Students already know much of what we’re supposedly ‘teaching’

Graham Nuthall said:

Our research shows that students can be busiest and most involved with material they already know. In most of the classrooms we have studied, each student already knows about 40-50% of what the teacher is teaching.

via The Hidden Lives of Learners, p. 24

We could solve this by pre-testing, yet not enough of us do…

Hat tip: Carl Hendrick

3 Responses to “Students already know much of what we’re supposedly ‘teaching’”

  1. Sorry Scott, but I think that you’ve missed the boat on this one. We learn by adding to what we already know and expanding upon it. Just as an example, I will start with asking students about what they know about electrical charges (positive and negative) and get the “opposites attract and likes repel” and review the structure of the atom (electrons on the outside, the nucleus being very small and where the protons and neutrons are) before pointing out that they just told me that like charges repel and that the protons are all packed into a tiny nucleus. Then ask them how that can be, and work to the idea of a stronger force holding the nucleus together. If I did not spend a good portion of the class forcing them to recall what they had already learned, the material would be disconnected (and contradictory). To teach for understanding often requires forcing students to actively recall material which they have previously learned (and this has been shown to be one of the most effective methods of instruction).
    If, however, you are being “Nostalgic for Factual recall” then yes, repeating simple tidbits of information that never had any contextual meaning would be a waste of time… but that was true without the repetition.

    • I think we’re actually in agreement, Bill. The question for me is how do we spend as much time as possible on new learning (or, maybe, extensions of previous learning) rather than repeating stuff already acquired.

      Yes, students should be connecting new learning to old learning. I’m cool with that. But my 5th-grade son shouldn’t be doing worksheet after worksheet practicing math he doesn’t need to practice…

  2. I don’t think we CAN solve this by pretesting – we can FIND OUT about it.

    But solving it would require time and space and resources for far more differentiation than funding currently supports.

    And a lot more confidence that “covering” something requires the whole class to do it ‘just in case’ someone who ‘knows it’ doesn’t really…

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