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  1. #1
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    Default Retention issues

    I'm in pondering mode today. I was chatting with a friend whose son is struggling, like REALLY struggling, to retain facts he's learned in history, science, etc. She says it makes it impossible for him at test time, even though he's well-read and enjoys learning. He's in traditional school, but she was asking me if I had any ideas for helping him at home. My input was to first make sure she knows what kind of learner he is (visual, auditory, etc) and then see if she could match some practice activities to that. For instance, using picture-style flash cards if he's visual, or putting facts to lyrics if he's auditory.

    I wondered what you've discovered helps retention of facts with your own kids? Obviously, interest in the subject at hand makes a lot of difference, I know, but what about subjects that are assigned that maybe kids aren't passionate about...any thoughts of retention methods for those?


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    Could it be he understands the concepts fine, but has moved on in grades so he is expected to be tested on specific dates and vocabulary? Once I learned that I had to use the vocabulary terms in my essays, my grades went up. (eg: "There were lots of slave rebellions" isnt going to score as well as "Plantation owners and militia quickly put down uprisings such as the Pug Rebellion of 1723, the burning of Fiddlers Ferry in 1728, and Gnats Revolt in 1736.")

    Is he pre-reading the sections before they are discussed in class by the teacher? Is he paying attention in class, or perhaps doing his homework thats due later that day? Not saying all teachers are the bees knees, but a kid can help by being prepared and paying attention.

    My son's learning style is "performer", but other than him 'teaching' his younger brother, we dont do anything 'performy'.
    I get the best retention from my DS when we read and discuss the material together, then watch a couple youtube videos about it.

    Id be really surprised if there arent dozens of youtube videos for each science topic. (Last week for us was 'erosion and deposition'... watched some fun short videos (maybe 5-10mins) from a geology teacher in New Zealand.... tbh more interesting than Bill Nye with his contrived examples.)
    I also remember lots of videos on US History topics... way more than one could ever want to watch to keep abreast of textbook learning.

    I guess I would suggest making sure he is doing his schoolwork efficiently (where retention isnt the issue so much as learning it and being able to produce the results the teacher is looking for) and then supplement with free and easy youtube first before inventing flashcards and study games.
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  4. #3

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    Well, first thing, I'd recognize that there's no such thing as auditory or visual learners:
    Daniel Willingham's Learning Styles FAQ - Daniel Willingham

    And, since I just linked Willingham's FAQ on the subject, his book Why Don't Students Like School? has a ton to say about this. Context, context, context. Kids don't learn unless they have enough context to retain what they're learning - as in, if you don't really understand what the parts of a cell are, then you won't remember their names. It's contextless information. And make sure you're teaching the right thing. So, a project where you make up a skit or make a poster may end up teaching more about skit and poster making skills than the topic you actually meant to teach about.

    Mnemonic devices are good, of course, especially for short term memory. Making up your own can be more powerful than learning someone else's. I'd say the number one thing when I've wanted my kids to really retain something has been putting in the time. It comes easy for some kids (not mine) but most kids need to just spend time studying.
    Disclaimer: Everything I'm saying is just my own opinion, based on my own experiences teaching and with my own kids and my own life. You should just ignore me if I'm annoying you. I don't mind.

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    Quote Originally Posted by alexsmom View Post
    Could it be he understands the concepts fine, but has moved on in grades so he is expected to be tested on specific dates and vocabulary? Once I learned that I had to use the vocabulary terms in my essays, my grades went up. (eg: "There were lots of slave rebellions" isnt going to score as well as "Plantation owners and militia quickly put down uprisings such as the Pug Rebellion of 1723, the burning of Fiddlers Ferry in 1728, and Gnats Revolt in 1736.")
    This is a great question, actually. My friend thinks he can't retain the actual facts, but what if he simply doesn't test well because the FORMAT of the test is not clear to him or because he doesn't understand the directions well. I can well remember doing extremely poorly on some tests because I would rush through and not read the directions at all.


