We know a great deal about the human memory, but there is still so much more to know. Much of what we learn is counterintuitive and unveils the idiosyncratic of our mind and memory. One such quirk is that when students expect to teach new material that they remember it so much better. It is a simple trick of teaching.
Research (see here) by John Nestojko, PhD, at Washington University, in St Louis, has shown that simply telling students that they will teach something to another student changes their mindset so much that even if they don’t actually teach the information, they remember it better later on when tested.
Perhaps it has something to do with the emotional commitment to their peers, or a greater mental focus given the expectation of an imminent performance, but just a few words can strengthen the performance of our students. It is research I would like to see replicated, but it is an intriguing proposition. Do students better mentally construct meaning if they know they need to pass on the information? Is it about emotional commitment, or a subtle combination of the two?
This could prove a useful revision strategy. Often, we will get students to teach items to one another. This research shows the positive impact of such a strategy when done well i.e. Tightly structured, supported and scaffolded, with clear expectations and desired outcomes. Couple that with good peer tutoring and we may be onto a revision winner. Of course, I would like to see the findings of this single study replicated so that we get a better idea of whether it is wholly accurate, but given it takes little time and energy to try – then it is worth sharing.
Yes, students need a firm grounding of knowledge and understanding first – you are not expecting students to do this before they themselves have been well taught – but this is what makes it ideal for revision and consolidatn learning. We could create this expectation of students teaching one another as a way of getting them to commit to working harder.