“When students copy notes, they are reproducing a record of YOUR learning, not THEIRS.”
Traditional classrooms often present students with the information they are expected to know, and students are expected to regurgitate that information on a test or final paper. Who is really doing the learning here? Psychotactics.com suggests that people can retain 90% of what they learn when they teach someone else or put the information to use immediately. What does this mean for our students? How much are they really learning from copying down notes from a blackboard? The way Catherine Christie from Queen’s University puts it, “When students copy notes, they are reproducing a record of YOUR learning, not THEIRS.”
Explore First, Explain Later is a teaching method that first immerses students in a shared experience, like doing a lab, participating in a simulation, going out on a field study…etc., and the debriefing and/or note-taking part occurs after. Traditionally, students are given information on a topic and then asked to apply the skills they learned later. I’m not advocating for any one particular teaching method because I believe there is a time and place for everything (yes, even lectures). However, let me point out some of the benefits to the Explore First, Explain Later model.
1) Allow students the vocation of failure. Yes, tell them to take changes, make mistakes and get messy(!), because let’s be real – we probably learned more from Magic School Bus than from a majority of our classroom lectures.
2) Create meaning. Authentic tasks and discovery-based learning allow students to tailor their learning experiences to their personal learning style. Students are likely to remember more from a concept where they create their own connections rather than from notes-based or lecture-based classes.
3) Sense of ownership over their own learning. Teachers exist to help learners learn, so why do we feel the need to be at the center of attention all the time? In this model of teaching and learning, teachers are seen as facilitators, and students play a central role in the learning process.
Once the Explore portion has been completed, the class gathers as a whole to explain and debrief the phenomenon they observed. In the beginning, the teacher is likely to take on a bigger role as guide; perhaps asking more questions or providing more support to the students. Instead of preparing a note for students to copy beforehand, the students’ observations will dictate what notes they end up recording. Once the students have seen this type of learning modeled, they can direct the creation of their own notes while the teacher continues to monitor their progress.