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    Quote Originally Posted by farrarwilliams View Post
    Well, first thing, I'd recognize that there's no such thing as auditory or visual learners:
    Daniel Willingham's Learning Styles FAQ - Daniel Willingham

    And, since I just linked Willingham's FAQ on the subject, his book Why Don't Students Like School? has a ton to say about this. Context, context, context. Kids don't learn unless they have enough context to retain what they're learning - as in, if you don't really understand what the parts of a cell are, then you won't remember their names. It's contextless information. And make sure you're teaching the right thing. So, a project where you make up a skit or make a poster may end up teaching more about skit and poster making skills than the topic you actually meant to teach about.

    Mnemonic devices are good, of course, especially for short term memory. Making up your own can be more powerful than learning someone else's. I'd say the number one thing when I've wanted my kids to really retain something has been putting in the time. It comes easy for some kids (not mine) but most kids need to just spend time studying.
    I'll have to say I heartily disagree with Willingham's conclusion on learning styles. Mostly because it made such an enormous difference for my son when I finally "got" that he was a visual learner. The very same concepts that he struggled so with in 3rd and 4th grade using literature-based curriculum, he finally retained when we switched to Time4learning in 5th grade and he could SEE the concepts visually explained. And yet my oldest, who I consider to be an auditory learner, got very little out of Time4Learning's format, but when we would have conversations about the same concepts, his lightbulb would go off. I've done more research on learning styles than I'd ever care to admit, and I'm convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that there is definitely something solid there.

    But with that said, I'm also a huge believer in context, and I don't think you can underestimate the importance of it. That's one of the true advantages of homeschooling, too. In 50 minutes, a teacher is going to struggle to provide a lot of context for the enormous amount of info that's required to be covered in that span, while at home, we can amble our way through subjects and give context till the cows come home. I'm going to mention that to my friend, though. If she could see herself as her son's "context provider", that could give her a starting point for what to work on!


  7. #6

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    I don't think there's much to disagree with about Prof. Willingham's position on learning styles. He's one of the better evidence based experts on learning and education. His position is that there is absolutely no scientific evidence supporting learning styles. And there isn't.

    I wish people wouldn't get so attached to their educational woo woo. It's so anti-science.

    Of course different individuals learn differently. That's a whole other issue.
    Disclaimer: Everything I'm saying is just my own opinion, based on my own experiences teaching and with my own kids and my own life. You should just ignore me if I'm annoying you. I don't mind.

    But if I don't annoy you, feel free to visit my blog:
    http://farrarwilliams.wordpress.com
    Children's Books, Homeschooling and Random Musings...

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    Quote Originally Posted by farrarwilliams View Post

    I wish people wouldn't get so attached to their educational woo woo. It's so anti-science.

    Of course different individuals learn differently. That's a whole other issue.
    And therin lies the problem. "Scienctific facts" at odds with each other. Willingham is an intructivist. A whole host of scientific minds with constructivist leanings heartily disagree with him on many points. To say that there are learning differences/preferences but that they don't impact learning outcomes is, to me, woo encapsulated.


  9. #8

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    This will sound snarky, but retention is best when DS is studying what he likes. That was pretty much the same with me when I was a kid too. I remember what I was interesting to me much better than what I wasn't interested in (spelling, multiplication tables).

    I eventually got them. I know that the child you are talking about is in a traditional school, but even if DS was in a traditional school, I wouldn't be focusing on it unless he wanted to work on it. Then we would find a way. I think kids need internal motivation to do it. If he is not interested or does not care then it won't really matter what method is chosen.
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    Wholeheartedly agree, Mariam. Definitely the truest perk of homeschooling by far!!


  11. #10

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    We have difficulty with retention of non-preferred subjects as well. We tend to do better when we are able to inject special interests and humor into the mix. This is not always possible especially with more somber subjects, but we try.

    I also have to say that although I have not read the specific studies cited by Willingham, (some of which are old) that strategies that may not flesh out statistically, may be anecdotally helpful. I cannot imagine that a child who has auditory processing issues is not going to do better with non-auditory learning methods. If a child fidgets and likes to move around, that child will do better if that child can learn while moving around. A child with eidetic memory strengths is going to better with visual presentations.

    If he wants to lump this in with individual aptitudes vs calling them learning styles, I don't really care because whether you view it as a learning style or an aptitude, it is still going to matter for certain children.

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