Good food for good thought

Most teachers would agree that it is important that students remember much of what they read. Yet one of the most common sights on high school and college campuses across the land is that of students poring over textbooks, yellow marker in hand, highlighting pertinent passages — which often end up including most of the page. Later in the semester, to prepare for their exams, students hit the textbooks again, rereading the yellow blocks of text.

Studies have shown that highlighting and rereading text is among the least effective ways for students to remember the content of what they have read. A far better technique is for students to quiz themselves. In one study, students who read a text once and then tried to recall it on three occasions scored 50 percent higher on exams than students who read the text and then reread it three times. And yet many teachers persist in encouraging — or at least not discouraging — the techniques that science has proved to fall short.

It is also important that insights provided by a clearinghouse come from basic science. Many teachers, for instance, need to be disabused of the notions children have different “learning styles” and that boys’ brains are hardwired to be better at spatial tasks than girls’. This job of bringing accurate scientific information about thinking and learning to teachers might arguably fall to schools of education, states, districts and teachers’ professional organizations, but these institutions have shown little interest in the job. A neutral national review board would be the simplest and quickest answer to a problem that is a big obstacle to broad improvement across many schools.

How Science Can Improve Teaching

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