In recent years the area of education has tried to combine some elements of cognitive sciences, such as psychology and neuroscience, with classroom practice. Several postgraduate courses, conferences, workshops as well as other events are now part of Continuous Professional Development (CPD) programs and they’re likely to take into account topics associated with Neuroeducation, Science of Learning (SoL) and the science of the Mind, Brain and Education (MBE). The main objective of this science is to study teaching strategies based on scientific evidence in order to promote what should or should not work best when we want more positive learning outcomes . What can this science tell us and what are some online tools teachers can use to implement more effective teaching strategies in this time of remote teaching?
This text aims to briefly describe six strategies discussed in the recent article by Yana Weinstein, Christopher R. Madan & Megan A. Sumeracki (2018), as well as link them to commonly used online tools. However, before we go any further, it is useful for us to reflect on the concept of Metacognition. Metacognition refers to knowledge about cognition, which relates to words such as thinking, perception, reasoning, intuition, attention, memory and also both lower and higher order thinking skills (see Bloom’s Taxonomy). In other words, metacognition is about learning to learn, or thinking about thinking (Pintrich, 2002). Therefore, we could say that Metacognition is the substance of MBE and SoL. Now if you want to watch a cool webinar about this topic in English, here you go:
If you want a long talk about the subject in Portuguese, you can watch Raquel Oliveira’s interview with me on her channel:
Let’s get down to business, shall we?
- SPACED REPETITION
For declarative memory to be consolidated in the brain, we need to sleep. Recently learned information is stored in the hippocampus and temporarily reproduced in the brain during sleep to create more representations and lasting memories (Maquet et al.2000). Reviewing content only once after class or doing homework on the same day can be a waste of cognitive resources as it would be more beneficial to revisit it the next day after sleeping and in future review sessions with some spacing between them (Henderson, Weighall, Brown, & Gaskell, 2012; Seehagen, Konrad, Herbert, & Schneider, 2015). You can read more about spaced repetition here.
The idea is to create a repetition schedule. As a great Learning Management System ( LMS), Google Classroom allows you to schedule not only the due dates for activities, but also the dates for posting announcements and exercises. Trello is brilliant for project management. You can create different boards and add as many columns as you want (an example would be TO DO, DOING, and DONE columns). It helps everyone keep track of the things they need to do and when they should have them done.
The evidence suggests that interleaving is better than cramming (Kornell & Bjork, 2008). Switching between tasks or topics when studying can be a wonderful way to improve learning (Rohrer & Taylor, 2007). Our brain is not programmed for monotony. Changes to the environment, resource and, especially, the content / topic can be welcome. Instead of studying the same grammatical structure until exhaustion before moving on to the next one, study it for a while, take a brain break and start the next one. Use the pomodoro technique technique to help you. Read about it here.
Suggested online tool (s): TomatoTimers and Google Classroom
Use the TomatoTimers (website or app). Study 25 minutes of subject or structure A, pause for 5 min and then do another 25 minutes of studying subject or structure B. After two pomodoros (focused study for 25 minutes), take a 15-minute break (long pause). Another tip is to schedule Google Classroom topics in an interleaved way.
- RETRIEVAL PRACTICE
Forgetting is essential to learning. If you think that just because the student had a lesson, they learned, think again. Quick question: How much of the test content can you remember a week after taking the test? How about two weeks later? One month later? A semester later? If we can’t remember something, does that mean we’ve learned? Probably not. We need to make a recurring effort to retrieve the content we are learning. The repeated retrieval of items from our memory increases declarative memory consolidation and improves students’ long-term learning (Karpicke, 2012; Dunlosky et al., 2013). So, instead of immediately giving students the answer to a question you’ve just asked, let them search the brain for the answer. Don’t mind the silence, this effort will help them.
Quizlet allows you to create flashcards, that is, cards that contain a question on the front and the answer on the back. It is fun and highly effective to test yourself with flashcards. Kahoot is definitely an all-time favorite as it helps you create interactive quizzes that allow your students to use their mobiles to answer. You can do the same with Mentimeter and also create polls and word clouds. All of these tools help your students retrieve content and you can even use them periodically, based on the spaced repetition strategy.
- DUAL CODING
We need to use verbal and non-verbal processing to better consolidate and retrieve information from our memory. This means that it is better to listen to and to look at something than just one or the other (Paivio, 1991). In a lesson that does not use visual aids, it is likely that students’ working memory will fill up more quickly and that consolidation will be less effective. However, with images and sounds creating larger neural networks in the brain, it is easier to remember the content exposed.
Use videoconferencing platforms. They offer the possibility of sharing sound, video and, in particular, your screen, which can contain relevant pictures about the content you are teaching.
The Elaborative Coding Theory (Karpicke & Smith, 2012) states that, for better memorization and retrieval, information needs to be encoded in a number of different ways, not just one. Rather than showing the formula of Present Perfect and drilling it, the ideal is to have visual examples to show students, such as photos of experiences and trips, as well as ask students to think of other situations in which this structure can be used. They can create podcasts, videos, layouts, organization charts, slides and whatever they want. Inquiry-based teaching (such as Project-Based Learning) and the Socratic Method are great sources of ideas on how to use elaboration.
