I have a routine with my kids. When they come home from school they grab a snack and then get straight to studying. They sit at the same table, often in the same chair, at the same time each day. Makes sense right? It has all the ingredients for information retention:
- Quiet work space.
- Stick to a homework schedule.
- Set goals.
- Set boundaries.
Apparently, I’m mistaken. An article in the New York Times shows that what really improves memory contradicts popular beliefs. Research supports the following:
- Alternate between subjects.
- Study in different settings.
Even though academics have not caught on to this, athletes have. It’s called cross-training. The author of the New York Times article, Benedict Carey says “varying the type of material studied in a single sitting — alternating, for example, among vocabulary, reading and speaking in a new language — seems to leave a deeper impression on the brain than does concentrating on just one skill at a time.”
I was also shocked by what was not shown to be a measurable factor in learning. How often have we heard that learning styles make a big difference in retention of information, or how we learn? You know, the idea that some are visual learners, versus auditory learners; and that some are left brainers vs. right brainers. So I was surprised to learn that in a recent review of the relevant research, published in the journal Psychological Science in the Public Interest, a team of psychologists found little to no support for such ideas.
What about the different teaching styles? Does that make a difference? The answer is, they simply don’t know.
“We have yet to identify the common threads between teachers who create a constructive learning atmosphere,” said Daniel T. Willingham, a psychologist at the University of Virginia and author of the book “Why Don’t Students Like School?”
Wow. The article is worth reading, and for me, worth applying. When my kids come home today, I think I will have them sit in the living room, spend 15 minutes on one subject and then alternate to another. I will conduct my own research on this subject.
What works for you?