Uncommon Sense Teaching: Practical Insights in Brain Science to Help Students Learn by Oakley, Rogowsky, and Sejnowski

4. Remedies for Procrastination

  • We all procrastinate, but there are ways we can help students with this issue. Try the Pomodoro Technique invented by Italian Francesco Cirillo in the 1980s. Remove all distractions and set a timer for 25 minutes or a student’s age plus one. When the time goes off have them relax for five minutes. Relaxing doesn’t mean engaging in a focused activity like checking their cellphones. Then repeat as needed. The breaks allow the hippocampus to consolidate memory in the neocortex.
  • Let parents know that bailing students out with help on last-minute assignments can promote procrastination. Creating strong long-term memories takes time and can’t be done the night before a test or when something is due. A good time to stop working on something is when frustration sets in. Stop, relax, and go back to it later or the next day after sleep helps consolidate memories. Tell students to move on when they encounter difficult test questions and come back to them later.
  • Be sure to give students rubrics and examples. Some examples should be mediocre with mistakes that students are prone to making. When possible, break an assignment into multiple shorter tasks that they can take on each day during a multi-day project or essay. By breaking a task into shorter pieces you will make it seem more doable and at the same time give students a lifelong skill.

5. How Human Brains Evolved – and Why This Matters for Your Teaching

  • When it comes to learning there are easy or primary things like learning our first language and recognizing faces. There are also hard or secondary things like learning to read and write and doing math. Most of this chapter focuses on direct instruction, which is how teachers can accomplish secondary learning. It is not the same as lecturing. It is also known as teacher-directed learning. It follows an I do, we do, you do pattern of action.
  • Teachers start with a short review of previous learning. Then they present new material in small steps with student practice after each step. Teachers ask questions and monitor student work to check for understanding. They provide models of worked-out problems (exemplars). Students then engage in independent practice, which can that the form of homework. It’s important not to give the students too much help as desirable difficulties need to be encountered as students engage in deliberate practice. The end of the chapter contains an extended example.

6. Active Learning: The Procedural Pathway

  • WHen it comes to learning, declarative learning is usually faster than procedural learning. When it comes to using what you have learned, however, procedural learning is faster and often automatic, unlike deliberate problem-solving. When teachers are teaching they are often drawing from procedural learning since they know the material so well. Knowing this might help them to not go too fast as the students are engaged in declarative learning. Students also have to apply what they are learning in order to internalize it.
  • The best approach to enhance declarative learning is retrieval practice. When it comes to procedural learning your best bet is to engage in spaced repetition also known as interleaving. This is when you mix up the practice of topics rather than drill on the same thing over and over. It can be laborious as your brain engages in desirable difficulty. When you can, train on a large set of varied samples like paintings by many different artists.
  • A schema is a set of natural connections in the brain that students can easily set new ideas on, kind of like a Christmas tree waiting for more ornaments. It’s a network of ideas and information that are somehow connected and schemas can also be interconnected. They make learning easier and represent your prior knowledge. When you take notes try to connect things to make graphic organizers. This is why handwriting may be better than typing for note-taking.
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