Making Learning Stick
A colleague once asked me if she should organize a field trip to the Montshire Museum to see an exhibition related to her class’s study of the Ice Age. She told me the trip would require a lot of work, including reallocating class time and adapting the curriculum from the way it had been presented in previous years. I responded with a question: Which lesson will your students most likely remember one month or one year from now? The answer was obvious, and she was on the bus with her students to the Museum two days later.

As teachers adapt and evolve their pedagogy and curriculum, it is helpful to ask whether students will remember what they will learn a month, a year, or even five years from now as they make key decisions. After all, shouldn’t schools evaluate learning relative to its enduring value and application to daily experiences? 

We know that unusual learning opportunities are more likely to be remembered than routine ones, which is one reason a trip to a museum may be more impactful than covering the same material during a typical day in the classroom. Beyond those kinds of experiences, however, what can teachers do to help the learning stick?

One strategy I like to recommend: Tackle the big ideas firstWhen teachers frame the major lesson at the beginning of the class, they set the stage for the long-term retention of information by providing important context. In other words, when students are provided with an overview of the down-the-road big picture, they will understand why the material is important. This helps create long-term associations and memories.

In future blogs, I will describe other strategies for making learning stick.

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