Monday, April 23, 2012

Thoughts on Retention

Why is it so hard for students to retain information? I know this is a question that has been popping up for me almost daily as we are working through the rational expressions unit. Students have to factor as a part of the process and I still have students with issues factoring. There is multiplying binomial times binomial and they don't remember how to do that either. Both concepts I have taught this year.

I think I have some of the answer. It is in our culture of how we teach our students. My dad and I had a conversation about it. He shared with me his adult learning experiences and how he was more successful than other students who had just left college. My dad's approach involved asking questions and tying the new material to his experiences and prior knowledge. The students in the course who had recently attended college tended to "study" the material the evening prior to the test and memorize it. Their scores weren't as high as his.

@RobertTalbert tweeted a link to a commentary on the Chronicle of Higher Education's webpage that discussed why telling students to study for exams wasn't really a good idea. What David Jaffee is getting at is similar to what my dad shared: encouraging students to memorize for a test doesn't really help them to learn the material.

Jaffee says:
An indication of this widespread nonlearning is the perennial befuddlement of faculty members who can't seem to understand why students don't know this or that, even though it was "covered" in a prior or prerequisite course. The reason they don't know it is because they did not learn it. Covering content is not the same as learning it.
Then he proceeds to discuss why formative assessments are important to good instruction. Right now, in K-12 education, formative assessment is a buzzword. I only mention this because in the comments, it seems like it is an "utopian" ideas to the people commenting.

Now, I'm not here to debate or comment on what college faculty feel about this. However, I do see relevance to my own situation. I would have a better idea of where my students are at with a particular topic if I did some formative assessment (i.e. exit cards) on a regular basis. Students would have done at least one problem themselves in class and that may give them the confidence to do more on their own. It is not something I have done regularly enough in the past and I know I should do it more often (and I intend to).

As far as my lessons go, I guess this is the direction the Common Core State Standards are taking us. I have 2 units left this year - radicals and exponentials and logarithms. I am thinking I am going to try to set up my exponentials and logarithms unit as I should for Common Core. I have a little bit of lead time to do it, however, with it being my last unit of the year, I am a little hesitant (especially since student focus tends to decrease as the number of days left decreases). But I have to start somewhere and some time. No time like the present, right?

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