Trading in memorization for retrieval exercises can help quash students' internalized failure
- Students who have “internalized failure,” believing they’re just not capable of grasping a certain subject, can be encouraged to think differently, veteran K-12 teacher Patrice Bain writes for EdSurge.
- Bain, for example, would tell her middle school students in Columbia, Illinois, that she was less focused on them mastering everything in class and more on them learning how to learn, forgoing rote homework assignments in favor of mini-quizzes that asked them to write what they knew about topics they’d learned.
- These retrieval exercises showed what they actually learned and what they didn’t, rather than rote responses to homework questions, and they also gave Bain an idea of where to apply more focus in class discussions.
Standardized testing ushered in an era of teaching that forced educators to ensure students performed on assessments at certain score levels, not necessarily measuring whether they had learned the material or not.
Memorization — often a skill that proves useful during assessments — isn't a terrible tool. We need to know our address, the names of people we love, and other details that we use without thinking during our daily lives. But rote recall is not the same as deep learning: It is a stepping stone, not the path.
Future success in a career requires that people be able to synthesize information and make decisions. They need to learn and adapt to situations. Having basic knowledge is crucial. After all, doctors need to know — and memorize — the bones of the body, chefs must know exactly how the cooking process affects chicken differently than carrots, and computer programmers need to know the basics of how to code. But that’s just the starting block, the same as when we ask students to repeat data they’ve absorbed for a specific test.
More keenly, not being strong at taking standardized tests can also leave students feeling poorly about themselves. When a student with a love of learning and a sense of curiosity finds that they’re not achieving high marks on a standardized test, they can shut down, researchers have found.
“Studies show that elementary school students can begin to lose their sense of themselves as capable, able to do well in school and graduate, when they see unknown adults as controlling the administration and consequences of the standardized tests they are required to take,” wrote the National Council of Teachers of English in a 2014 paper. “Even the very best ELA teachers have difficulty fostering learning in students who do not believe in their own abilities.”
Children who don’t believe in themselves is a result that no educator or administrator ever wants to achieve.
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