It’s not about repetition; rather, it’s about processing. I understand why people would mention repetition when talking about the cognitive process of trying to comprehend. To encode information, repetition of information is required. However, this book is about the cognitive task of actually taking that new information and processing it so it can be encoded for later use. Before information can become encoded in the brain—meaning a permanent file folder has been created and the information can be retrieved later—it must first be processed.
The techniques in my book allow students to work collaboratively. That’s the heart of most of these techniques: students working with their partners so they’re not just building cognitive skills, they’re building conative skills, which is very important in the learning process.
The first technique listed in your book is collaborative learning. You stress that this is not simply putting students together in groups for learning. What is involved?
It is more intentional. Collaborative learning implies working with information that may be new or may be something of which a student doesn’t have a deep understanding. Working collaboratively with a peer allows students to bounce off ideas and discuss their own perspectives with others.
What are the benefits of collaborative learning in processing new information?
The main benefit is the emotional and social aspects of learning. It’s part of the reason behind the Common Core State Standards. It’s purposely embedded in there. Students have to be able to work with their peers and speak about their findings and support their reasons. They also have to listen to someone else’s perspective.
You state that prior to implementing collaborative processing with students, it’s important that teachers acquire some new teaching behaviors that make the learning process more effective. What are these teaching behaviors?
A major one is modeling. You can’t expect to get a certain outcome if you haven’t told the students what your expectations are. Modeling tends to be so oversimplified that sometimes teachers forget to do it. For the student, it’s incredibly powerful.
One of the other big things is intentional planning. First, a teacher plans to incorporate collaborative learning; then she or he has to be specific as to what that looks like. There should be an idea of which students are going to be grouped together. We tend to do ad hoc groups, for instance anyone with a last name that starts with a T goes into a group. Well, that’s oversimplified, and it doesn’t help the students. We need to know how a particular student will work with the other students. It’s important to look at their reading abilities. You have to consider students who have learning disabilities and language barriers. All of these things have to be intentionally planned. And of course, then you have to reflect. If you step back and say, “I’ve used this technique. Who did it work for and who didn’t it work for?” you can make necessary changes.
Will the six techniques in your book help students to process new information better on their own?
The whole process of working collaboratively allows students to draw their own conclusions about chunks of information. A student may have come to a certain conclusion in a collaborative setting, but the teacher should still be monitoring individual responses. Ideally a teacher would have the students write summary statements of what they’ve learned in the collaborative setting. What we’re looking for is some evidence that the child has comprehended the concepts. Can the child draw conclusions and ask probing questions about the learning?
We also must ask if the teacher has the process to allow students to show their evidence of learning and processing. That’s part of monitoring―giving students the tools to explain their thinking outside of the collective group.
You give a lot of examples and non-examples in your book. What are the benefits of both?
Everything in my book is taken from my years in the classroom, as well as what I’ve seen as a staff developer. The examples are important, but the non-examples are valuable, too, because they help us test the research against them. It’s very powerful. I find I learn more from the non-examples.