A Modest Proposal Two Simple Ideas, Easy to Implement, That Can Make a Real Difference (and require no technology) (and no expense) by Eric T. MacKnight http://www.EricMacKnight.com/ Based on my summer reading “Daniel T. Willingham is professor of psychology at the University of Virginia, where he has taught since 1992. He writes the popular Ask the Cognitive Scientist column for American Educator magazine.” The Problems 1. Students have trouble comprehending what they read. The Research Says . .. • Background knowledge is more important to successful comprehension than reading ability. Background Knowledge • Tests show that students with relevant background knowledge do significantly better than those who lack background knowledge, regardless of raw reading ability. Why Don’t Students Like School? p. 27 Source: Willingham, Background knowledge . .. • provides vocabulary • allows you to bridge logical gaps that writers leave • allows chunking, which increases room in working memory and thereby makes it easier to tie ideas together • guides the interpretation of ambiguous sentences Source: Willingham, Why Don’t Students Like School? p. 28 And moreover, • “Not only does background knowledge make you a better reader, but it also is necessary to be a good thinker. The processes we most hope to engender in our students—thinking critically and logically—are not possible without background knowledge.” Source: Willingham, Why Don’t Students Like School? pp. 35, 37 So . . . how can we increase students‟ background knowledge? • “Books, newspapers, and magazines are singularly helpful in introducing new ideas and new vocabulary to students. . . . Books expose children to more facts and to a broader vocabulary than virtually any other activity.” Source: Willingham, Why Don’t Students Like School? p. 37 Which leads to my first modest proposal . . . • Independent Reading should be required in every subject, at every grade level. It should replace at least some, probably most, and perhaps even all of the homework currently assigned in some subjects. (We will leave the homework debate for another day.) The Problems 2. Students have trouble remembering what they have learned in class. The Research Says . .. • Simple reviewing of material significantly increases the amount of the material that moves into long-term memory. Source: Willingham, Why Don’t Students Like School? p. 44 Key Quotation • “Whatever you think about, that‟s what you remember. Memory is the residue of thought.” Source: Willingham, Why Don’t Students Like School? p. 47 So . . . • How can we get students to think about what they have learned in class each day? Which leads to my second modest proposal . . . • We should teach students at all grade levels to review daily what they have studied in school. The Daily Review • The daily review can take many different forms, and each grade level team will have to work out just what form is appropriate for their students. What‟s important is that students develop the habit of daily review, of thinking again about what they have studied in school that day. . . . • It will also be necessary to work out how the daily review is monitored or assessed. Again, this will vary among subjects and grade levels. To be effective, however, it must be a daily habit, for both students (to do the review) and teachers (to check it). To sum up . . . • Reading comprehension is fundamentally important for success in school. • Background knowledge is crucial to reading comprehension. • Therefore a schoolwide Independent Reading program in all subjects will significantly improve our students‟ reading comprehension. • Students often forget much of what they „learn‟ in school because the material is never stored in their long-term memory. • Simple review—thinking again about the material—is the best way to store it in long-term memory. • Therefore a schoolwide program of daily review will significantly improve students‟ retention of what they learn in school. That‟s it.