Padlet is excellent for sharing different types of files in an interesting visual way on a screen. Students can place images, videos, text, audio and create editable notebooks for everyone in the group. MindMeister is used to create mind maps with the possibility of attaching files. It’s a great way to make your notes more visually appealing. Vocaroo is quite easy to use and practical as it allows students to record their voices and generate a link of their recording. These tools can help your students ask more questions about the content their learning and think more critically.
- CONCRETE EXAMPLES
Miller (1956), Sweller (1988) and Cowan (2001) suggest the idea of Cognitive Overload, which means that our brains do not have unlimited capacity to store information and the number of chunks that we can keep in the working memory at the same time varies between 2 to 9. This means that we need to give practical examples instead of just explaining the theory, especially when we are teaching children, who are unable to understand very abstract concepts. By eliminating jargon-filled explanations or difficult words, abstract definitions and complex concepts, as well as using familiar situations and analogy, we can help students better understand and memorize.
Canva is great for creating and editing posters, pamphlets, guides, portfolios and posts for social media. You can use it to improve the design of your slides and include incredible analogies. If you want a slightly bigger challenge, use the Powtoon animation editor. It helps bring situations and narratives to life with animated characters, effects and soundtrack.
These are just a few tools that can help make this remote teaching period more effective. With the new reality of remote learning for children, we need to rethink our practice and find alternative ways to help them learn better. However, I must also say that we need to be careful with buzzwords such as METACOGNITION or NEUROEDUCATION. There aren’t any magical solutions or fixed recipes. One of the steps of metacognition is to assess whether the chosen strategies are working well or not. And I can’t stress enough how much we need to bear this in mind. Some things may work better for some students and other things may work better for other students. Each brain is unique and we need to treat our students as unique individuals.
To pay my respects to a brilliant educator who’s left this world too soon, remember that:
We have to go from what is essentially an industrial model of education, a manufacturing model, which is based on linearity and conformity and batching people. We have to move to a model that is based more on principles of agriculture. We have to recognize that human flourishing is not a mechanical process; it’s an organic process. And you cannot predict the outcome of human development. All you can do, like a farmer, is create the conditions under which they will begin to flourish.”
Sir Ken Robinson
Having said that, I do believe that tayloring our practice according to how the brain and the mind work will most likely have a positive impact on our students’ learning outcomes. So my suggestion is: try these ideas, learn more about SoL and metacognition, and keep testing things based on scientific evidence and experience.
Let me know how it goes!
Cowan N. (2001) The magical number 4 in short-term memory: A reconsideration of mental storage capacity. Behavioral and Brain Sciences. 24:87–185
Dunlosky, J., Rawson, K. A., Marsh, E. J., Nathan, M. J., & Willingham, D. T. (2013). Improving students’ learning with effective learning techniques: Promising directions from cognitive and educational psychology. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 14, 4-58
Flavell, John H. (1985). Cognitive development. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.
Henderson, L. M., Weighall, A. R., Brown, H., & Gaskell, M. G. (2012). Consolidation of vocabulary is associated with sleep in children. Developmental Science, 15, 674–687
Karpicke, J. D. (2012). Retrieval-based learning: Active retrieval promotes meaningful learning. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 21(3), 157-163
Karpicke, J. D. & Smith, M. A. (2012). Separate mnemonic effects of retrieval practice and elaborative encoding. Journal of Memory and Language. 67 (1): 17–29
Kornell N., Bjork R. A. (2008). Learning concepts and categories: is spacing the “enemy of induction”? Psychol. Sci. 19 585–592 10.1111/j.1467-9280.2008.02127.x
Maquet, P., Laureys, S., Peigneux, P., Fuchs, S., Petiau, C., Phillips, C., . . . Cleeremans, A. (2000). Experience-dependent changes in cerebral activation during human rem sleep. Nature Neuroscience, 3(8), 831-6.
Miller, G. A. (1956). The magical number seven, plus or minus two: Some limits on our capacity for processing information. Psychological Review. 63 (2): 81–97
Paivio, A. (1991). Dual coding theory: Retrospect and current status. Canadian Journal of Psychology/Revue canadienne de psychologie, 45(3), 255
Pintrich, Paul R. (2002). The Role of metacognitive knowledge in learning, teaching, and assessing. Theory into Practice, 41(4). 219-225.
Rohrer, D., & Taylor, K. (2007). The shuffling of mathematics problems improves learning. Instructional Science, 35, 481–498.
Seehagen, S., Konrad, C., Herbert, J. S., & Schneider, S. (2015). Timely sleep facilitates declarative memory consolidation in infants. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 112, 1625–1629
Sweller, J. (1988), Cognitive Load During Problem Solving: Effects on Learning. Cognitive Science, 12: 257–285
Weinstein, Y., Madan, C.R. & Sumeracki, M.A (2018). Teaching the science of learning. Cogn. Research 3, 2