The Curse of Knowledge: When you suffer from the curse of knowledge you assume that other people know the things that you do, and this cognitive bias causes you to believe that people understand you a lot better than they really do. A strong base of content knowledge makes us blind to the lengthy process of acquiring it. Implications for teachers:
- We do not remember what it is like to not know what we are trying to teach.
- We cannot relive the difficult and lengthy process that learning our content originally took.
We assume that our lesson’s content is easy, clear, and straightforward. We assume that connections are apparent and will be made effortlessly. Assumptions are the root cause of poor instruction. And acknowledgment is the first step to recovery!
Lifting the Curse: 7 Steps
Barbara Fredrickson, a champion in the field of positive psychology, has studied the effects of mild positive emotions on desired cognitive traits like attentiveness and ability to creatively solve problems. In what she coined the broaden-and-build theory, Fredrickson found that pleasant and mild emotional arousal before experiencing content leads to greater retention. A quick joke or humorous movie can serve as the positive emotional stimulant. So learning is easier and the Curse of Knowledge is potentially circumnavigated when injecting a bit of emotion into your lesson.
2. Multi-Sensory Lessons
Though Howard Gardner’s influential work states that we each have a preferred learning modality, new research highlights the fact that effective lessons need not be unisensory (only kinesthetic, only auditory, etc.) but multi-sensory. Multi-sensory experiences activate and ignite more of the brain, leading to greater retention. So use a multisensory approach in your lessons to make learning easier.
Blocked practice is ancient and is no longer considered best practice. An example of blocked practice is cramming. Though it feels like learning, blocked practice results in learning that is shallow, and the connections quickly fade. The preferred alternative is the opposite of blocked practice: spaced practice.
Exposing yourself to content and requiring your brain to recall previously learned concepts at spaced intervals (hours, days, weeks, or months) makes the content sticky and results in deeper retention with solid neural connections. As spaced practice is the way that you learned the content you teach, it makes sense to employ the same technique with your students. So thinking of your content as a cycle that is frequently revisited makes learning easier for your students while helping alleviate the curse.
For more information on spacing content, check out Make It Stick or 3 Things Experts Say Make A Perfect Study Session.
- *Reflection: You are finished! Aren’t you? By now you realized that as teachers, we are never really finished. Just like our students, we learn every day, every week from our kids and from each other. As you embark on your exciting new teaching venture here are a couple of one-stop-shop resources and a go-to for brain-based learning, I hope will assist you in your future teaching situations. Remember you are a force for good in children’s lives, and you will be good! And HAVE FUN!
“In learning you will teach, and in teaching you will learn.” ~ Phil Collins
- *Reflection: A Final Reflection: As you journey on your professional path, remember to take initiative! Seek out your own solutions to problems, make your needs known, communicate with admin. and co-workers, and ask for the support you need. Practice self-directed learning. Take risks. Be your own advocate. Take credit that is due you, toot your own horn, own your successes. You are skilled teachers and deserve respect and acknowledgement. It’s been a pleasure!
“Teaching is the one profession that creates all other professions.” ~ Unknown
“I have come to the frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element. It is my personal approach that creates the climate. It is my daily mood that makes the weather. I possess tremendous power to make life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration, I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis is escalated or de-escalated, and a person is humanized or dehumanized. If we treat people as they are, we make them worse. If we treat people as they ought to be, we help them become what they are capable of becoming.” ~ Haim G. Ginott
- *Reflection: You will fail and succeed. Master teachers. Veteran teachers. Novice teachers. We all have fails. You are innovating and creating – often from scratch – ways to reach and teach children every day. This is an enormously hard and challenging task. Every day when you show up, demonstrate vulnerability and risk taking, you are modeling the methods of success for children. You will have fails, and then you will reflect on that, and then you will try again a different way, and attain successes. *Tip: As you reflect regularly on your teaching craft, consider surveying the customers! Use SurveyMonkey, Google Forms, exit slips, etc., to gather student feedback and input. ~ “There is no innovation and creativity without failure” ~ Brené Brown
“Those who know, do. Those that understand, teach.” ~ Aristotle
- *Reflection: What do Master Teachers have to say about it? Local Teachers of the Year all have similar philosophies: They help students believe in themselves; … know the importance of being flexible and adapting; they view themselves as students eager to continue their professional growth and discover ideas. Great teachers … “wear many hats, want to hear students’ voices and believe those voices have value, balance Tradition with Innovation, ‘sell it’, and are ‘real’ with students.” What Master Teacher habits and High-Leverage practices will you develop?
