By Benedict Carey, author of “How We Learn: The Surprising Truth about When, Where, and Why It Happens.”
Check out MindShift’s article about the book.
1) You have assigned students to write an essay on “How Neurons Communicate,” based on reading a book chapter, but you know many of them will squirm. They may try to focus, but find the material will not yield. What to advise them, if they get stuck?
A. Tough it out, nobody said this was easy.
B. Get out of the house, and take the book with you: to the coffee shop, the park, the library. Put on some music. Have at it.
C. Eliminate all distractions from your work space. Concentrate.
D. Quit for now, and come back to it later.
ANSWER: B. There’s a large body of research showing that changing “context” while you’re learning — and this includes location, time of day, mood, environment, even background music — deepens learning. It also allows you to put your restlessness to good use.
2) You have scheduled a Spanish test one week from today, and you’ve advised students to allot four hours to study. How best can they use that time?
A. Put in one concentrated, four-hour study session three days before the test.
B. Stay up late, cramming, the night before the exam so the material is fresh.
C. Study one hour a night for four consecutive nights in the coming week.
D. Do two hours tonight and two tomorrow night.
ANSWER: D. Distributing or “spacing” study time can double the amount of material we retain. For a test in a week, the ideal schedule is: tonight and tomorrow, or tonight and the day after tomorrow. The optimal interval depends on when the test is.
3) Your (mostly) diligent 16-year-old daughter is stuck on a problem set. She asks you if she can take a break and jump on her computer. You respond by:
A. Making her push on, until a breakthrough occurs.
B. Suggesting she call a friend for help.
C. Letting her do what she wants.
D. Rolling your eyes, complaining about her generation’s addiction to technology and wondering aloud what will become of the world when the devices take over.
ANSWER: C. A little dose of distraction — 15 to 20 minutes, scrolling through Facebook or going for a run — actually helps us re-engage problems in a new way. It also increases the likelihood, by about 20 percent, that your daughter will find a solution to the problem she’s stuck on.
4) Your students each have an important class presentation to make in the coming days, and they need to memorize some material by heart. How much time should they spend studying and how much time practicing from memory?
A. A third of the time reading, two-thirds practicing from memory.
B. 90 percent studying the text — and 10 percent practicing from memory at the end.
C. 50 percent reading, 50 percent practicing.
D. Just read it a few times and sleep on it.
ANSWER: A. Research shows that “self-testing” — i.e., performing as practice — is much more effective than re-reading the text, by a ratio of about 2 to 1.
5) Quizzing overworked and sleep-deprived teachers on a book by Benedict Carey that they haven’t even had the chance to read yet is:
A. A waste of time.
B. A cruel, dirty trick.
C. A pandering gimmick.
D. By far the best way to become familiar with the project.
ANSWER: D. New research suggests that “pre-testing” — testing yourself on material before you’ve even studied it — tunes the brain for subsequent learning. The process of guessing at answers forces you to mentally bookmark material and concepts in a way that increases the likelihood you’ll recognize — and remember — them later.