The Knowledge Gap

23rd August 2019

Cheery Friday Greetings to our Learning How to Learners!

Books of the Month

The Knowledge Gap: The hidden cause of America’s broken education systemand how to fix it, by Natalie Wexler. If you are a teacher, parent, or in any way involved in the US school system, this book should move to the very top of your list to be read today. We can’t help but quote Amazon reviewer Emily, whose review nails the subject: “Essentially, the majority of US elementary schools use language arts curriculum that attempts to teach vague ‘skills’ like ‘finding a main idea,’ ‘finding supporting evidence’ or ‘drawing conclusions’ from texts. Wexler summarizes the substantial evidence showing that reading comprehension depends on a person’s background knowledge on the subject. Students from advantaged backgrounds will pick up some background knowledge at home, topics related to history, geography, science. But these subjects have been pushed out of elementary schools to make more time for reading instruction (for testing purposes). Children from disadvantaged homes suffer disproportionately with this system. It is truly a matter of social justice.”

We were struck by examples of children confusing “civil rights” and “Civil War,” or “conservation” and “condensation” because, although they could read the terms, they had no real knowledge in long-term memory of what lay behind those terms.  This highly readable book was often hard to put down. What’s especially encouraging is that, as Wexler describes, there are solutions—great knowledge-based curricula have been developed and are being used in more and more schools.  If your school isn’t using Core Knowledge or Wit and Wisdom, it’s time to explore the possibility of change!

Nursery Rhymes for Modern Times Vol I: The Great Americans, by Philo F. Willetts, Jr. This wonderful slim volume uses some of the best of what we know about learning to help kids remember key ideas and concepts—just as Wexler recommends in The Knowledge Gap. Our brains are ‘wired’ to remember rhymes, and kids are inspired by the qualities and achievements of great people. This book is packed with great stories and information, including excerpts from Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration, Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream!” Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, and many more, including Barb’s personal favorite historical figure, Sequoyah. Here’s a witty excerpt on Dolly Madison:

She made enemies like one another
By inviting those who hated each other
To eat at the Madison’s table
And be as nice as they were able.

She planned her table’s seatings,
So all had friendly meetings.
Her dinners weren’t just for fun.
She got important agreements done.

Incidentally, Barb has been commanded by her daughter to spend an hour a day for several weeks at the beginning of December teaching some English to her son-in-law’s Spanish-speaking-only (at present) little brother. She’ll be using this wonderful book to help with the task. (And if you have any other advice for Barb in her first job teaching English as a second language, to help make the learning more interesting and fun, comment in the forums, here.)

I Do Recall—One of the Smartest Flashcard Apps We’ve Seen

David Handel was a mediocre student in high school, but in his second year of college he figured out some fantastic learning techniques to help him excel—he ended up graduating top in his class in medical school. You can read his story here. David has developed an app called I Do Recall (we’ve mentioned it before)—here is a demo of the even more powerful new version, which is spectacular (the app itself is here). As David writes: “The magic of iDR is that you can upload your learning materials into the app and read them there. As you come across concepts and facts that you want to remember, create a spaced-rep flashcard linked to the nugget of knowledge. When you practice the flashcard, if you struggle with the answer, click a link and the source document or video opens at the exact relevant location so you can refresh your memory.”

Barb in Delaware at Tower Hill School in Delaware and at KIPP STAR Harlem on Nov 19th

Barb will be giving four hours of lecture and workshop insights on “How Neuroscience Is Changing What We Know about Learning: Practical Insights for Instructors” at Tower Hill School —one of the nation’s finest private college preparatory schools—in Wilmington, Delaware on August 27th. And she’ll be excitedly sharing similar insights at KIPP STAR Harlem Middle School in New York City on November 19th!

Class Central’s updated ranking of top courses of all time, based on 60,000 learner reviews

Class Central has just updated its rankings to now include the top 100 courses. (Here’s the methodology behind the list.) If you’re trying to spot the best MOOCs to take, this is a great way to find guidance. And—fantastic news—all three of Barb & Terry’s courses (Learning How to Learn, Learning How to Learn for Youth, and Mindshift) have made the list! 

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

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