Anchors to Learning

We retain 90% of what we teach someone else or use immediately, 50% of knowledge gained and used in group discussions, 20% of what is learned in an audio-visual format, 10% of what is learned from reading, and only 5% of what is learned from lecture.

These often cited facts form the “Learning Pyramid,” which were studied in the 1960s by the National Training Laboratories (NTL) out of Bethel, Maine. They raise a number of questions not the least of which is if 50% of what is “learned” is not retained, can any of that 50% really be counted as learning? And more interestingly, from a practical standpoint, how can teachers create learning experiences where what is learned is retained for the long run.

This latter question lies at the heart of what schools are attempting to do with inquiry-based learning, a topic I have written about previously here. Teachers are attempting to attach learning to “big ideas” and “enduring understandings,” that shape students’ perspectives on concepts and topics. But, while big ideas and enduring understandings form a framework, perhaps even a story, for students to organize learning and shape thinking, this is still a very cerebral, abstract process and therefore invites a question:   Are there other, perhaps more tangible, things to anchor learning to?

Anchoring Learning to Places and Experiences

An answer to this question forms part of the rationale for outside45.  Our goal is to anchor learning to various experiences and learning environments. The goal is for students to make associations between places and experiences and the knowledge and understandings acquired in those places and during those experiences.  Our aim is that if the place and the experience in that place can be recalled easily, this will open the door to recalling all of the learning that occurred in that place as well.

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Field experiences are a large component of many classes at BICS.  Grade One-Two teacher, Mrs. Brind-Boronkay takes her students outside as often as possible.  She notes, “I find, for young children in particular, if they have something tangible, it helps them to retain information.” A recent trip to

Chinatown offered a wonderful experience for many primary students because many of them had never been there and not only did they get to eat Chinese food in a local restaurant, they were able to explore the streets and shops using all their senses and get a taste of another culture.  Visiting a place, and people within that place, even for just for one day, offers an immersive experience which simply can’t be simulated in the classroom.  I recently took my grade six and seven students on a field trip of downtown Vancouver and heard from many of my students – some of Mrs. Brind-Boronkay’s former students –that their experience visiting Chinatown in grade two was one of the most memorable experiences of their primary years.

Learning Anchored to Imagination

BICS’ library is far more than a room.  It has also become an imaginative space where students can utilize their creativity.  BICS` librarian, Mr. Marquis, is the voice behind several mascots that he notes, “Personify an area of curriculum and have slogans and identities as such.”  For example, the much-loved mascot Kwil is for writing, Kwillette for art, Leef is a lover of literature and reading, and Renai Research.  Students

become more interested in their learning when they are invited to play in a fictional world that teaches them core literacy skills attached to memorable mascots.  Many students engage in a Digital Dialogue (more information here) by writing to Kwil who always writes back, so a dialogue is created which encourages students to write, often a lot!

Learning Anchored to Emotion

Ms. DeReus shared that students in grades four and five at BICS recently completed a unit on immigration which created an “emotional anchor” for learning.  In the unit, students receive a passport and participate in an activity where they are let into Canada, refused entry, or even deported through the different time periods of immigration waves.  This form of experiential education emotionalizes learning and allows students to develop a sense of empathy for immigrants.  It seems likely that students will remember their feelings and the causes of these feelings far more than had they just read about people’s experiences.

Learning Anchored to a Product

Many of us still remember our favourite projects from school, particularly if we were proud of them.  Students demonstrate learning in a variety of ways and when students are proud of what they produce, the emotional element of learning is triggered and thus learning can be retained more easily.  In Mrs. Rogers Grade Six and Seven classroom, students are constantly engaged in projects that include students demonstrating knowledge in unique ways all of which are added to their “Traveller Booklets” that act as a portfolio of learning.  At the beginning of the year, students created an avatar who travels around the world and around curriculum compiling artifacts, sometimes literal, of what they have learned.  The creation of such a portfolio creates a wonderful keepsake for students and helps organize learning into a memorable framework, that, when reviewed, opens the door to all that was learned.SB ANCHORS NEW.png

In the examples above and other conversations I had with teachers, a common relationship between learning that is retained and learning that is memorable is quite clear.  While this insight is simple, making learning memorable when students receive five hours of instruction, five days a week, 182 days per year, is not.  Anchoring learning to places, experiences, emotions, creativity, and creative portfolios, are just some of the tactics teachers use to make learning memorable and meaningful.  Please share in the comments below what other “anchors” to learning you think are effective to make learning experiences meaningful and worthy of remembering.

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