“Once she knows how to read there’s only one thing you can teach her to believe in and that is herself.” ~ Virginia Woolf
- *Reflection: Find a Mentor. You have the benefit of recent educational training in current teaching practices and philosophy. Veteran teachers have the wisdom of experience with children, tried and true methods for connecting with and reaching them; and know that until you reach them, you cannot teach them. You will benefit greatly from finding such a mentor at your school. Look for the teacher who practices open door policy with students during recess and lunch (they always have kids in their room), who offers after school help, who is involved with school-wide events and projects, and who practices self-reflection and attends Professional Developments to stay on top of new ideas and research. This is the teacher who is truly invested in students.
“By three methods we may learn wisdom: First by reflection, which is noblest; Second by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is bitterest.” ~ Confucius
- *Reflection: A word on your Facebook/Twitter/Instagram. I am hearing more frequently from Administrators and HR personnel: they are doing an online media search on employment candidates. That means those fun photos from that Cabo party weekend, or the angry rant you posted about a co-worker could disqualify you before you even get your foot in the door. Check your privacy settings, including the tagging trail from friends’ sites, and look over your own messaging/posting trail. On the plus side, begin building an online professional profile: follow professional organizations and educational blogs, post and comment in professional forums, add links and connections that show your active involvement in professional development and keeping current with educational trends. That may be the point that tips in your favor!
- *Reflection: This is harder than I thought. By now you have glimpsed some of the joys, and also some of the challenges in the teaching profession. We teach because we want to inspire children. It can be hard when we do not see the fruits of our labors right away, or maybe ever with some kids. But you never know what blooms will emerge, maybe years later, from the seeds you plant today, so take heart! You are doing amazing and profound work with children, who may carry your influences places you never dreamed of. You never know how far your influence to inspire may reach!
“One child, one teacher, one book, one pen can change the world.” ~ Malala Yousafzai
- *Reflection: Where do I start?? Constructing lessons can feel intimidating to new teachers. One method is to build it backwards; starting with, “What is the learning goal/objective I want my students to know at the end of this lesson or unit?” Don’t forget your Essential Question! After you have determined this, ask yourself:
- What basic knowledge and skills do my students need to complete this activity?
- What knowledge base do my student have?
- To what extend is the process of learning the basic knowledge likely to distract from my students’ ability to learn the skills and knowledge which is the goal of the activity.
- To what extent can students with greater skills/knowledge support those with a gap in their skills/knowledge during this activity?
- What activities can/must be done prior to the desired activity to enable my students to successfully complete and benefit from the activity I am considering?
- Is it possible to adjust this activity to better fit my students’ skill/knowledge set?
Another strategy is Curriculum Mapping for longer range cross-curricular planning. This can be done by individual classroom or department or school-wide.
- *Reflection: What about motivation (part 2)? Drive and motivation have been studied extensively since the 1970s and the jury is in. When considering how to best motivate your students in learning, it is important to understand innate human drive and how it informs motivation and reward:
- Autonomy: having a degree of control over what needs to happen and how it can be done
- Competence: feeling that one has the ability to be successful in doing it
- Relatedness: doing the activity helps them feel more connected to others, and feel cared about by people whom they respect
- Relevance/Purpose: the work must be seen by students as interesting and valuable to them, and useful to their present lives and/or hopes and dreams for the future
What types of motivation supports these basic drives?
- Intrinsic vs Extrinsic
- Motivation vs Rewards
What does each look like and when is each best used to optimize student motivation for learning? Do you notice an over-reliance on extrinsic reward systems, both tangible (stickers, treats, etc.) and non-tangible (praise, extra privileges, etc.), to motivate students? It is true, these often work for immediate and short term desired results, but often at the cost of students developing intrinsic motivation, which is needed for long-term success and mastery. Extrinsic rewards also tend to undermine creative and higher order thinking.
*Point to ponder: Children are innately curious and self-directed; how can you harness these attributes to turn work into play?
*Tip: Extrinsic rewards can turn play into work, intrinsic rewards can turn work into play. Which would you rather?
“Rewards and punishment is the lowest form of education.” ~ Zhuangzi
- *Reflection: The Right Question… to promote behavior change. As teachers, we often fall back on behaviors of habit. Sometimes this is seen in the way we talk with students when they are not behaving in ways we want. We ask closed and judgmental questions that do not elicit responses that help the student change their behavior for the better. Instead, consider how to frame a series of questions that help students understand their own motivations so they can make better intentional choices. Break it down and walk through the event with the student: “what happened… then what happened… then what happened?” Repeat the responses to the student for clarity. This micro-walk through the events often uncovers the underlying reasons and shows them to the student. Or the Five Whys method: When a student gives you a reason for their behavior ask “why” five times until they have peeled back the surface reasons to their underlying motivation.
