Saturday, September 30, 2006

The beginning of some early bad habits......

Later that semester, the teacher announces to Dick and Jane’s class that there will be a test before the holidays to assess how much the students have learned about the ancient explorers they have been studying.

In the days leading up to the test, both Dick and Jane read all the notes that they have been copying from the blackboards for the past several weeks. Their notebooks are now filled with paragraphs, containing a plethora of information, which they must memorize. The standard study technique was to read, re-read, and repeat the process until the student was able to recite the information back, perhaps to a willing parent. Or, the parent might engage in a question and answer exercise, covering all the material.

The following day, Dick and Jane take the test. Both are reasonably bright students and they achieved good marks. A few weeks later, however, they don’t remember much of what they had been tested on, but at least the test is over and can be forgotten.

Toward the end of the school year, the teacher announces that the final exam in history will cover all the material studied that year.

At this point, both Dick and Jane begin to panic. They realize that they don’t remember much of what they had studied at the first of the year and will have to go back and re-memorize all the notes that they had copied from the teacher’s blackboards. They still have their maps, so that will help; but they also have four or five times as much material to cover.

And so, for the next couple of weeks, Dick and Jane are exposed to those familiar stages leading up to exams: panic, anxiety, memory blocks, fear of failure, frustration, tension,……and the list of negatives goes on. There isn’t much room for positive re-enforcement of good study habits to overcome all this negativity that is getting in the way of learning the material. But that would assume good study habits (even simple steps such as periodic review, re-enforcement techniques and recall exercises) had been taught and learned early on in the student’s career, which of course they hadn’t. Students, even at Dick and Jane's level, were expected to be innately capable of developing these techniques on their own and dealing with the ever-increasing volume of information confronting them, as they move to successive grade levels.

Unfortunately, this scenario will repeat itself throughout Dick and Jane’s school years, unless they learn new study habits and how to learn.

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Friday, September 29, 2006

KM: In the beginning......

In 1956, little Dick and Jane sit in their classroom, listening intently to their teacher as she describes some of the ancient world explorers’ voyages around the world. Then she raises the blinds that are hiding the classroom blackboards, filled with writing. The class is instructed to copy the paragraphs of text, which re-iterate what the teacher has just been talking about, into their notebooks. At the end of class, an outline map of the world is distributed to each student and they are given a small homework project: to create a map that shows the explorers’ voyages around the world.

Now, the notebook used in primary school measured 7” x 9” and contained about 20-24 wide-ruled pages. Every line was to be filled with text (block print or script) before a student could request a new notebook. The teacher was in control of allocating new notebooks; to safeguard against the wasteful practices of students, the teacher would inspect each notebook to ensure that as much whitespace as possible had been obliterated.

Late that afternoon after school, Dick and Jane sit down to complete their homework.

Dick, being a TV stereotypical boy of the time, picks up his pencil and quickly draws crude lines to indicate the explorers’ voyages. But the map is confusing: all the lines are the same, some lines are too close together and sometimes cross over each other. After a few attempts and crumpled drafts, Dick finally produces a map. To distinguish each trip, he uses solid, dashed, and dotted lines, and indicates the explorer’s name and the year of each voyage on the map. The map is black and white; if Dick is sufficiently interested in this exercise, he might colour his lines. But Dick doesn’t waste too much time on this work, as more important projects wait: baseball if it’s not too late, comic books, and later some TV before bed.

Jane, being the TV stereotypical girl, gathers her colouring pencils and begins to turn her outline map into a collage of colour. Then she selects a particular colour to represent each explorer and draws the path of each voyage. She, too, uses solid, dashed and dotted lines to indicate the different voyages of each explorer. Like Dick, she had other interests; however, she had a greater desire to please the teacher and took a little more time and care in preparing her map.

Dick and Jane have both just experienced the making of a knowledge map, although it was never explained to them what it was that they had just created or how they could build upon this map to retain the knowledge they had learned.

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