Monday, February 27, 2012

Sudden Insights!

Ed Week headlines: Study Finds Sudden Insights Key to Learning Words.  (This is a subscription thing.  I got cheated in through the side.  I'll summarize.) 

As a World Language educator, I spend a bunch of time repeating key vocabulary words in ways that I think will help students remember it.  Turns out, I might be...maybe not exactly misplacing my efforts, but let's say...not focusing my students at the right time.  They make an initial hypothesis of a word, and then refuse to let it go until the hypothesis is undeniably proven false.  Turns out, though, that given enough context, people are really good at making initial guesses.  Besides, when we forget our initial guess, we get a chance to guess again.  We remember the word when a.) it's interesting or important that we know it, or b.) we've guessed correctly enough times that it sticks.  (That last sentence is an interpretation.)

So this effects my instruction in two ways: 1.)  I need to be looking for ways to create aha moments.  2.)  My focus should be on creating concrete, rather than abstract, moments.  We understand the concrete; we can really only do abstract when we have either a lot of concrete to work with or a lot of practice at doing abstract.  One way they do this in the research is to put a new thing with two know things and say, "Get the [new thing]!"  Not only do children correctly identify the new thing, they generally remember what the new thing is called.

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