- *Reflection: Meet the parents… where they are. Some of your challenging students come from challenging circumstances. As you get to know them, seek ways to meet their parents where they are. Do not let language barriers be barriers to communicating about the needs of the child, understand that different cultures have different ways: from attitudes about home/school boundaries to communication. Recognize the stresses on families living in poverty, when every day is survival mode. Learn about these in order to better meet the parents where they are. Remember your number one goal with parents: to facilitate communication so they can support their child, you, and the school. Meet them where they are. *Tip: Avoid using children as translators for non-English speaking parents.
“Real education should educate us out of self into something far finer–into a selflessness which links us with all humanity.” ~ Nancy Astor
- *Reflection: What sticks? Learning new information and concepts in isolation may be an exercise in futility. In order for students to make a permanent space in their memory and understanding, they need a concrete ‘anchor’ to attach the new information to. How will you facilitate students’ making connections between new and existing knowledge? How do you scaffold so they can build these bridges of meaning and construct new knowledge that will be anchored in memory and not ‘dumped’ after the test (burned in the brain)? Does metacognitive reflection help?
*Tip: In your lesson plan, add a few questions that will encourage students’ self-reflection: Why did we do this? What did you learn? How do you think you will use this tomorrow? Questions like these help students absorb the information and make the experience stick.
*Teaching for Meaning: Evidenced based practices • Problems that involve multiple solutions • Hands-on activities • Real-world problems • Project-based learning • Learning metacognitive skills • Service learning
“Were all instructors to realize that the quality of mental process, not the production of correct answers, is the measure of educative growth something hardly less than a revolution in teaching would be worked.”
― John Dewey, Democracy and Education
- *Reflection: Are you teaching information or facilitating learning? As we move toward new ideas and ideologies in education for the 21st century, we are re-evaluating priorities. At the top of the list is teaching kids how to learn, not just imparting information. In that regard, we are facilitators for students’ learning how to construct their own knowledge through guided discovery. This is very exciting! How do you facilitate in the classroom to support your students’ driving their own discovery and learning? How do you support their productive struggle and help them develop a growth mindset; and teach them to be prepared to be wrong??
“True teachers are those who use themselves as bridges over which they invite their students to cross; then, having facilitated their crossing, joyfully collapse, encouraging them to create their own.” ~ Nikos Kazantzakis
- *Reflection: Can you go deeper? The questions you ask have a purpose; different types and levels of questions are designed to promote specific learning goals. When and why do you ask closed questions? Open-ended questions? Be intentional with your questions.*Tip: Facilitate higher level learning through sentence stems. *Points to Ponder: What if you teach students how to formulate their own questions to drive their learning??
“The test of a good teacher is not how many questions he can ask his pupils that they will answer readily, but how many questions he inspires them to ask him which he finds it hard to answer.” ~ Alice Wellington Rollins
- *Reflection: Are you including a Fun Factor? Are you nurturing the life-long learner developing within your students? Will they leave your class believing that learning can be fun and rewarding in and of itself?! The fun factor can also help students retain material and reduce anxiety. “Fun is the genetic reward for learning.” ~ William GlassnerPoints to Ponder… Go Pro or Bust. As teachers, we encourage and inspire students in finding their passions, exploring their interests, and developing their skills. Yet, often times the messaging in education is that the value of a skill or interest is measured by its probability of future return in the form of employment or monetary gain. Consider a student who is passionate about drawing, or playing an instrument or a sport; but what if their passion does not translate into a viable career or maybe they just don’t have the talent or skill level to make a living doing it? Should they stop? Are career path pursuits the only valuable endeavors? Can we expand the idea to include learning for a holistic balance of pursuits, for an enriched life with meaning and joy, as well as developing viable career and employment skills? “The job of an educator is to teach students to see vitality in themselves.” ~ Joseph Campbell
- *Reflection: How are you nurturing creativity? Expression through the Arts is a fundamental part of our humanity, and in fact informs invention and creation across academic spheres. Are your students exercising their creativity muscles across disciplines and content areas? ~ “Creativity is contagious. Pass it on.” ~ Albert Einstein
“Life is not linear it is organic, we create our lives symbiotically as we explore our talents in relation to the circumstances they help to create for us.” ~ Sir Ken Robinson