Powerful Teaching

24th October 2019

Cheery Friday Greetings to our Learning How to Learners!

Greetings from Moscow, where Barb is speaking about learning for Sberbank. (Fun fact: if you’re sitting in the Radisson Collection Hotel in downtown Moscow, and type in “Your location” on Google Maps, you’ll see the location showing up as 40 kilometers away, at the Sheremetyevo Airport.)

Book of the Year

Powerful Teaching: Unleash the Science of Learning by Pooja K. Agarwal, Ph.D. and Patrice M. Bain, Ed.S. If we had to select a single book to recommend to instructors of any kind, it would be this masterpiece—the best book on teaching that we’ve ever read.  

In Powerful Teaching, Agarwal and Bain provide a tour de force of practical ideas and explanations involving retrieval practice, explaining how this vital topic is related to concepts such as interleaving, deliberate practice, formative assessments. 

Retrieval practice is so much deeper than simple memorization: As Powerful Teaching notes: “we typically focus on getting information into students’ heads. On the contrary, one of the most robust findings from cognitive science research is the importance of getting information out of students’ heads. Based on a century of research, in order to transform learning, we must focus on getting information out – a strategy called retrieval practice.”  

If you are a K-12 teacher or university instructor, or a parent, don’t miss this teaching book for the ages. Think retrieval practice is only for plebeian facts? Think again—as Agarwal and Bain note: “When it comes to retrieval practice, how far up the pyramid can we move student learning? If we want students to think on a higher-order level, then we should make sure our retrieval questions are basic and higher-order. It’s shortsighted to think, ‘Gee, well, if I have students retrieve a vocabulary word, they should be able to apply this in a higher-order example or a higher-order type of material.’ Based on research, provide a mix of fact-based retrieval and higher-order retrieval if that’s the type of learning you want to see in your students.” 

Part of what we love about this book is the simplicity of its explanations—not only is it well-researched, it’s elegantly written. Looking for a Christmas present for a parent or teacher friend, or for yourself? This is it.

Class Central’s Latest List of New Courses

Check out Class Central’s popular list of 200 universities that have just launched 620+ free online courses. Here’s the full list.

College Students Just Want Normal Libraries

As this article by Alia Wong in The Atlantic notes, “Schools have been on a mission to reinvent campus libraries—even though students just want the basics.” Key graf: “Likely in the hopes of proving that they have more to offer than a simple internet connection does, many college libraries are pouring resources into interior-design updates and building renovations, or into ‘glitzy technology,’ such as 3-D printers and green screens, that is often housed in ‘media centers’ or ‘makerspaces’…. Yet much of the glitz may be just that—glitz. Survey data and experts suggest that students generally appreciate libraries most for their simple, traditional offerings: a quiet place to study or collaborate on a group project, the ability to print research papers, and access to books.”

Yet Another Reason Sleep Is Important

This article by Naama Barak in Israel21c describes how individual “sleeping cells” have chromosomes that move almost twice as much during sleep, which helps with the performance of nuclear maintenance. Prof. Lior Appelbaum, one of the study’s co-authors, points out: “We’ve found a causal link between sleep, chromosome dynamics, neuronal activity and DNA damage and repair with direct physiological relevance to the entire organism… Sleep gives an opportunity to reduce DNA damage accumulated in the brain during wakefulness.” [Hat tip Rex Freriks.]

Looking for a Good Translator?

Although we’ve long used Google Translate as our “go to” on the spot translator, we’ve lately heard about “DeepL” as doing a better translation job.  If you need translations, you might want to check it out.

We checked it out against an in-depth description by Venezuelan Victor Niebla of what is happening in Venezuela. (Just paste in the entire copied document, and delete Spanish paragraphs as you read.)  Key grafs: “Venezuela has never finished applying a serious economic plan because the governments ‘wrinkle’ halfway through the plan, when they see their popularity plummet, then the economic measures change and they become populist, indebting the country again, and we repeat the cycle of crisis with the next president. In short, we Venezuelans are the cause of our own economic misfortune, both in government and in society….. In these strong moments that we are going through, there are still people believing in the country, people who refuse to leave, something that I personally find incredible and worthy of admiration.

“There are people creating food, farming, soap, shampoo, biscuits, milk, cakes, everything. Venezuelans are characterized by not losing hope…” 

Optimal Learning Strategies

Justin T asks what the optimal timeframes for various aspects of learning might be.  He notes: “I’ve been playing with 10 min focused, 2 min recall, and subsequent 3 minutes eyes-closed mindfulness (see, hear, sense, feel free-form awareness tracking).” We think Justin’s approach is quite interesting. There’s nothing definitive that we’re aware of from research about this—but if you have any thoughts, please comment on the discussion forum here.

That’s all for this week. Have a happy week in Learning How to Learn!

Barb, Terry, and the entire Learning How to Learn team

View more Cheery Friday e-mails >