is not only fun, but effective.

Teachers, do you any of you have experiences in which staggering lessons seems to have helped your students?  If so, please share them!

Want to know more?
Staggered lessons may work better
Training at irregular intervals improves learning in sea snails
By Laura Sanders
Science News January 28th, 2012; Vol.181 #2 (p. 8)

[Brief article summarizing recent animal research in learning.]