Ed Neuroscience

Popular education myths every parent should know - 2

In our second article of PRISM-an education blog by SASE, we discuss the next set of learning myths. Do you think re-reading is an efficient strategy or that children’s minds act like a video recorders, recording all of our experiences?

We take into account recent scientific advances in the field of learning to decipher myths.

Myth 4: We learn by “discovering”

There is a popular idea that we learn best with a discovery-based learning approach, or the idea that if left to our own devices, we will figure everything out.

This may be true for certain aspects. For example, if we know how to solve a problem, we are successful when left alone to work it out. However, this is not always the case.

Research shows that when it comes to acquiring new information or solving new problems, a more direct instruction approach is better. Direct instruction is a method of teaching in which the teacher directly presents information to the students in a structured and organized manner.

A wealth of scientific research has been conducted on direct instruction. An overwhelming amount of meta-analytic evidence shows it has positive effects on students across all school levels and subjects.

One major advantage of direct instruction is that it is time-efficient. The teacher can present a large amount of information in a relatively short amount of time, allowing the students to quickly acquire new knowledge and ideas. This is particularly useful when dealing with complex or technical subject matter, as the teacher can provide expert guidance and clarification as needed.

Another advantage of direct instruction is that it is effective for students who have difficulty understanding or retaining information. The teacher can use a variety of instructional strategies, such as visual aids, examples, and repetition, to help the students understand and remember the information.

This can be especially beneficial for students with learning difficulties or those who are new to a particular subject area.

Here are a few tips to promote learning for parents and educators:

  • Use a clear and organized lesson plan and plan your lessons in advance. This will help you present the information in a structured way and ensure that all important concepts are covered.
  • Provide clear instructions. This will help children be clear on how to go about solving a problem.
  • Provide a variety of instructional strategies. Use different methods such as visual aids, hands-on activities, and group work to make the lesson more engaging and help students understand the material in different ways to learn better.
  • Provide feedback: Give students feedback on their understanding, effort, and progress. This will help them stay motivated and improve their understanding of the material and help them see where to improve.

Myth 5: Our memory codes everything

Another popular idea out there is that our memory is one giant video camera that records all our experiences as they happen and exactly how they happen to us.

Scientifically speaking, this could not be further from the truth.

Our memories go through complex processes of encoding, consolidation, reconsolidation, and finally, retrieval, before they are remembered (for a review, see this article on memory processes). Each of these processes depend on complex neurobiological processes in the brain that makes our memories malleable and fallible.

One of the main pieces of evidence that busts this myth comes from research on the phenomenon of memory distortion. Memory distortion is the phenomenon that our memories are not fixed and unchanging, but can instead be changed over time.

For example, studies have shown that people's memories of an event can be influenced by their expectations, emotions, and other factors that were present at the time of the event. Additionally, people's memories of an event can be influenced by information they encounter after the event, such as through the process of post-event misinformation.

Another piece of evidence comes from studies on encoding, or learning, information. Studies have shown that the way we encode information can influence the way we remember it later.

For example, research has shown that when people are told to remember an event, they tend to remember it better than if they weren’t instructed to do so. If the mind had recorded the event like we are used to thinking, everyone would be able to remember the event regardless of being told to do so or not.

Finally, research on the process of retrieval, which is the way we recall information from our memories, also shows our mind is not a video recorder. Studies have shown that people can have difficulty retrieving specific memories, especially after traumatic events or due to various psychiatric disorders.

For example, research has shown that people are more likely to remember an event when they are asked to retrieve it in a similar context to the one in which it originally occurred. In addition, factors like being stressed out, can limit our ability to remember the event.

These findings suggest that our memories go through changes once they’re formed, and that different external factors can influence what we end up remembering. If our mind simply recorded everything, this wouldn’t be the case.

Here are a few tips to promote memory for parents and educators:

  • Encourage active learning: Active learning strategies such as flashcards, mnemonics, and summarizing can help students actively engage with the material in different ways and improve their ability to remember it.
  • Encourage organization and note-taking: Encourage students to organize their notes and materials in a way that makes sense to them. This will help them better understand and remember the information.
  • Encourage a healthy lifestyle: Encourage students to maintain a healthy lifestyle by eating a balanced diet, getting enough sleep, and regular exercise. This can help improve overall cognitive function and memory.
  • Pay close attention to students or children: If a student or your child is having difficulty with memory, it is important to identify any underlying issues and address them. This may involve consulting with a learning specialist or other professional to develop a personalized plan of action.

Myth 6: Re-reading is an effective strategy

The idea that strategies like re-reading or highlighting material are effective is one of the most pervasive learning myths out there today.

In fact, it has been scientifically proven that the strategy of testing or self-testing is far more effective than another learning strategy. Self-testing is a strategy where you learn information and then test yourself on it without looking at the items.

For example, you want to learn 20 new vocabulary words. You separate the words into two lists of 10 words. You read one of the lists of 10 words several times and then, without looking at the words, you try to actively recall as many of those words as you can. For the other list of 10 words, you try learning them by simply re-reading several times instead of testing yourself.

Countless studies have shown that your memory will be enhanced in the long-term for items you learn through testing as opposed to the ones learned through mere re-reading. This phenomenon is called the testing effect.

In one study, authors asked one group of participants to learn words through testing and another group through re-reading. Results showed that the group who learned via testing had significantly better memory for those words compared to the group who learned via re-reading.

In fact, the testing effect is so strong, that it consistently outperforms other learning strategies that are typically seen as effective such as concept-mapping. One study looked at the benefits of testing compared to other strategies such as concept-mapping. They found that testing produced more learning even when compared to other elaborative techniques.

Testing has also been shown to be highly effective for classroom-learning. For example, meta-analytic studies have shown that using testing improves learning across all education levels and across all subject areas.

Here are a few tips to promote self-testing for parents and educators:

  • Model the behavior: Show children how to self-test by doing it yourself. This will help them understand the process and the benefits of self-testing.
  • Make it a regular part of their study routine: Incorporate self-testing into their regular study routine. For example, you can assign self-testing as homework or have them self-test at the end of each study session.
  • Provide feedback and support: Provide children with feedback and support as they self-test. For example, by telling them if an answer they tested themselves on was correct or not. This will help them remember the right answer in the future.
  • Make it fun and interactive: Incorporate interactive elements such as games, quizzes or flashcards to make self-testing more engaging and fun for children.
  • Provide them with the right tools: Provide children with the tools they need to self-test, such as practice quizzes, flashcards or study guides.

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