In a typical utopian classroom, every teacher anticipates that their students will retain and apply every iota of learned material. In the real world, though, many students come to us having achieved academic success by memorizing the content, regurgitating that information onto an exam, and promptly forgetting a good portion of it. Given that rote learning is dangerous and vulnerable to confusion a lot of times, it is critical for students to understand what they learn throughout their coursework, and more importantly, to apply the knowledge. So, how do we get students to retain this knowledge? How can we push students beyond simple memorization?
One strategy is the case studies and simulations approach. Case studies stimulate student’s own thinking and reflection, both individually and in groups. Through reflection, the student gains a broader view, increased understanding, knowledge, and deeper learning. When used effectively, this problem-based learning approach can encourage the students to think critically and apply “book knowledge” to everyday practice and problems that will occur in the workplace. Like case study, simulation—whether high-tech as in mannequins or low-tech as in role play—is also a good method to help the student apply knowledge to real world scenarios. Have them simulate meetings, pitching ideas, negotiations, job interviews or any other thing, if you teach them communication skills for them to have a taste of reality in the classroom.
Concept Maps are equally helpful in knowledge retention– they are basically graphical tools for organizing and representing knowledge and can be used to help students visualize connections between words and concepts. The first step is defining a focus question or problem which the student then internalizes, defines and clarifies. Concept maps using real world situations can help reinforce key ideas by encouraging students to think both creatively and analytically about previously learned information and to apply it to new scenarios. The good thing about it is that it can be applied in any academic discipline to make better sense of a reading, document learning or thinking, or brainstorm a project. Used expertly, they can substantially increase student understanding of difficult topics; hence stifling the rote tendencies by building ingenuity.
In addition to this, one-minute papers also come in handy. A classic among active learning techniques, the one-minute paper remains a simple yet effective way to gauge student learning. I use these papers as an assessment of my own teaching efficacy but more importantly to get students to reflect on what went on in the classroom that day. My questions are often open-ended so as to encourage reflection and feedback on the subject matter. Possible prompts for a one-minute paper may include; the clearest point of today’s class was; the muddiest point of today’s class (or something that confused me or I want clarified) was; how I prepared for class today; among others.
In summary, lecturing is not the most effective manner of teaching any more than cramming is an effective form of learning. Active learning strategies such as these will move students from passive to active participation in their learning, while also boosting retention in the process. As a bonus, these methods fit well in the flipped learning environment that many instructors are using today and will stifle cramming by building ingenuity.