Associative Learning - One World Schoolhouse Reflections Continued

Here is a guest post by my teaching partner, Chantelle Davies about The One World Schoolhouse by Salman Khan. We have been reading this book and I find that we have been discussing and questioning how is methods would work in our setting.

In recent days I have picked up where I left off in listening to my audiobook, The One World Schoolhouse by Salman Khan. In the book, Khan discusses the scientific side of how education happens. A phrase he used that really stuck with me was that, “we learn by deciding to learn.” So often, educators talk ‘at’ students hoping that they will at some point just absorb the material they are hearing. However, despite all of our repeating of concepts, if a student does not see any value in trying to learn the material; the chances are that he or she will not retain any of the information for any extended period of time. From time to time, when I’m trying to get a student to understand a concept they are not grasping well they will regurgitate the ‘correct’ answers back to me simply so they can move on and head back to their seat. Often this means that while they may briefly understand the concept, in a day or two I find they need further review as they have not logged this into their long term memory.

Khan explains that some of the research he has explored shows that students need to be able to relate new learning to something they have previously learned. This is called associative learning. Thus, students will retain information better if they can make meaningful connections to what they already know and they are more likely to want to learn the material if these links are there.

Khan asks why in our current system, do we chunk and separate concepts that we are teaching. Contrary to this thought, many teachers that I know do blend their subjects and learning concepts together. Well, at least in the lower grades they do. Language lessons are often intertwined with science and social studies lessons; while the arts are blended into assignments across all areas of the curriculum. The challenge with this comes as students get older and move to a rotary system where subjects are taught in isolation. When different teachers are teaching each subject, the separation as Khan discussed does indeed exist. When teachers don’t see students for multiple subjects, they are unable to find and demonstrate those natural learning links across the curriculum. Thus, stifling the associative learning. Should we then be re-evaluating the model commonly used in our middle schools and high schools? Is this another reason for elementary schools to avoid the rotary system?

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