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Why don't students like school? Chapter 3 - CPD Session

Moving from Working to Long-Term Memory (from Why Don’t Students like School, Daniel T. Willingham)

The initial example is about a history teacher getting students to bake cookies to remember the Underground Railroad – but the author believing all they will remember is how to bake cookies. Or an amazing lesson and all they remember is a small anecdote or a joke you made. This worries me greatly and sort of suggests that lessons need to be sterile in order for students to remember what you want them to – or is that so? I had the same thought when reading Cognitive Load Theory – anecdotes and jokes can overload working memory and prevent the thing you want them to learn from going in. This is thoroughly depressing if true and makes me not want to be a teacher.

A perfect lesson would be a plain PowerPoint slide with some bullet points.

What makes you move things from working memory to long-term memory?

Emotion? Nope, apparently. – Very strong emotions can help you remember certain things, but this isn’t a tactic for school teaching.

Repetition? Nope. Not that either.

Making judgments on topics and giving things meaning….? Yes. There is evidence to say this can increase memory…

More positive news…

Teachers need to be a) engaging and b) well organised. One or the other doesn’t work. They need to have that emotional connection in order to pay attention and the content must be organised in order for them to remember it…

A story can deliver that…

1. Causality

2. Conflict

3. Complications

4. Character

We must spend some time getting the students invested in the story – just like an actual movie does by building up compelling characters so we emotionally invest in the action that follows.

This is what cognitive science teaches us.

However, is it the only way to encourage students to remember something?

No. If the content has no easily applicable storyline – then a mnemonic can just as easily be used.


Attention-grabbing activities may overshadow

any other learning you wish them to perform – you remember what you think about, so they may just remember the attention grabber.

Discovery Learning is ok only if the environment provides immediate feedback to prevent them from spending too long exploring dead ends – computer games are the best example of excellent discovery learning tools.


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